Islam and the Algerian State
The Prophet enjoined his followers to convert nonbelievers to
the true faith. Jews and Christians, whose religions he recognized
as the precursors of Islam and who were called "people of the
book" because of their holy scriptures, were permitted to continue
their own communal and religious life as long as they recognized
the temporal domain of Muslim authorities, paid their taxes, and
did not proselytize or otherwise interfere with the practice of
Soon after arriving in Algeria, the French colonial regime set
about undermining traditional Muslim Algerian culture. According
to Islam, however, a Muslim society permanently subject to non-Muslim
rulers is unacceptable. Muslims believe that nonMuslim rule must
be ended as quickly as possible and Muslim rulers restored to
power. For this reason, Islam was a strong element of the resistance
movement to the French.
After independence the Algerian government asserted state control
over religious activities for purposes of national consolidation
and political control. Islam became the religion of the state
in the new constitution and the religion of its leaders. No laws
could be enacted that would be contrary to Islamic tenets or that
would in any way undermine Islamic beliefs and principles. The
state monopolized the building of mosques, and the Ministry of
Religious Affairs controlled an estimated 5,000 public mosques
by the mid-1980s. Imams were trained, appointed, and paid by the
state, and the Friday khutba, or sermon, was issued to
them by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. That ministry also
administered religious property (the habus), provided
for religious education and training in schools, and created special
institutes for Islamic learning.
Those measures, however, did not satisfy everyone. As early as
1964 a militant Islamic movement, called Al Qiyam (values), emerged
and became the precursor of the Islamic Salvation Front of the
1990s. Al Qiyam called for a more dominant role for Islam in Algeria's
legal and political systems and opposed what it saw as Western
practices in the social and cultural life of Algerians.
Although militant Islamism was suppressed, it reappeared in the
1970s under a different name and with a new organization. The
movement began spreading to university campuses, where it was
encouraged by the state as a counterbalance to left-wing student
movements. By the 1980s, the movement had become even stronger,
and bloody clashes erupted at the Ben Aknoun campus of the University
of Algiers in November 1982. The violence resulted in the state's
cracking down on the movement, a confrontation that would intensify
throughout the 1980s and early 1990s (see The
Islamist Factor , ch. 4).
The rise of Islamism had a significant impact on Algerian society.
More women began wearing the veil, some because they had become
more conservative religiously and others because the veil kept
them from being harassed on the streets, on campuses, or at work.
Islamists also prevented the enactment of a more liberal family
code despite pressure from feminist groups and associations.
Data as of December 1993