Stretching from the Atlas Mountains down into the arid Sahara plains, North Africa – also known as the Maghreb – has a rich history. Christianity spread across the top of the region during the faith’s very earliest centuries. But few traces of this ancient presence now remain – and today, believers face pressure, rejection, and even the threat of violence.
Christianity spread across the Roman-ruled region early on. Despite facing waves of persecution, believers established a flourishing church in Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia. North Africa was home to the church fathers, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine – and in the fourth century, Christianity became the provinces’ official religion.
A DWINDLING PRESENCE
But when Arab invaders spread through the region in the seventh century, the Christian presence was greatly diminished. Unlike in Egypt, where ancient churches have maintained a continuous presence, Christianity in the Maghreb was all but extinguished in the following centuries. Now, Christians make up only a tiny percentage of the population.
PRESSURE AND THREATS
Today, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco all officially protect religious freedom. But in reality, the situation for the Christian minority is far more restrictive. Every Maghreb country but Morocco appears on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranks the countries where anti-Christian persecution is at its worst.
North Africans who become Christians often face pressure, rejection, or even the threat of violence from their families or others in society. In Mauritania, a new believer even risks losing their citizenship. As a result, many Christians in the region follow Jesus in isolation.
Although foreign Christians are generally able to worship freely, there are often restrictions on their activities. Evangelism is prohibited in Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania, and access to Bibles is also tightly controlled in these states.
In recent years, Christians have been at greatest risk of violence in Libya, which is seventh on the World Watch List. Since civil conflict erupted after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, believers have often had little protection from terrorist groups.
A BRIGHTER PICTURE
In Algeria, the picture has recently been much brighter. Church growth has been strong, particularly among Amazigh in the Kabylie region. But as political tensions have recently begun to grow, churches have been subjected to a government crackdown, with several being closed down. Much to the joy of members, one church reopened after 7 months of closure.
Believers there are not losing heart, though. SAT-7 ARABIC Programming Director George Makeen explains:
“Our contacts are still very encouraged. They have the attitude of people who love God and who don’t give up easily, but still, it is a very stressful time. When you are stopped from doing what you want to do – what you are called to do – this can sometimes be even worse than being arrested.”
SAT-7 is committed to supporting isolated North African Christians throughout all the challenges they face. Join us in praying for these believers, and subscribe to our newsletter to find out more.