The Kabyles live in the rugged mountains called Kabylia to the east of the Algerian capital, Algiers. They belong to the Berber or Imazighen people groups. Berbers were the original inhabitants of North Africa before the Arab invasion of the region around 1,350 years ago. There are several different Berber people groups scattered across North Africa, though they live mainly in Algeria and Morocco.
Early History of the Kabyles of Algeria
When the Arabs invaded North Africa, they Arabized and Islamized the Berbers, many of whom had been at least nominally Christian as early as the second and third centuries AD. Many Berbers had been martyred for their faith under Roman persecution, well before the Arab conquest. The Kabyle Berbers fled to the mountainous regions of Kabylia and, despite the many centuries of Arab occupation, have been able to keep their language alive by passing it on orally to each generation. They have also kept their traditional clothing (colourful dresses and headwear for the women). Their Christian faith, however, did not withstand Islam, although the Kabyles were very reluctant to become Muslim. The fact that the Bible was never translated into Berber in those early years is a major reason why the Kabyles eventually became Muslim. The Kabyles have been Muslims for many centuries. Christian missionaries came and went without seeing fruit. Some died as martyrs.
Work among the Kabyles of Algeria
In the early 1980s, the Lord started moving among the Kabyles in a new way. An Arabic Christian shared the Gospel with some young Kabyles on a football team. They accepted Jesus and in turn reached out to their people. Others saw dreams and visions. Small house churches began in the mountains. All this took place secretly for fear of persecution from the Muslim population. The churches grew in size and eventually became visible. It is now well known that many Kabyles are Christians. A few years ago the Algerian government even published figures indicating the presence of at least 7,000 Kabyle Christians.
Some Kabyles started translation work and saw the emergence of Kabyle in writing. The first book ever written in the new Kabyle Berber script was the New Testament and the first film ever translated was the Jesus film. Worship tapes in Kabyle now exist. Soon the entire Bible in Kabyle will be printed. The Kabyles are bold people, willing to share their faith. Clearly, a revival is taking place.
An excellent book concerning the early Christians in North Africa is This Holy Seed by Robin Daniel (published by Tamarisk Press in the UK). You can also discover more about Kabylia at the non-Christian website kabyle.com.
Pray for the Muslim Kabyles of Algeria:
* Thank God for the Kabyle Church. Pray through Paul’s prayers in Colossians 1:2b-12, applying them to the Kabyle Church.
* Pray for strengthening of these young but dedicated churches through the various training programmes which have already started.
* Pray for closer and better relationships between church leaders. A promising partnership has already begun and needs to grow.
* Pray for the Kabyle Christians to have a greater vision to reach out to other Muslim people groups in Algeria and beyond. May they take the blessing of Abraham everywhere they go (Gal. 3:8-14).
Background on Algeria (World Factbook)
After more than a century of rule by France, Algerians fought through much of the 1950s to achieve independence in 1962. Algeria’s primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has dominated politics ever since. Many Algerians in the subsequent generation were not satisfied, however, and moved to counter the FLN’s centrality in Algerian politics.
Intense fighting between 1992-98 resulted in over 100,000 deaths – many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists.
Longstanding problems continue to face the government, including the ethnic minority Berbers’ ongoing autonomy campaign, large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and the continuing – although significantly degraded – activities of extremist militants. Algeria must also diversify its petroleum-based economy, which has yielded a large cash reserve but which has not been used to redress Algeria’s many social and infrastructure problems. The Arab uprising across the Near Eastern and North African region beginning in December 2010, coupled with a sudden rise in the cost of food staples, triggered a wave of protests across Algeria during early 2011. Changes have been promised.
Economy of Algeria
Algeria has the eighth-largest reserves of natural gas in the world and is the fourth-largest gas exporter; it ranks 18th in oil reserves. Algeria has decreased its external debt to less than 10% of GDP after repaying its Paris Club and London Club debt in 2006. Real GDP has risen due to higher oil output and increased government spending. There is still high unemployment and low living standards. Structural reform within the economy, such as development of the banking sector and the construction of infrastructure, moves ahead slowly hampered by corruption and bureaucratic resistance.
Second-largest country in Africa (after Sudan).
Population: 38,087,812 (July 2013 est.) World rank #35
Life Expectancy at Birth: 76.185 years. World rank #82
Ethnic Groups: Arab-Berber 99%, European less than 1% – See notes below
Religions: Sunni Muslim (state religion) 99%, Christian and Jewish 1%
Languages: Arabic (official), French, Berber dialects
Literacy: total population: 72.6%; male: 81.3% / female: 63.9%
School life expectancy: 14 years
Ethnic groups Note: almost all Algerians are Berber in origin, not Arab; the minority who identify themselves as Berber live mostly in the mountainous region of Kabylie east of Algiers; the Berbers are also Muslim but identify with their Berber rather than Arab cultural heritage; Berbers have long agitated, sometimes violently, for autonomy; the government is unlikely to grant autonomy but has offered to begin sponsoring teaching Berber language in schools.
Sights and Sounds of Algeria: Video (1:56)