Religion in Africa

Religion in Africa is multifaceted and has been a major influence on artculture and philosophy. Today, the continent’s various populations and individuals are mostly adherents of ChristianityIslam, and to a lesser extent several traditional African religions. In Christian or Islamic communities, religious beliefs are also sometimes characterized with syncretism with the beliefs and practices of traditional religions.

African Traditional Religion

Main article: African Traditional Religion

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. All traditional African religions are united by a shared animistic core with special importance to ancestor worship.

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 complex cultures, innumerable languages and myriad dialects.

West African

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 Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammed. It has no missionaries or the intent to propagate or to proselytise. Some of the African traditional religions are those of the Serer of Senegal, the Yoruba and Igbo of Nigeria, and the Akan of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The religion of the Gbe peoples (mostly the Ewe and Fon) of Benin, Togo and Ghana is called Vodun and is the main source for similarly named religions in the diaspora, such as Louisiana VoodooHaitian Vodou, Cuban Vodú, Dominican Vudú and Brazilian Vodum.

East Africans and Horners

Some distinctions between West African and East or Horn African traditional religion often includes considering the supernatural and natural or tangible as being one and the same, and using this stance to incorporate divination. Clergymen from this region who would historically catechize to the masses was often referred to as waganga. Another distinction of East African and Horners is the greater prevalence of prophets within the oral traditionas and other forms of generational transmissions of traditional African religion. The most prominent indigenous deity among Cushitic Horners is Waaq, which continues to be manifested into the modern era with religions such as Waaqeffanna and Waaqism. According to the author Lugira, the Traditional African religions are the only religions “that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world.”

Abrahamic religions

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. 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%.


Christianity is now one of the most widely practiced religions in Africa along with Islam and is the largest religion in Sub-Saharan Africa. 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 Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (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 grasped a strong foothold 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. 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.

A 2015 study estimates 2,161,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in Africa, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.


Africa By Muslim Percentage

Africa By Muslim Percentage

Islam is the other major religion in Africa alongside Christianity, with 41% 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 expansion of Arab empire under Caliph Umar, through the Sinai Peninsula. The 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, Sunni  Ali and Askia Mohammed.

The majority of Muslims in Africa are either non-denominational Muslims or Sunni, belonging to either Maliki or Shafi schools of jurisprudence. However, Hanafi school of jurisprudence is also represented, mainly in Egypt. There are also sizeable minorities of Quranists, Shias, Ahmadis, Ibadi and Sufis.


Adherents of Judaism can be found scattered in a number of countries across Africa; including North Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda,  Kenya, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Southern Africa.


Hinduism has existed in Africa mainly since the late 19th century. There are an estimated 2-2.5 million adherents of Hinduism in Africa. It is the largest religion in Mauritius, and several other countries have Hindu temples. Hindus came to South Africa as indentured laborers in the 19th century. The young M.K. Gandhi lived and worked among the Indian community in South Africa for twenty years before returning to India to participate in India’s freedom movement.

Buddhism and Chinese religions

Main article: Buddhism in Africa

Buddhism is a tiny religion in Africa with around 250,000 practicing adherents, and up to nearly 400,000 if combined with Taoism and 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.

Other religions

Other faiths are practiced in Africa, including Aleyhim, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Rastafarianism among others.


A Gallup poll shows that the irreligious comprise 20% in South Africa, 16% in Botswana, 13% in Mozambique, 13% in Togo, 12% in 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.

