Religion in Africa

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Religious distribution in Africa

Religion in Africa is multifaceted and has been a major influence on art, culture and philosophy. The continent's various populations and individuals are mostly adherents of Christianity, Islam, and to a lesser extent Traditional African religion. In Christian or Islamic communities, religious beliefs are also sometimes characterized with syncretism with the beliefs and practices of traditional religions.[1][2][3]

African Traditional Religion[edit]

Early 20th century Yoruba divination board
Vodun altar in Abomey, Benin

Africa encompasses a wide variety of traditional beliefs. Although religious customs are sometimes shared by many local societies, they are usually unique to specific populations or geographic regions.[4] According to Dr J Omosade Awolalu, The "traditional" in this context means indigenous, that which is foundational, handed down from generation to generation, meant as to be upheld and practised today and forevermore. A heritage from the past, yet not treated as a thing of the past but that which connects the past with the present and the present with eternity.[3]

Often spoken of in the terms of a singularity, deliberate; yet conscious of the fact that Africa is a large continent with multitudes of nations who have complexed cultures, innumerable languages and myriads of dialects.[3] The essence of this school of thought is based mainly on oral transmission; that which is written in people's hearts, minds, oral history, customs, temples and religious functions.[5] It has no founders or leaders like Gautama the Buddha, Christos, Ashoka, Christ or Muhammed.[6] It has no missionaries or the intent to propagate or to proselytise.[7] Some of the African traditional religions are those of the Yoruba, Serer and Igbo peoples. Also among the Ashanti, the Fon/Ewe of Benin, Ghana and Nigeria.

Abrahamic religions[edit]

The majority of Africans are adherents of Christianity or Islam. African people often combine the practice of their traditional belief with the practice of Abrahamic religions.[8][8][9][10][11][12] Abrahamic religions are widespread throughout Africa. They have both spread and replaced indigenous African religions, but are often adapted to African cultural contexts and belief systems. The World Book Encyclopedia has estimated that in 2002 Christians formed 40% of the continent's population, with Muslims forming 45%. It was also estimated in 2002 that Christians form 45% of Africa's population, with Muslims forming 40.6%.[13]

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

Bahá'í House of Worship, Kampala, Uganda.

The Bahá'í Faith in Africa has a diverse history. It is the 3rd most widespread organized Abrahamic religion in Africa after Islam and Christianity[14] after its wide-scale growth in the 1950s and extend in the 1960s.[15] The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) lists many large and smaller populations in Africa[16] with Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa and Zambia among the top ten numerical populations of Bahá'ís in the world in 2005 (each with over 200,000 adherents), and Mauritius in terms of percentage of the national population.

All three individual heads of the religion, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi, were in Africa at various times. More recently the roughly 2000[17] Bahá'ís of Egypt have been embroiled in the Egyptian identification card controversy from 2006[18] through 2009.[19] Since then there have been homes burned down and families driven out of towns.[20] On the other hand Sub-Saharan Bahá'ís were able to mobilize for nine regional conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice 20 October 2008 to celebrate recent achievements in grassroots community-building and to plan their next steps in organizing in their home areas.[21]

Christianity[edit]

Christianity is now one of the two most widely practised religions in Africa and is the largest religion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most adherents outside Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea are Roman Catholic or Protestant.[citation needed] Several syncretistic and messianic sects have formed throughout much of the continent, including the Nazareth Baptist Church in South Africa and the Aladura churches in Nigeria.There is also fairly widespread populations of Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. The oldest Christian denominations in Africa are the Coptic church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, all Oriental Orthodox, which rose to prominence in the fourth century AD after King Ezana the Great made Ethiopia one of the first Christian nations.[22]

In the first few centuries of Christianity, Africa produced many figures who had a major influence outside the continent, including St Augustine of Hippo, St Maurice, Origen, Tertullian, and three Roman Catholic popes (Victor I, Miltiades and Gelasius I), as well as the Biblical characters Simon of Cyrene and the Ethiopian eunuch baptised by Philip the Evangelist. Christianity existed in Ethiopia before the rule of King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum, but the religion took a strong foot hold when it was declared a state religion in 330 AD, becoming one of the first Christian nations.[23] The earliest and best known reference to the introduction of Christianity to Africa is mentioned in the Christian Bible's Acts of the Apostles, and pertains to the evangelist Phillip's conversion of an Ethiopian traveler in the 1st Century AD. Although the Bible refers to them as Ethiopians, scholars have argued that Ethiopia was a common term encompassing the area South-Southeast of Egypt.

