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Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit:

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.


In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:


Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:


At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:


Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:


Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!


Fewzi Benhabib has lived in Saint-Denis for 21 years.

In 1994, the engineering professor and researcher moved from Oran, Algeria, after his colleague, Professor Abderrahmane Fardeheb had been assassinated by radical extremists. Fardeheb’s teenage daughter saw everything. He was taking her to her secondary school that morning.

At the time Benhabib had been working at the University of Oran for 20 years. In France, he was a professor at l’Université d’Orsay between 1994 and 1998. He was also a professor at l’École Nationale Supérieure de Cachan during those years. He then served as a research engineer at l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise until 2013. He now works for organisations supporting secularism and democracy and has been a member of l’Observatoire de la laïcité de Saint-Denis since 2009.

He wrote about Saint-Denis for the French newsweekly Marianne (16-26 November 2015, pp. 42-47). Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases and translation mine.

At first …

Although Benhabib was reluctant to leave Oran in 1994, he believed Algeria to be too dangerous. After the murder of his colleague, he feared he might be next.

When he applied for asylum and settled in Saint-Denis, he felt comfortable living there. It was (p. 42):

welcoming, tolerant; I could finally settle there with my family, sheltered from the islamist threats that accumulated in my letterbox. I was 48 years old …

I fled Algeria with sadness, but also with a deep conviction that in France I would never again be in the throes of political Islam.

Now …

In recent years, Benhabib does not like what he sees daily. Anxiety:

has taken hold of me once again. Saint-Denis no longer resembles what it was when I first arrived, and the tradition of human rights seem to be somewhere else.

He says that a socio-political division exists, one that reminds him of Algeria in the 1990s. He sees it in the streets and at the market, lamenting that the local politicians cannot see the rise of:

the project of an alternative society, one which is obscurantist and communitarian, breaking up the democratic cement of a pluralistic society …

it is a danger not just to my scientific mind but also for humanity in general, so much so that it is urgent to point it out — before it’s too late.

Women’s clothes

Benhabib is taken aback by the female attire in the streets, which is drab, uniform and fundamentalist:

On this unseasonably warm Sunday in November, where are the tank tops or short skirts? Everywhere I look, and I’m not dreaming this, there are veils, veils and more veils. Here, to my left, in front, behind me, they range from small ‘simple’ scarves from the old days to veils that cover the forehead or huge black veils from mullah country that cover the entire body, head to toe.

He asks:

Am I the only one to ask if the free choice of women to show their hair represents progress for humanity … ?

He describes the recent trend of fundamentalist women’s clothes shops, hardly the type of clothing

styled in the fashion houses of Paris, Milan or Miami.

Even very young girls are attired like this. Veils for little ones sell well at the local market.

He explains the danger (p. 43):

The fundamentalists are advancing, crab-like, yesterday in Algeria, today to a world away in Saint-Denis. The habit makes the monk, of course, and the political message of Islamically-correct clothes is underlined by the presence of books, between the niquabs and keffiehs — and not just any books. Between the ‘Wahhabite fashion’ and this literature, there’s a common point: proselytism by a politicised Islamist fringe which some, by ignorance or weakness, continue to confuse with the true message of the Koran. The goal of these two businesses is to keep ‘Muslims’ in the Islamist orbit to dominate the community and accentuate community fracture. This development separating cultures is at the heart of the practice of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West and they have the upper hand of the Dionysians [residents of Saint-Denis].

Women’s hair

Benhabib takes issue with the hairdressing salon —  mixte, notionally offering services to men and women, but, in reality, offering a room in the back for veiled women. The sign in the window reads (p. 44):

Separate room for the veiled woman.

He looked at the sign for some time, not quite believing his eyes. The owner, also from Oran, came out of the salon and told him:

When I opened this salon nine years ago, I wanted to call it ‘mixed’ because I like the word. But, here, it’s mixed because there is a special room for veiled women, where no one can see them.

He replied:

How did you get the idea to do the hair of veiled women in another room? I’ve never seen that, even in Oran.

The hairdresser said:

Surely, you’re not comparing Oran with Saint-Denis? Here, there are veiled women who don’t want to mix with others. That’s how I got the idea.

She doesn’t wear a veil:

They can take my head off. That’s just how I am.

Going out

Benhabib says that his friends visiting Saint-Denis from Alger or Sétif are shocked to see how women are boxed in socially and how little they enjoy themselves.

One said that even in Algerian marketplaces:

couples walk hand-in-hand.

Another said that it is normal for women in Algeria to go out with each other for a cup of tea or a soft drink. In Saint-Denis, that would be unusual.

Benhabib asks:

Saint-Denis outdoes Oran — this is normal?

