Mosque in Diego Suarez, in the far north of Madagascar. (Photo Leonora Ellie Enking via Flickr CC 2.0)
Mosque in Diego Suarez, in the far north of Madagascar. (Photo: Leonora Ellie Enking via Flickr CC 2.0)

One of Pope Francis’s new cardinals has warned of the rise of “extremist Islam” in the southern African island nation of Madagascar.

“The fundamentalists are beginning to establish themselves and, little by little, as their numbers grow, we start to wonder when they will really show who they are, and this truly concerns us,” Cardinal-designate Désiré Tzarahazana of Toamasina told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“The rise of Islam is palpable,” he said, noting plans to build more than 2,600 mosques. “You can see it everywhere. It is an invasion, with money from the Gulf States and from Pakistan – they buy people. You see young men setting off to study in Saudi Arabia, and when they come back they are imams.

“We organised a meeting with a group of imams to share our concerns, and one of the imams himself testified: he was one of our former seminarians. Of course he did not say that he had been attracted by the money, but that is what is happening, on account of the poverty here.”

The cardinal, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Madagascar, added: “In my own diocese there are mosques being built everywhere … even though there aren’t enough Muslims to use them.”

A local source told World Watch Monitor that he had noticed, as he travelled the island, that “you would find a mosque even in the most remote areas, although there is no-one using some of them”.

According to the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report, 41% of Madagascar’s population is Christian and 7% Muslim, while 52% adheres to indigenous beliefs, but the cardinal said there has been a particular rise in “radical Muslims” in the Mahajanga district on the island’s north-western coast.

World Watch Monitor’s source said that families in poor communities in the north of Madagascar are offered free education for their children in the capital, Antananarivo, to then be sent somewhere else as their missionaries. “A mother of a young man told me that she had not seen her son since he left to study in Antananarivo, and that was years ago,” the source said.

To the northwest of Madagascar is Comoros, an archipelago that is 95% Muslim which is on the list of the 2018 Open Doors Persecution Watch Countries, and where the influence of radical Islam is growing.