Other traditions have the convert as a Jew who was a steward in the Queen’s court.[clarification needed] All accounts do agree on the fact that the traveler was a member of the royal court who successfully succeeded in converting the Queen, which in turn caused a church to be built. Tyrannius Rufinus, a noted church historian, also recorded a personal account as do other church historians such as Socrates and Sozemius.[24] Some experts predict the shift of Christianity's center from the European industrialized nations to Africa and Asia in modern times. Yale University historian Lamin Sanneh stated, that "African Christianity was not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come."[25] The statistics from the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett) illustrate the emerging trend of dramatic Christian growth on the continent and supposes, that in 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa.[26]

Islam[edit]

Main article: Islam in Africa
The Great Mosque of Kairouan, erected in 670 by the Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi, is the oldest mosque in North Africa,[27] Kairouan, Tunisia.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the largest religion in Africa,[28] with 47% of the population being Muslim, accounting for 1/4 of the world's Muslim population.[29] The faith's historic roots on the continent stem from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, whose early disciples migrated to Abyssinia (hijira) in fear of persecution from the pagan Arabs.

The spread of Islam in North Africa came with the expansion of Arab empire under Caliph Umar, through the Sinai Peninsula. Spread of Islam in West Africa was through Islamic traders and sailors.

Islam is the dominant religion in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. It has also become the predominant religion on the Swahili Coast as well as the West African seaboard and parts of the interior. There have been several Muslim empires in Western Africa which exerted considerable influence, notably the Mali Empire, which flourished for several centuries and the Songhai Empire, under the leadership of Mansa Musa, Sonni Ali and Askia Mohammed.

The vast majority of Muslims in Africa are Sunni, belonging to either Maliki or Shafi schools of jurisprudence. However, Hanafi school of jurisprudence is also represented, mainly in Egypt.[30] There are also sizeable minorities of Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis.[31]

Judaism[edit]

Main article: African Jews

Adherents of Judaism too can be found scattered across Africa. Perhaps not as well known as the history of Christianity and Islam in Africa to the outside observer, Judaism has an ancient and rich history on the African continent. Today, there are Jewish communities in many countries; including the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the Abayudaya of Uganda, the House of Israel in Ghana, the Igbo Jews of Nigeria and the Lemba of Southern Africa.

Hinduism[edit]

Main article: Hinduism in Africa

Hinduism has existed in Africa mainly since the late 19th century. While the religion is not well spread, it is the largest religion in Mauritius,[32] and several other countries have Hindu temples.[citation needed]

Buddhism and Chinese religions[edit]

Main article: Buddhism in Africa

Buddhism is a tiny religion in Africa with around over 250 thousand practicing adherents,[33] and up to nearly 400 thousand[34] if combined with Taoism/Chinese Folk Religion as a common traditional religion of mostly new Chinese migrants (significant minority in Mauritius, Réunion, and South Africa). About half of African Buddhists are now living in South Africa, while Mauritius has the highest Buddhist percentage in the continent, between 1.5%[35] to 2%[36] of the total population.

Other religions[edit]

Other faiths are practiced in Africa, including Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, Raëlism, Wicca, Druidry, and New Age.[37]

Irreligion / agnostic / atheism[edit]

Main article: Irreligion in Africa

A Gallup poll shows that the irreligious comprise 20% in South Africa, 16% in Botswana, 13% in Mozambique, 13% in Togo, 12% in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire, 10% in Ethiopia and Angola, 9% in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Algeria, 8% in Namibia and 7% in Madagascar.[38]

Syncretism[edit]

