Religions in Africa

Africa is a wonderfully culturally diverse continent, and its assortment of religions mirrors that diversity. As the world’s second-largest continent, Africa has religions that span all of its 54 countries, with each country having its traditions, cultures, and beliefs. 

Because there are so many different African religions and subsets of religions in the continent, it’s sometimes challenging to pinpoint precisely how many religions the people of Africa practice. This manifests in how these two sides practice religion, especially with such a divide between Northern and Southern Africa

Religion Map of Africa Continent

When looking at a map of religions in Africa, it’s clear that there are many different types of beliefs found in this continent. By studying the Africa religions map below, we see that the large religions seem to be Christianity and Islam, with some smaller religions scatted throughout, such as Traditional African religions and more. 

Religions in Africa 1
Religion Map of Africa Continent

While many religions circulate around Africa (such as Buddhism and Hinduism), the three main religious groups are traditional African religions, Christianity, and Islam

Below, please read more on the main religions in Africa, how they came into being, and where the continent plans to go from here. 

Traditional African Religions

Traditional African religions are what it sounds like: religions that came into being during the first emergence of African people. Native African religions refer to the beliefs in place before Africa’s colonization and before the rampant, widespread foreign belief systems such as Christianity and Islam. 

While they certainly are not as pervasive as before, people still practice traditional African religions to this day. As religions with roots for thousands of years, these religions are sacred and primarily are passed down through generations by oral stories.

As one might imagine, there are dozens of varying traditional African religions. However, there are three main traditional African religions:

  • the Yoruba religion,
  • the Zulu religion, and the
  • Igbo religion

These three main traditional religions all have different hubs in Africa. 

For instance, the Yoruba religion has primarily been in southwestern Nigeria, whereas the Zulu religion has been in southern Africa and the Igbo religion in southeastern Nigeria.

Yoruba Religion 

The essence of the Yoruba religion is the idea of Ashe, which is the energy in all-natural beings. It describes the idea of a powerful life force possessed by both humans and diving beings. 

Also part of Yoruba is the belief that all people follow destiny (which is called Ayanmo) and will eventually meet their divine creator, the source of all energy. 

Traditionally, the Yoruba religion is most practiced in western parts of Africa. Countries like Nigeria, Benin, and Toga have high numbers of people who practice this religion. However, the Yoruba religion is recently becoming popular in Western countries like the United States and is gaining popularity, especially amongst Black Americans. 

Zulu Religion 

Found mainly in South Africa and other southern counties, the Zulu religion is one of Africa’s earliest religions. It features a heavy emphasis on ancestor worship and a belief in God and witches and sorcerers. Furthermore, the religion has believed that the king held enormous power and was responsible for national magic and rainmaking. 

However, through the centuries and with Christianity spreading through Africa, many Zulu people now have heavy Christian influences in their practices. They have formed a hybrid religion between traditional African beliefs and Christianity. 

Igbo Religion 

Like the Zulu people, many Igbo people have veered towards Christianity. As a result, the Igbo religion has heavy notes of Christianity to this day. 

Traditional Igbo places emphasis on a belief in a creator called Chukwu (sometimes called Chineke). Additionally, conventional Igbo people also believe in an earth goddess named Ala and have numerous other gods, spirits, ancestors, and deities that they pray to for health, prosperity, and guidance. 

The Igbo people (and, as a result, the Igbo religion) primarily reside in southeastern Nigeria but are separated by further cultural divisions. The main cultural divisions are: northern, southern, western, eastern or Cross River, and northeastern. 

Christianity 

Christianity first arrived in Africa around the 2nd century AD and primarily landed in Northern Africa. While, of course, it’s hard to know for sure, many historians widely believe that Christianity was brought from Jerusalem to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast by Mark, one of the four gospel writers, in 60 AD. 

Regardless of how it first came to Africa, once Christianity was introduced, it had irreversible impacts. Christianity spread West and East until it was ubiquitous and pervasive throughout the entire continent. 

While the introduction of Christianity did benefit the people of Africa to a degree (Christian mission trips spread literacy and education), for the most part, the religion had adverse effects. For one, western Christianity was not compatible with many of the native beliefs and traditions, and so in that sense, when Christianity took over, it erased important cultural makeup. 

However, to this day, Africa still has a thriving Christian population. Recent reports estimate over 600 million people in Africa are Christian. 

Islam 

Islam makes up the third-largest religious demographic in Africa. It was first introduced into the country by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century after conquering North Africa. 

From there, it was a quick spread of Islam throughout West Africa until it spread around the Sahara Desert. 

It had a relatively peaceful spread without much pushback. Through trade connections from neighboring Muslim and Islamic states (like the southern Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea), Islam spread gradually until it was widely adopted throughout Africa. Today, the total population of Africa is 1.02 billion, and roughly 446 million are Muslim.

Final Thoughts 

There’s no doubt about it: Africa is a thriving continent with a varied religious makeup. Not only do Africans practice traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam, but there are plenty of other religions in Africa, too, like Buddhism and Hinduism. All in all, Africa has a tremendously diverse makeup with many different religions celebrated and practiced. 

More information: Africa Continent Map, History, and Facts

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