Religious distribution

Religion in Africa by country and region, as percentage of national population
Coun­try Population Islam Muslim Population Chris­ti­an­i­ty Christian Population Other Other
Angola 29,250,009 1.0 292,500 95 27,787,508 4.0 1,170,000
Cameroon 23,794,164 25 5,158,082 65 15,466,206 10 2,787,508
Central African Republic 4,737,423 15 710,613 50 2,368,711 35 1,658,098
Chad 15,353,184 58 8,904,846 41 6,294,805 1 153,531
Democratic Republic of the Congo 84,004,989 15 12,600,748 78 65,523,891 7 5,880,349
Republic of the Congo 5,399,895 1.6 86,398 79 4,265,917 19.4 1,047,579
Equatorial Guinea 1,222,442 10 122,2442 86 1,051,300 4.0 48,897
Gabon 2,067,561 10 206,756 73 1,509,319 17 351,485
São Tomé and Príncipe 197,700 3 5,931 96 189,792 1 1,977
Burundi 10,681,186 10 1,068,118 65 6,942,770 25 2,670,296
Comoros 850,688 98.3 836,226 0.7 5,954 1 8,506
Kenya) 50,000,000 11 5,500,000 85 42,500,000 4 2,000,000
Madagascar 26,262,810 10 2,626,281 40 10,505,124 50 13,131,405
Malawi 17,931,637 20 3,586,327 79.9 14,327,377 0.1 17,931
Mauritius 1,264,887 17.3 218,825 32.7 413,618 50 632,443
Mayotte 256,518 98.8 253,439 1.2 3,078 N.A N.A
Mozambique 28,861,863 20 11,544,745 60 14,430,931 10 2,886,186
Réunion 865,826 4.2 36,364 84.8 734,220 11 95,240
Rwanda 12,001,136 4.8 576,054 93.4 11,209,061 1.8 216,020
Seychelles 94,205 1.1 1,036 93.1 87,704 5.8 5,463
South Sudan 12,323,419 20 2,464,683 60.5 7,455,668 19.5 2,403,066
Tanzania 55,000,000 35 19,250,000 61 33,550,000 4 2,200,000
Uganda 38,823,100 14 5,435,234 81 31,446,711 5 1,941,155
Zambia 16,887,720 1 168,877 87 14,692,316 12 2,026,526
Djibouti 1,049,001 97 1,017,530 3 31,470 N.A N.A
Eritrea 5,200,000 36 1,872,000 63 3,276,000 1 52,000
Ethiopia 105,000,000 34 35,700,000 63 66,150,000 3 3,150,000
Somalia 15,181,925 99.8 15,171,925 0.02 10,000 N.A. N.A.
Algeria 42,200,000 99 41,780,000 0.28 119,128 0.02 8,509
Egypt 97,521,500 94.7 92,352,860 5.3 5,168,639 N.A N.A
Libya 6,470,956 99 6,410,956 1 60,000 0.1 6470
Morocco 34,779,400 99.1 34,466,385 0.9 313,014 N.A N.A
Sudan 40,810,080 97 39,585,777 3 1,224,302 N.A N.A
Tunisia 11,446,300 99 11,423,407 0.5 50,000 0.6 43,150
Botswana 2,302,878 0.6 13,817 79.1 1,821,576 20.3 467,484
Lesotho 2,263,010 0.1 2,263 80 1,810,408 19.9 450,338
Namibia 2,413,643 0.4 9,654 85 2,051,596 15 362,046
South Africa 57,725,600 1.9 1,096,786 79.7 46,007,303 18.5 10,679,236
Eswatini 1,300,000 1 13,000 90 1,170,000 9 117,000
Zimbabwe 14,848,905 3 445,467 84 12,473,080 13 1,930,357
Benin 11,362,269 27.7 3,147,348 48.5 5,510,700 22.6 2,567,872
Burkina Faso 20,244,080 61.5 12,450,109 29.8 6,032,735 8.7 1,761,234
Cape Verde 544,081 2 10,881 85 462,468 13 70,730
Côte d’Ivoire 24,571,044 42.9 10,540,977 33.9 8,329,583 23.2 5,700,482
The Gambia 2,163,765 95.7 2,070,723 4.2 90,878 0.2 4,327
Ghana 29,614,337 18 5,330,580 71 21,026,179 11 3,257,577
Guinea 11,883,516 86.2 10,243,590 9.7 1,152,701 4.1 487,224
Guinea-Bissau 1,584,763 45.1 714,728 22.1 350,232 32.8 519,802
Liberia 4,382,387 20 876,477 40 1,752,954 40 1,752,954
Mali 19,107,706 95 18,152,320 2.4 458,584 2.6 496,800
Mauritania 3,984,233 99.9 3,979,733 0.01 4,500 N.A N.A
Niger 21,466,863 98.3 21,101,926 1 214,668 0.7 150,268
Nigeria 191,000,000 50 95,500,000 50 95,500,000 N.A N.A
Senegal 15,726,037 96.1 15,112,721 3.6 566,137 0.3 47,178
Sierra Leone 7,719,729 78.6 6,067,706 20.8 1,605,703 0.5 38,598
Western Sahara 567,421 99.99 567,321 0.01 100 N.A. N.A
Togo 7,352,000 20 1,470,400 29 2,132,080 51 3,749,520
Total 1,251,919,791 45.5 571,453,892 48 599,688,699 6.5 81,204,817

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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