Threat of Islamization to Church in Madagascar, Women Paid to Wear Islam Garments

Bishop Georges Varkey Puthiyakulangara of Port-Bergé Diocese, in the North of Madagascar. He is concerned about islamization in Madagascar
Credit: Aid to the Church in Need International

Radical Islamization in Madagascar is at the heart of the emerging challenges that the island country in the Indian Ocean is battling with amid high levels of corruption, illiteracy and poverty, a native Bishop has disclosed in a recent interview.

In Madagascar, Muslims are going as far as paying women to wear the Burka, a Muslim outer garment that covers the body and the face and giving out scholarships to non-Mulsims to attend Koran lessons, Bishop Georges Varkey Puthiyakulangara of Port-Bergé Diocese, in the North of Madagascar told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International in the February 20 interview.

Expressing concerns that the relationship between Moslems and Christians had taken a plunge in the country off the coast of East Africa, Bishop Puthiyakulangara said, “Relations with the Muslims used to be good, but for some time now we have been seeing Islamists come in, and we are now confronted with the Islamization of the country.”

He added, “We have learned that in the universities the young, non-Muslim female students are being paid three Euros a day to wear the Burka.”

Nearly half of the population in Madagascar subscribe to indigenous beliefs. Another 41 percent are Christians, divided into Catholics and Protestants. Muslims are only 7 percent of this population.

But now, according to the Local Ordinary of Port-Bergé Diocese, the number of Muslims is increasing rapidly. 

The Prelate says, “In the past there were only Comorese, Pakistanis and a few Madagascans, but now people are arriving from abroad, we don’t know how, and there is also recruitment within the country.”

The member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris noted with concern the massive construction of mosques, in a move that he observed, was backed by the government to allegedly build 2,400 mosques.

“In my diocese, for example, there are no Muslims, and yet many mosques are being built. At the same time, they are coming to convert people, setting up Koranic schools and giving scholarships to the children who attend them,” Bishop Puthiyakulangara said.

In the considered opinion of the 67-year-old Prelate, “They (Muslims) are taking advantage of the poverty of the people, and especially of the students who need money. 85 percent of the people here are living below the poverty threshold.”

According to the World Bank, Madagascar is among the poorest countries in the world with 75 percent  of the population living on less than $1.90 per day.

With nearly half of the 25.6 million people in the world’s fifth largest island subscribing to indigenous beliefs, the Prelate of Indian origin has revealed that most of the people are still influenced by sorcery.

“There are some villages which I am forbidden to visit on account of their belief in witchcraft,” he disclosed and further narrated, “There is an instance when one woman within my diocese went to give catechism lessons in a village that I am forbidden to enter, and her house was set on fire on two occasions. She had to move away. Belief in sorcery is still very much present in the bush villages.”

Describing lack of access to formal education as one of the major challenges facing the Church in Madagascar today, Bishop Puthiyakulangara attributed the subscription to sorcery to illiteracy saying, “It’s because of the lack of education. The people don’t know anything else.”

He added, “In my diocese around 70 percent of young people are illiterate, because there are no schools nearby and no adequate means of transport or communication. I’m trying to encourage religious communities to come to the diocese, but it is difficult.”

According to the Bishop, 53 percent of the population is aged 18 and below. A majority of this population cannot, however, get an education since not many trained teachers are willing to venture into “isolated regions” in the country.

“We want to be able to educate the young people, so as to restore their sense of human dignity, help them to find work, to better educate their children; we want to be able to speak to them of God and help them in their vocation… But it is difficult to find teachers who will come to such isolated regions,” he said.

Besides Islamisation, sorcery and illiteracy, Bishop Puthiyakulangara revealed that the Indian Ocean Island nation, where Pope Francis visited last September, is grappling with popular justice, which he said has been characterized by people taking the law into their own hands.

He hinted at past incidences in the country where suspects had been killed for indulging in petty crimes.

“Given the poverty everywhere, especially in the villages, a simple thing such as the theft of a chicken can mean that a person is judged by the village people and the thief is later found dead,” the Bishop said.

The Prelate also revealed that the country is struggling with corruption, which he described as “terrible” and “deeply ingrained.”

In the 2019 Corruption Perception Index report, Transparency International (TI) described Madagascar as among the several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have significantly declined on the global corruption ranking and that there, “Money is used to win elections, consolidate power and further personal interests.”

To mitigate the crisis, the Prelate told ACN International that the Church had focused on educating the masses and growing the Church by providing catechism classes.

“We are working very hard to educate the people, through... homilies, by teaching the catechism and also through the justice and peace commissions which we have established in all the dioceses.”

To facilitate the taking of the gospel to the periphery, Bishop Puthiyakulangara appealed for prayers saying, “I ask you also to pray for my diocese. It covers an area of over 13,000 square miles (33,367 km²) and I have only 33 priests. I really have a great need for new vocations, of missionaries to evangelize and announce the Good News”

“We have many challenges, but God and the Virgin Mary are giving us the courage to move forward. We have our crosses, but we retain our trust in God. And we are also praying for all our benefactors, that we may work together for the glory of God,” he concluded.


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