Syncretism is the combining of different (often contradictory) beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. In the commonwealth of Africa syncretism with indigenous beliefs is practiced throughout the region. It is believed by some to explain religious tolerance between different groups.[39] Kwesi Yankah and John Mbiti argue that many African peoples today have a 'mixed' religious heritage to try to reconcile traditional religions with Abrahamic faiths.[40][41] Jesse Mugambi claims that the Christianity taught to Africans by missionaries had a fear of syncretism, which was carried on by current African Christian leadership in an attempt to keep Christianity "pure."[42] Syncretism in Africa is said by others to be overstated,[43] and due to a misunderstanding of the abilities of local populations to form their own orthodoxies and also confusion over what is culture and what is religion.[44] Others state that the term syncretism is a vague one,[45] since it can be applied to refer to substitution or modification of the central elements of Christianity or Islam with beliefs or practices from somewhere else. The consequences under this definition, according to missiologist Keith Ferdinando, are a fatal compromise of the religion's integrity. However, communities in Africa (e.g. Afro-Asiatic) have many common practices which are also found in Abrahamic faiths, and thus these traditions do not fall under the category of some definitions of syncretism.[46][47]

Religious distribution[edit]

Country Christianity
% of total population
Islam
% of total population
Traditional religions
and other
% of total population
Sourcen1
- Central Africa -
 Angola 95 0.5 4.5 [48]
 Cameroon 69.2 20.9 9.9 [49]
 Central African Republic 80.3 10.1 9.6 [50]
 Chad 34 53 13 [51]
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 95.8 1.5 2.7 [52]
 Republic of the Congo 85.9 1.2 12.9 [52]
 Equatorial Guinea 93 1 6 [53]
 Gabon 73 10 17 [54]
 São Tomé and Príncipe 97 2 1 [55]
- East Africa -
 Burundi 75 5 20 [56]
 Comoros 2 98 0 [57]
 Kenya 78 10 12 [58]
 Madagascar 41 7 52 [59]
 Malawi 79.9 12.8 7.3 [60]
 Mauritius 32.2 16.6 51.2 [61]
 Mayotte 3 97 0 [62]
 Mozambique 56.1 17.9 26 [63]
 Réunion 84.9 2.1 13 [64]
 Rwanda 93.6 4.6 1.8 [65]
 Seychelles 93.1 1.1 5.8 [66]
 South Sudan 60.5 6.2 32.9 [52]
 Tanzania 30 35 35 [67]
 Uganda 84 12 4 [68]
 Zambia 87 1 12 [69]
- Horn of Africa -
 Djibouti 6 94 0 [70]
 Eritrea 62.5 36.5 1 [71]
 Ethiopia 62.8 33.9 3.3 [72]
 Somalia 0 100 0 [73]
- North Africa -
 Algeria 1 99 0 [74]
 Egypt 10 90 0 [75]
 Libya 1 97 2 [76]
 Morocco 1.1 98.7 0.2 [77]
 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic 0 100 0 [78]
 Sudan 3 97 0 [79]
 Tunisia 1 98 1 [80]
- Southern Africa -
 Botswana 71.6 0.3 28.1 [81]
 Lesotho 90 0 10 [82]
 Namibia 90 0 10 [83]
 South Africa 79.7 1.5 18.8 [84]
 Swaziland 90 1 9 [85]
 Zimbabwe 84 1 15 [86]
- West Africa -
 Benin 42.8 24.4 32.8 [87]
 Burkina Faso 23 61 16 [88]
 Cape Verde 99 0 1 [89]
 Côte d'Ivoire 32.6 38.6 25.0 [90]
 Gambia 9 90 1 [91]
 Ghana 71.2 17.6 11.2 [92]
 Guinea 10 85 5 [93]
 Guinea-Bissau 10 50 40 [94]
 Liberia 85.5 12.2 2.2 [95]
 Mali 5 90 5 [96]
 Mauritania 0 100 0 [97]
 Niger 5 90 5 [98]
 Nigeria 50.8 47.8 1.4 [99][100][101]
 Senegal 5 94 1 [102]
 Sierra Leone 21 77 2 [103]
 Togo 29 20 51 [104]
  1. ^ The most recent census data are used.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Restless Spirits: Syncretic Religion Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D. Associate Professor of African American Religion & Literature
  2. ^ Religion In Africa And The Diaspora: African Belief System
  3. ^ a b c Dr J.O. Awolalu, Studies in Comparative Religion Vol. 10, No. 2. (Spring, 1976).
  4. ^ Cheikh Anta Diop The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, Chicago, L.Hill, 1974. ISBN 1-55652-072-7
  5. ^ Leo Frobenius on African History, Art, and Culture: An Anthology, 2007 ISBN 1-55876-425-9
  6. ^ Bolaji Idowu African Traditional Religion: A Definition, Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books (1973) ISBN 0-88344-005-9
  7. ^ J S MbitiAfrican Religions and Philosophy, African Writers Series, Heinemann [1969] (1990). ISBN 0-435-89591-5
  8. ^ a b Mbiti, John S (1992). Introduction to African religion. ISBN 9780435940027. When Africans are converted to other religions, they often mix their traditional religion with the one to which they are converted. In this way they are not losing something valuable, but are gaining something from both religious customs
