Religion in Africa

Religion in Africa is multifaceted. Most Africans adhere to either Christianity or Islam. Many adherents of either religion also practice African traditional religions, with traditions of folk religion or syncretism practised alongside an adherent's Christianity or Islam. [1] Judaism also has roots in Africa, due to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt before the Exodus.[2] Around 15% of Africans follow one of the traditional African religions and a small minority of Africans are non-religious.

The original religions of Africa have been declining over the past century due to the influences of colonialism, acculturation and increasing proselytizing by Christianity and Islam. However, in the Americas and Caribbean, syncretistic religions involving African religions are growing.[3] Religious adherents in Africa are often of a syncretic nature.[4]

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African traditional religion

Traditional African religions encompass a wide variety of traditional beliefs. Traditional religious customs are sometimes shared by many African societies, but they are usually unique to specific ethnic groups. Traditional African religions used to be adhered to by the majority of Africa's population, however since the rapid expansion of Christianity and Islam they have become a minority across much of their own continent. Many African Christians and Muslims maintain some aspects of their original traditional religions.

Some indigenous African religions worship a single God (Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai etc.), and some recognize a dual or complementary twin God such as Mawu-Lisa. Obeisance can be paid to the primary God through lesser deities (Ogoun, Da, Agwu, Esu, Mbari, etc.). Some societies also deify entities like the earth, the sun, the sea, lightning, or Nature. Each deity can have its own priest or priestess.Jacob Olupona and Charles E. Long, Editors, African Spirituality. New York: Cross Road Publishing Co., 2000. Sabine Jell-Bahlsen, The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology; Ogbuide of Oguta Lake. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2008. The Ndebele and Shona ethnic groups of Zimbabwe have a trinity - a fundamental family group - made up of God the Father, God the Mother, and God the Son. Among the Fon of West Africa and Benin, God, who is called "Vondu", is androgynous, with both male and female traits.

The Ewe people of southern Ghana have a conception of the high God as a female-male partnership. Mawu who is female is often spoken of as gentle and forgiving. Lisa who is male renders judgment and punishes. Among the Ewe it is believed that when Lisa punishes, Mawu may grant forgiveness. Here we see the complementarity of male and female that characterizes many of the traditional African religions.

The only example in Africa of a female high Goddess is among the Southern Nuba of Sudan, whose culture has matriarchal traits. The Nuba conceive of the creator Goddess as the "Great Mother" who gave birth to earth and to mankind. (Mbiti, J.S., Introduction to African Religion, Oxford, 1975, p. 53.)

Polytheism in Africa has developed several times independently and in very different ways. For example in the case of ancient Egypt where a pantheon was worshipped or in the case of the Orisha religion in West Africa.

Abrahamic religions

The majority of Africans are adherents of Christianity or Islam. Both religions are widespread throughout Africa. They have both spread at the expense of 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%.[5]

Christianity

Although Christianity existed far before the rule of King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum, the religion took a strong foot hold when it was declared a state religion in 330 AD.[6] 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. 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.

Rufinus of Tyre, a noted church historian, also has recorded a personal account as do other church historians such as Socrates and Sozemius.[7]

After being shipwrecked and captured at an early age, Frumentius was carried to Axum where he was treated well with his companion Edesius. At the time, there was a small population of Christians living there who sought refuge from Roman persecution. Once of age, Frumentius and Edesius were allowed to return to their homelands, however they chose to stay at the request of the queen. In doing so, they began to secretly promote Christianity through the lands.

During a trip to meet with church elders, Frumentius met with Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria who was second in line to the pope. After recommending that a bishop be sent to proselytize, a council decided that Frumentius be appointed as a bishop to Ethiopia.

By 430 AD, Frumentius returned to Ethiopia, he was welcomed with open arms by the rulers who were at the time not Christian. Ten years later, through the support of the kings, the majority of the kingdom was converted and Christianity was declared the official state religion.

In recent years, large numbers of Muslims and members of tribal African religions have converted to Christianity.[8]

Rastafari

There are also Rasta communities in Africa. In the Ivory Coast presidential candidates tried to reach out to voters in the Rasta village of Port Bouet.[9][10]

Islam

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the largest religion in Africa,[11] with 47% of the population being Muslim. Its historic roots in Africa stem from the time Muhammad whose relatives and the epic followers migrated on a hijra to Abyssinia in fear of persecution from the pagan Arabs.

The main spread of Islam 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 - as well as through Islamic Arab and Persian traders and sailors.

Islam is the dominant religion in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and it has also become the predominant and historical religion of the West African interior and the far west coast of the continent as well as the coast of East Africa. 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 Sonni Ali and Askia Mohammed.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is relatively modern community which is progressing relatively rapidly, particularly in West Africa.

Judaism

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.

Baha'i

Baha'i Faith is the 3rd most widespread organized Abrahamic religion in Africa after Islam and Christianity.[12] African Bahá'í Community statistics are also hard to come by. However, Africans have a long history with the Bahá'í Faith; several of the earliest followers of both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh were reportedly African. From 1924 to 1960 the religion was declared one of the legally sanctioned faiths in Egypt, but has since then been subject to restrictions and outright persecution by authorities and others

Hinduism

The history of Hinduism in Africa is, by most accounts, very short in comparison to that of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. However, the presence of its practitioners in Africa dates back to pre-colonial times and even medieval times. There are sizable of Hindu populations in South Africa and the East African coastal nations.

See also

References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Book of the Year 2003. Encyclopedia Britannica, (2003) ISBN 9780852299562 p.306
    According to the Encyclopedia Britanica, 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.
  2. "Moses." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  3. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ifa.htm
  4. Restless Spirits: Syncretic Religion Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D. Associate Professor of African American Religion & Literature
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Book of the Year 2003. Encyclopedia Britannica, (2003) ISBN 9780852299562 p.306
    According to the Encyclopedia Britanica, 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.
  6. Gayraud S. Wilmore, Pragmatic spirituality: the Christian faith through an Africentric lens. NYU Press. 2004. page 105
  7. Hansberry, William Leo. Pillars in Ethiopian History; the William Leo Hansberry African History Notebook. Washington: Howard University Press, 1934.
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdVnILalpeo
  9. . Daylife.com. 2010-01-06. http://www.daylife.com/photo/07ou8DN1wwepa?q=Rastafari. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  10. . Daylife.com. 2010-01-06. http://www.daylife.com/photo/0cNSdwI3d6bKU?q=ethiopian. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  11. Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica Book of the Year 2003. Encyclopedia Britannica, (2003) ISBN 9780852299562 p.306
    According to the Encyclopedia Britanica, 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 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.
  12. http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/bhpapers/vol1/africa1.htm