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|Religions by country|
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. It has no founders or leaders like Gautama the Buddha, Christos, Ashoka, Christ or Muhammed. It has no missionaries or the intent to propagate or to proselytise. 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.
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. 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. It was estimated in 2002 that Christians form 40% of Africa's population, with Muslims forming 45%.
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 after its wide-scale growth in the 1950s and extend in the 1960s. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) lists many large and smaller populations in Africa 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 Bahá'ís of Egypt have been embroiled in the Egyptian identification card controversy from 2006 through 2009. Since then there have been homes burned down and families driven out of towns. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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." 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.
According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the largest religion in Africa, with 47% of the population being Muslim, accounting for 1/4 of the world's Muslim population. 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 invasion of Egypt under Caliph Umar, through the Sinai Peninsula - followed by the rapid conquest of North Africa by the Arab armies. 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.
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 has existed in Africa mainly since the late 19th century. While the religion is not well spread, it is the largest religion in Mauritius, and several other countries have Hindu temples.
Buddhism is a tiny religion in Africa with around over 250 thousand practicing adherents, and up to nearly 400 thousand 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% to 2% of the total population.
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.
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. 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. 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." Syncretism in Africa is said by others to be overstated, 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. Others state that the term syncretism is a vague one, 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.
% of total population
% of total population
% of total population
|- Central Africa -|
|Central African Republic||80.3||10.1||9.6|||
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||95.8||1.5||2.7|||
|Republic of the Congo||85.9||1.2||12.9|||
|São Tomé and Príncipe||97||2||1|||
|- East Africa -|
|- Horn of Africa -|
|- North Africa -|
|Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic||0||100||0|||
|- Southern Africa -|
|- West Africa -|
|Religions by country|