  9. ^ Riggs, Thomas (2006). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: Religions and denominations. p. 1. ISBN 9780787666125. Although a large proportion of Africans have converted to Islam an Christianity, these two world religions have been assimilated into African culture, and many African Christians and Muslims maintain traditional spiritual beliefs
  10. ^ Gottlieb, Roger S (2006-11-09). The Oxford handbook of religion and ecology. ISBN 9780195178722. Even in the adopted religions of Islam and Christianity, which on the surface appear to have converted millions of Africans from their traditional religions, many aspect of traditional religions are still manifest
  11. ^ "US study sheds light on Africa's unique religious mix". AFP. t doesn't seem to be an either-or for many people. They can describe themselves primarily as Muslim or Christian and continue to practice many of the traditions that are characteristic of African traditional religion," Luis Lugo, executive director of the Pew Forum, told AFP.
  12. ^ Quainoo, Samuel Ebow (2000-01-01). In Transitions and consolidation of democracy in Africa. ISBN 9781586840402. Even though the two religions are monotheistic, most African Christians and Muslims convert to them and still retain some aspects of their traditional religions
  13. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica Book of the Year 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica, (2003) ISBN 9780852299562 p.306
    According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, as of mid-2002, there were 376,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa. Ian S. Markham,(A World Religions Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.) is cited by Morehouse University as giving the mid-1990s figure of 278,250,800 Muslims in Africa, but still as 40.8% of the total spaggetti These numbers are estimates, and remain a matter of conjecture. See Amadu Jacky Kaba. The spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: a survey and analysis of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous religions. The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol 29, Number 2, June 2005. Discusses the estimations of various almanacs and encyclopedium, placing Britannica's estimate as the most agreed figure. Notes the figure presented at the World Christian Encyclopedia, summarized here, as being an outlier. On rates of growth, Islam and Pentecostal Christianity are highest, see: The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions, Foreign Policy, May 2007.
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    According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, as of mid-2002, there were 480,453,000 Christians, 329,869,000 Muslims and 98,734,000 people who practiced traditional religions in Africa. Ian S. Markham, (A World Religions Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.) is cited by Morehouse University as giving the mid-1990s figure of 278,250,800 Muslims in Africa, but still as 40.8% of the total. These numbers are estimates, and remain a matter of conjecture (see Amadu Jacky Kaba). The spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa: a survey and analysis of the numbers and percentages of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous religions. The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol 29, Number 2, June 2005. Discusses the estimations of various almanacs and encyclopedium, placing Britannica's estimate as the most agreed figure. Notes the figure presented at the World Christian Encyclopedia, summarized here, as being an outlier. On rates of growth, Islam and Pentecostal Christianity are highest, see: The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions, Foreign Policy, May 2007.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Parinder, E. Georffrey (1974). African Traditional Religion. Third ed. London: Sheldon Press. ISBN 0-85969-014-8 pbk.
  • Parinder, E. Geoffrey (1976). Africa's Three Religions. Second ed. London: Sheldon Press. N.B.: The three religions are traditional religions (grouped), Christianity, and Islam. ISBN 0-85969-096-2

External links[edit]

Religions by country


Religion Portal