Algeria’s High Islamic Council condemned on Wednesday a group of Berbers who organised a public lunch during the Ramadan fast to protest against its official imposition.
During the day on Saturday, some 500 “non-fasters” gathered in Tizi Ouzou, east of the capital, where they publicly ate, drank and smoked to make their point.
One of the five pillars, or basic precepts, of Islam is that all healthy adults must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse between dawn and sunset during Ramadan.
“We strongly condemn this attitude, which is like provocation and
exhibitionism,” a council statement said, criticising this “minority of
persons” who “ostentatiously demonstrated their lack of respect for the fast in the middle of the day.”
It “expressed its solidarity with the population of Tizi Ouzou, at the head of which are the imams and representative political forces of the region, who are firmly opposed to this minority of troublemakers.”
Tizi Ouzou is located in Kabylie, a region of steep mountains where the Berber population has traditionally been more secular than Algeria’s majority Arabs and often been at odds with the government.
During Saturday’s protest, a man identifying himself only as Ali said “there is a climate of terror against those who do not fast.”
And Tahar Bessalah, who described himself as a “Muslim by tradition but not a faster, argued that “religion should remain a private matter.”
And a man named Hamid said “an end needs to be put to this. You can’t force people to go to paradise.”
Bouaziz Ait Chebib, president of the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie, referred to what he said was the “ancestral attachment to freedom of conscience.”
The “eat-in” was organised in response to an incident on July 19 in which police were called to a bar in nearby Tigzirt, where youths were reportedly eating during the day. The owner’s licence was revoked but later returned, the press reported.
Until the civil war with Islamists during the 1990s, the observance of Ramadan was more relaxed in Algeria, at least in the cities. Restaurants would open during the day, and those who did not wish to fast could eat.
That changed following the war with Islamists in the 1990s, and protesters denounce the progressive Islamisation of the country.
And not only Muslims have been affected. Christians too have been hauled into court for refusing to observe the fast.