Fast food

There is a halal fast-food restaurant called Mak d’Hal which not only sounds like the first two syllables of ‘McDonald’s’ but has also borrowed quite a few of their graphics. It has 100% halal burgers.

The ‘Greek’ restaurants are all halal, featuring kebabs.

Benhabib is agnostic when it comes to eating non-halal and pork. He and his family eat anything and everything:

My identity is pluralistic because the culture is mixed.

The school canteen questionnaire

Having no dietary requirements, however, does not always go down well with officialdom.

Benhabib’s daughter-in-law recently enrolled her son in first year of state primary school. She had to complete a form concerning school lunch. She ticked the box which said ‘everything’; he could and does eat all foods.

Soon after school started in September, a member of the school administration stopped her one day to express concern about ‘everything’. Did the mother realise that her son might be eating non-halal food?

A frustrated Benhabib asks (p. 45):

Why this question? Did he think she had misunderstood the question, as some illiterate mothers do, or was he implicitly reminding her of her Muslim duty? And are these people within their remit, these administrators, who also come out with ‘Greek’ sandwiches for Muslim children on days when pork is served? I dare to hope that the hierarchy — principal and the rest of the senior administration — ignores this initiative. I dare to hope this is not financed with public money. But, lately, my community has taught me to be distrustful. I thought I left all of these things behind 21 years ago.

The prayer room

The carefree and audacious way men gather for prayer at the Tawhid Centre also shocks Benhabib. The men arrange their prayer rugs in the road, obstructing vehicle traffic.

It was at this centre that the fundamentalist preacher Tariq Ramadan — darling of the Left and of university professors around the world (I know a few of them!) — started his

offensive on France at the beginning of this century.

This prayer room that some take for an ordinary mosque is the principal vector for the ideologisation of Islam and proselytism by the Muslim Brotherhood.

On paper, he explains, it looks as if they are only offering courses in Arabic. However, the course is supplemented by lessons in ‘Islamic sciences’ and an obligatory memorisation of the Koran.

The courses are also aimed at children. Benhabib surmises that the goal is to make the Arabic language first and foremost in their minds and to get them to follow a political agenda.

The fees are from €250 to €350 per student per year. The courses, he says, are created and further financed by North African countries.

Those who wish to earn a ‘diploma’ must pay between €1,000 and €1,500. Benhabib is aghast (p. 46):

I ask myself again: where do these notionally ‘poor’ families find the money to pay for these courses for their youngsters? Why this financial sacrifice, facilitated by scaled instalment payments, without any hope of proper professional qualifications at the end of it?

He warns that this type of ‘schooling’ deprives children and adolescents of learning critical thinking. In fact, they will learn instead to adopt the dogmatic thinking which runs contrary to that of the French republic.

The bookshop

One of the most fundamentalist bookshops, Samy, is located in rue du Jambon — Ham Street. The name has not yet changed!

Samy has no novels, no award-winning Arabic non-fiction, no volumes of poetry, no ancient Arab classics.

It features only fundamentalist literature which advocates narrow perspectives on family, society and politics. Here, Benhabib says:

the shutters on freedom of thought have come down with a bang.

He fears for the future. It is just this type of thing that caused him to leave Algeria:

This situation reminds me of Oran in the 1990s, when one of the first actions of the extremist mayor’s office was to close the conservatory of music, forbid music and dance, encourage the defacing of works of art, calling all of these outside influences brought in from elsewhere.

He notes that the newly-famous imam of Brest (Brittany), known for replying to hundreds of questions from young people online and in video, shares the same obscurantist views, saying:

music was made for monkeys and pigs.

Odd political alliances

The movers and shakers in Saint-Denis work with conservatives and leftists when the cause suits them.

Benhabib tells us that in 2013, the conservative organisation Civitas organised a conference in Saint-Denis opposing gender theory. He remembers who gladly provided security on the day (p. 47):

I could see it wasn’t conservative Catholics but bearded men from the Tawhid Centre.

At the city’s Institut Universitaire de Technologie, classes are now scheduled around prayer times.

When the Institute’s director, Samuel Mayol, dared to remind students of France’s values as a republic:

he became the object of a campaign of particularly violent intimidation, menacing letters, a vandalised car, then an assault, first in 2014, with a second during the past few weeks.

Police were slow to act or non-existent, Benhabib says. Left-wing councillors made no comment.

Many council offices — Socialist or Communist — in the larger borough of Seine-Saint-Denis no longer schedule meetings on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.


Benhabib is desperately trying to organise people to counter-act this militant tendency. He had held a meeting recently, but fundamentalists disturbed it, so it had to be abandoned. He will try again on December 3.

