Mosque in Blida, south of Algiers
Christianity came to North Africa in the Roman era. Its influence
declined during the chaotic period of the Vandal invasions but
was strengthened in the succeeding Byzantine period, only to disappear
gradually after the Arab invasions of the seventh century.
The Roman Catholic Church was reintroduced after the French conquest,
when the diocese of Algiers was established in 1838. Proselytization
of the Muslim population was at first strictly prohibited; later
the prohibition was less vigorously enforced, but few conversions
took place. The several Roman Catholic missions established in
Algeria were concerned with charitable and relief work; the establishment
of schools, workshops, and infirmaries; and the training of staff
for the new establishments. Some of the missionaries of these
organizations remained in the country after independence, working
among the poorer segments of the population. In the early 1980s,
the Roman Catholic population numbered about 45,000, most of whom
were foreigners or Algerians who had married French or Italians.
In addition, there was a small Protestant community. Because the
government adopted a policy of not inquiring about religious affiliation
in censuses or surveys to avoid provoking religious tensions,
the number of Christians in the early 1990s was not known.
The Jewish community is of considerable antiquity, some members
claiming descent from immigrants from Palestine at the time of
the Romans. The majority are descendants of refugees from Spanish
persecution early in the fifteenth century. They numbered about
140,000 before the Algerian revolutionary period, but at independence
in 1962 nearly all of them left the country. Because the 1870
Crémieux Decrees, which aimed at assimilating the colons of Algeria
to France, gave Jews full citizenship, most member of the Jewish
community emigrated to France.
The government of independent Algeria discouraged antiSemitism
, and the small remaining Jewish population appeared to have stabilized
at roughly 1,000. It was thought to be close to this number in
the early 1990s. Although no untoward incidents occurred during
the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, a group of youths sacked
the only remaining synagogue in Algiers in early 1977.
Data as of December 1993