Moderate Algeria, Jordan New Spots of Islamic Fundamentalism

Two Muslim-majority countries that traditionally have been respectful of minority faiths were highlighted by the U.S. State Department for their growing religious intolerance.

Sunni-dominated Algeria in northern Africa and Jordan in the Middle East had several reported cases of government imposed restriction on religious freedom, said U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, John Hanford, last Friday at the release of the 10th Annual State Department Report on International Religious Freedom.

In Algeria, there were several arrests and sentences of converts to Christianity, according to Hanford. Also, the government began enforcing a 2006 law that required non-Muslim congregations to hold a permit in order to operate, resulting in a series of forced church closure.

Meanwhile in Jordan this past year, a Shari'a court found a convert to Christianity from Islam guilty of apostasy. The judge then annulled his marriage and declared him to have no religious identity.

The Jordanian government also was reported to harass individuals and organizations because of their religious affiliation.

Hanford, during the event, agreed with the suggestion that Islamic fundamentalists at the grassroots level are having an impact on the two countries.

"[I]n the case of Algeria, this ordinance was passed a couple of years ago but now is being implemented. And so, things are cracking down a little more," Hanford noted.

"And we're particularly surprised in Jordan, where there's been historically so much tolerance that we've seen some people detained and a greater sense of aggressiveness toward minority faiths."

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania have been highly-regarded in the global community for their advocacy work with interfaith dialogue.

The State Department highlighted North Korea and Eritrea as the worst violators of religious freedom. It also spotlighted India for its recent surge in Hindu militant attacks against Christians and China and Burma for the use of government forces to squash religious freedom.

The comprehensive 800-page annual report covers 198 countries and territories and focuses on government policies and actions regarding religious freedom. The report is from the period between July 2007 and July 2008.