What he said is useful for non-Muslims to remember:

In the 1990s I saw my fellow Algerians similarly helpless against the redoubtable fundamentalist machine. Islamism progressed in a low voice, with tiny audacious steps, at first, fearful of offending anyone, before tumbling one day into terrorism and barbarity.




In February 2015, I wrote about how the attire of Muslim women from the Middle East to Afghanistan changed dramatically from Western to mediaeval in 40 years.

For those who missed it the first time, I highly recommend it for the links to photos from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Le Monde has a blog post on a new socio-religious campaign in Algeria, ‘Be a Man’, which advocates that good Muslims cover every woman in their purview — wives, daughters, mothers, sisters:

Don’t let your women leave the house in daring attire.

The post has a campaign photo of a young father in normal street clothes sitting with his four young daughters, two of them toddlers, all wearing veils and leg-covering garments. The Koran does not suggest veils until puberty.

Le Monde explains:

According to CNN Arabic, numerous sheiks have given their support. Such as Monhim Abdel Samad Qoweider, imam of a mosque in Borj el Bahri, a suburb of Algiers, who believes that clothes indicate proof of a person’s morality …

Although there is a backlash on social media, it is unclear how effective it will be. We can but hope it is. Film director Sofia Djama, writing for France 24, lamented the state of women in Algeria:

Today, verbal violence is (a) daily (occurrence) and normalised. It’s super violent walking in the capital, Algiers, in a skirt or trousers.

Inevitably, some will say, ‘So what? That’s in Algeria’.

The issue is that this attitude is already prevalent in parts of Europe, particularly France. A few months ago, French media was full of news and comment on harassment of women in larger cities and on public transport: insults, propositions and groping by non-European men.

Of course, those familiar with poor French suburbs will know that this has been going on for at least 15 years. Gang rape is a real risk for young Muslim women who dare to walk around unveiled or in a modest skirt.

Now this harassment is going mainstream.

It is deplorable. But, who will stop it — and how? Without a constant reminder in the media, with the frequency of anti-‘racism’ rhetoric which now seems to encompass all conditions, this degrading trend seems set to continue.

It isn’t often that we read about the Church in North Africa, in the former French colonies.

Long gone are the days of the pied noirs, French people who lived and worked in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. They returned to France 50 years ago. Also diminishing is the freedom for Christians to worship in what are increasingly hardline Wahhabist countries.

I first read about the Church in Algeria in Marianne, the French weekly news magazine.  There, the Protestant churches are growing in popularity among the Berber population.  Some have termed it a ‘revival’.  Needless to say, the Muslim state authorities are cracking down hard and have brought a number of court cases in recent months. has featured several recent articles on the state of the Church in Algeria.  In ‘Algeria: A Persecuted Land Where Revival Refuses to Cease’, we discover (emphases mine throughout):

It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest modern Christian rebirth in the Middle East or North Africa can be attributed to the reawakening of the church in Algeria’s Kabylie region. The Kabylie revival was neither inspired by missionaries nor introduced as a foreign movement, but was ignited by a small group of faithful believers in an obscure village. It was a rebirth indigenous to the national church where God is using dreams and visions to turn Muslims to Christ. In a country that many consider ‘closed’ to the Gospel and where proselytism is illegal under Algerian law, the steadfast devotion of Algeria’s Spirit-led church has overcome the government’s resolve to control the growth of its Christian minority.

It all began in 1981 with a 21-year-old [man] from a poor family and a game of football. On the field, the young man befriended Arab visitors from a church in Algiers. It was the first time he experienced what he later recognized to be a ‘Christ-like’ example, and the first time he heard the Gospel. It was not long before this young man, now known as Pastor Raba, would entrust his life to God and carry the weight of a great calling – reaching the Kabylie region for Christ.

Pastor Raba and three friends formed a group and began meeting weekly. “We faced many things alone,” Pastor Raba explained. “Like new believers from Islam, we faced many problems with our families, with the police, and with the authority of the village. We tried to commit together, us four, but we didn’t know the Bible and we didn’t know how to pray.” The group began attending a church service in Algiers – a three day’s journey from their home village – as often as they could, but soon the government forced the church to close its doors. “We then decided to have meetings together even though we didn’t know anything, so in prayer we said ‘God, we don’t know anything, but we are ready if you want to use us.”

