During Roman times North-Western Africa had a thriving Christian community, giving birth to Saint Augustine and a long lasting heresy. This is similar to many Christian communities of the time, from Egypt to Syria.

Today, Christianity disappeared so thoroughly from the region as to leave no traces, while it still exists in Egypt and Syria.

When and why did Christianity disappear from North-Western Africa? What were the differences leading to its demise as compared to Christianity in Egypt and Syria?

[Edited as the original framing was clearly misleading]

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    I take it you've never heard of The Coptic Church then?
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 1, 2014 at 17:35
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    Perhaps the reasons for the disappeance in North Africa back when is the same as the reasons for recent declines in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the West Bank and Gaza -- the rise of fundamentalist Islamic organizations that seek to drive out Christians through intimidation. See acnuk.org/middle-east-arab-spring-christian-winter. Oct 1, 2014 at 19:49
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    @T.E.D. I thought about North Africa without Egypt. In fact my question was in particular about why Christianity disappeared from Morocco to Libya, but not in Egypt and Syria.
    – astabada
    Oct 2, 2014 at 9:19
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    @astabada As I told you earlier, there are still hundreds of thousands of Christians in those countries. Morocco: 380,000 Algeria: 100,000; Tunisia: 25,000; Libya: 100,000 (some of the numbers might be higher).
    – Semaphore
    Oct 3, 2014 at 11:25
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    Christianity had a brief resurgence due to colonialism, but it wasn't as though it was completely wiped out and "leave no traces" in those countries as you claim. If your actual question is why (or When?) it experienced a bigger decline relative to Egypt, then you should edit that into the question.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 3, 2014 at 15:24

4 Answers 4


The decline of Christianity in the Maghreb is related to the Arab conquest and the rule of Muslim governors. An important step in that decline was the rule of Almoravids and Almohads, under which most Christian and Jew populations were forced to convert or to be exiled. That's probably the difference between North West Africa and the Middle East (including Egypt) where some Christian groups remain, although they are a minority of the population.

  • 1
    +1 For the first answer to mention the difference between North Africa and the Middle East.
    – astabada
    Jan 25, 2017 at 0:01
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    Indeed, depending on the country and governors, Christians and Jews were either milked as dhimmis (second class citizens who had to pay more taxes), and thus protected, or purged. North Western Africa must have needed them less and thus purged them more, while they remained essential to the economy of Egypt and thus survived.
    – Shautieh
    Mar 2, 2017 at 7:10
  • @Shautieh As you said, there are differences between countries and between governors, but the difference between Almoravid and Almohad rulers and other countries governors seem more related to ideology than driven by different economical needs.
    – Pere
    Mar 13, 2017 at 15:45
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    @Pere Ideology must play a big part but the status of dhimmi was created/strengthened because during the firsts Islamic conquests they tended to kill the Christians and Jews communities who didn't want to convert, and this attitude led to economic collapses. If you pillage and kill farmers for their food, then you end up with no food at all next year. That's why several rulers started protecting the dhimmis in exchange for high taxes (they tried giving the fields to Muslims at first but they wouldn't produce quite as much, if at all, as they fancied pillaging more).
    – Shautieh
    Mar 14, 2017 at 15:35
  • @Pere ... So my idea was that maybe this need wasn't as important in North Western Africa, making purging dhimmis more convenient. Just my two cents.
    – Shautieh
    Mar 14, 2017 at 15:38

I would think that the main reason for the decline of Christianity in North Africa since Roman Times was largely due to the rapid expansion of Islam in the first century of its existence. Arabs of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates spread Islam at the point of the sword all the way across North Africa, up the Iberian Peninsula into France.

The high water mark was Southern France, at the Battle of Tours 732 CE when a Frankish Army under Charles Martel, defeated the Umayyad Caliphate. From then on Christian forces rolled back Islamic forces out of Spain until Granada fell in 1492.

Wikipedia article on the Spread of Islam

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    I think you are probably right, but a source would greatly add to the quality of this answer.
    – user1973
    Oct 2, 2014 at 17:02
  • I have improved my question, as the original framing did not emphasize the difference between North Western Africa and Syria/Egypt
    – astabada
    Oct 3, 2014 at 11:14
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    I do not believe that Reconquesta and Raid on Tours were related much to suggest that Tours instigated the reconquesta. The borders kept changing in Hispania regardless to the Battle of Tours, with both sides falling back or pushing on, depending on results of battles
    – NSNoob
    Jul 14, 2016 at 7:11
  • This is not a sufficient answer because, as the question notes, indigenous Christianity remained in Egypt & Syria (as well as other regions subject to early Muslim conquests) even to this day after 1000+ years of Muslim rule. You need to show that the conquest in North Africa was especially more violent, or that there were other reasons which made it easier for North Africans to convert
    – user69715
    Sep 11, 2017 at 16:15

If you compare the Christian presence in North Africa now to that from 100 years ago, there has been a noticeable decline. The main reason for this was anti-colonialist sentiment at the end of World War II. Of course, this was merely a continuation of a process of exclusion and elimination that has occurred over centuries. For example, in Algeria there have been no large Christian communities since the medieval period.

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    I think you are probably right, but a source would greatly add to the quality of this answer. Oct 2, 2014 at 18:06

The answer to this question is very simple.........the Medieval Arab Muslim conquest.

It is true that in the early middle ages, North Africa-(from Egypt, to Tunisia), had a sizable Christian presence-(both Roman and Byzantine rite). In fact, much of North Africa, during the early Middle Ages/(the so-called, "Dark Ages"), was under direct Byzantine imperial rule. The famed early Medieval Roman rite Christian, Saint Augustine, was probably of Berber ethnic extraction and was originally from either Libya or Tunisia. One can even go back to Saint Mark, who was also from Libya and is the Patron Saint of Egyptian Coptic Christianity.

However, with the birth of Islam in the early 600's, followed by the subsequently rapid spread of Islam throughout the Arabian peninsula, as well as throughout the Middle East, neighboring North Africa would shortly follow....... from Egypt,to Morocco. The North African Muslim campaigns were led by the Umayyad Caliphate and many-(though not all) of North African's Christians, were forcibly converted to Islam. Egypt, for example, is approximately 15% Christian, though the presence of Christians in the remainder of North Africa is infinitesimal.

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    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Sep 8, 2017 at 19:23
  • Countries such as Hungary or Serbia were also conquered by Muslims for more than 500 years, but Christianity still stayed majority there.
    – Bregalad
    Sep 9, 2017 at 18:38
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    Thank you for your response. It is true that the majority of Balkan countries,-(including, Serbia), remained majority Christian when under Ottoman Turkish Muslim rule. However, other Balkan lands, such as Bosnia and Albania, were primarily DeChristianized and were forcibly converted to Islam by the Turkish Sultanate. Before the arrival of the Ottomans, Bosnia and Albania were Christian lands-(though for the historical and demographic record, Albania has a Christian minority).
    – user26763
    Sep 9, 2017 at 19:05
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    I should also add the following historical and demographic point. The land of Asia Minor-(the Western region of present-day Turkey), was predominantly Christian-(namely Greek and Armenian Christians) during the Late Middle Ages. The majority of Christians in Late Medieval Asia Minor were some of the earliest forced conversions to Ottoman Turkish Islam.
    – user26763
    Sep 9, 2017 at 19:13

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