The group allotted the year between 1989 and 1990 for fasting and prayer. A year later, revival broke free. “During that year we went to villages where there were no Christians, we prayed for the village, and after a few months we would hear that there were believers there,” explained Pastor Raba …

It is estimated that some 80,000 former Muslims in Kabylie have turned to Christ since the beginning of Algeria’s great revival. Some churches are seeing incredible growth, including a Tizi Ouzou congregation that began with twelve members in 1996 and now has 900 believers attending services. In fact, so many are coming to Christ in remote areas that it is becoming difficult to provide them with trained pastors and leadership. “Our biggest challenge is finding men and women who are called and trained to disciple, pastor and train the many believers coming to faith in different villages and towns,” explained Algerian Christian leader Youssef Ourahmane.

St Augustine of Hippo was a Berber.  North Africa had many faithful Christians until the Islamic conquests late in the seventh century.  A significant number of the faithful refused to covert to Islam until the 12th century, when high taxes and special laws imposed on non-Muslims became too onerous.  Even afterward, they were not as devout as Arab Muslims in the region.  And, now, it seems, an increasing number are returning to Christianity.

This has not been without its problems.  In 2010, a number of high-profile court cases came to light, among them the trial of two Christian construction workers, Salem Fellak and Hocine Hocini.  Another article from gives the details:

On 12 August two construction workers, Hocine Hocini (44) and Salem Fellak (34), both recent converts from Islam, were arrested during their lunch break and charged with ‘non-compliance with a precept of Islam’ (a highly controversial article in Algeria’s penal code) for eating during daylight hours in Ramadan. On 21 September the prosecutor in the court of Ain el-Hammam, a town in the region of Tizi Ouzou in Kabylie, requested that the men receive three years in prison. When Hocine Hocini informed the court he was a ‘Protestant Christian’ and not a Muslim, the prosecutor counselled him ‘to leave this country, a land of Islam’. Outside the courthouse, hundreds of demonstrators — including atheists, liberal Muslims, intellectuals, rights activists and members of the movement for the autonomy of Kabylie — stood in solidarity with hymn-singing Christians to protest ‘arbitrary use of power’. On 5 October, as hundreds waited outside the courthouse again, the court handed down its verdict acquitting both men. Many saw this as a victory for solidarity. Doubtless God was answering prayers, for a guilty verdict would have had horrendous ramifications.

On December 12, 2010, an Algerian court handed down suspended prison sentences for four Christian men found guilty of ‘worshipping without a permit’.  This is a serious judgment that has repercussions not only for individual Christians but churches as well. explains:

The pastor of the church, Mahmoud Yahou, was also charged with hosting a foreigner [a French pastor] without official permission. The court gave him a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 10,000 Algerian dinars (US$130), reported French TV station France 24 on its Web site. The prosecutor had asked for one-year prison sentences for each defendant.

Although the suspended sentences mean the four Christians will not serve prison time, Yahou told Compass that he and the three other men plan to appeal the verdict because the outcome of their case could affect all Protestant churches of the country, none of which have official permission to operate …

In February 2008 the government applied measures to better control non-Muslim groups through Ordinance 06-03, which was established in 2006. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the ordinance. No churches have been closed down since then.

Despite efforts to comply with the ordinance, no churches or Christian groups have received governmental approval to operate, and the government has not established administrative means to implement the ordinance, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom.

Though none of the churches have closed since 2008, their status continues to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). The EPA, however, is also trying to gain official recognition.

“Actually, this law of 2006 has come to light: people are condemned as criminals for the simple act of thinking and believing different,” the president of the EPA, Mustapha Krim, told Compass. “If we accept this [verdict], it means we are condemned to close our churches one after the other.”

Krim confirmed that based on Ordinance 06-03, none of the churches have actual authorization to operate, nor can Christians speak about their faith to other Algerians

The Algerian government presents the Christian situation differently:

Attending the re-opening of a Catholic church in Algeria’s capital on Monday (Dec. 13), Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters,Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality,” reported Reuters.

That might be true in a sense, but with court cases like these and no official government approval for Christianity, that liberty is a tenuous one which could be interpreted differently in a court of law or conveniently removed arbitrarily at any time.

This is not the first time Mr Yahou’s church has had problems:

The small church of Larbaa Nath Irathen, consisting only of a few families, had problems as early as 2008, when a group of Islamic radicals launched a petition against the church without success.

Yahou told Compass that he knew very well the people in the village who brought charges against them, saying that they have tried to intimidate the church for the past few months in an effort to close it down.

“These are Islamists, and I know them in this village,” Yahou said.

And it is this fear and intimidation which causes churches to close and believers to move underground.


There are around 64 Protestant churches in the Kabylie region, where most Algerian Christians live, as well as numerous house groups, according to church leaders.

Let us pray for the Church and Her faithful in Algeria that they might have not only a peaceful Easter season but also that official recognition be granted to them and that the court cases stop.

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