Facts, Inside Africa, Travel

7 Most Popular Religions in Africa

While reading the articles on our site, you have probably noticed that there are quite a few which focus on old and beautiful churches, monasteries, and other holy buildings and sites.

Africa is a continent which is steeped in spirituality; this should come as no surprise since it is regarded as the cradle of humankind. This may lead you to wonder what the most popular religions in Africa are.

7. Other

Okay, so it is a little weird starting out a list with “Other,” but bear with me—I am starting out with the less popular religions and working up toward the most widespread faiths.

There are numerous different religions practiced in Africa which do not get a lot of attention—just as there are everywhere. A couple of examples include Zoroastrianism and Rastafarianism. There are also quite a few irreligious people—agnostics and atheists.

It is also worth mentioning syncretism here. Syncretism is where beliefs and practices from various religions are melded together. An example would be a person who identifies as Christian, but incorporates aspects of African traditional religions—or who identifies as some combination of the two.

6. Buddhism

Buddhism is not a very common religion in Africa either—there are only a few hundred thousand practitioners, largely immigrants from China. Roughly half of all Buddhists in the continent reside in South Africa.

Nan Hua Temple, Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa

Nan Hua Temple, Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa – Image credit to Ivan Fourie – CC BY 2.0

5. Hinduism

Hinduism made its way to Africa in the late 19th century, brought over from British Imperial colonists—more specifically, by their indentured Indian servants. Interestingly enough, there is actually a country where it is the most popular religion. In the Republic of Mauritius, an African island nation in the Indian Ocean, 54.4% of the population are Hindu.

Why hasn’t Hinduism spread more throughout the continent? The main reason is essentially that Hinduism—at least in its main form—is a non-proselytizing religion. Islam and Christianity on the other hand put a huge emphasis on conversion, and waged an effective campaign throughout Africa. This is why both are far more popular than Hinduism. Those who practice Hinduism in Africa are largely (but certainly not exclusively) confined to the Indo-African communities where it has been passed down since the times of the British Empire.

4. African Traditional Religion

There are numerous indigenous faiths still found throughout Africa. These faiths are usually confined to local areas and tribes, and are passed down from one generation to the next, mostly through oral tradition.

Some examples of African traditional religions include the Yoruba and Igbo of Nigeria, the Serer of Senegal, the Akan of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and Vodun, a religion practiced by the Gbe peoples. Vodun gave rise to a number of different diaspora faiths, throughout the world collectively known as “Voodoo” or “Vudú.”

3. Bahá’í Faith

Bahá’í is the third most popular Abrahamic faith in Africa, following Christianity and Islam. The religion experienced rapid expansion during the mid-20th century, and Africa is now one of the continents where Bahá’í is most commonly practiced. In fact, Kenya, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia are some of the top countries on the planet for Bahá’í.

Baha'i House of Worship, Kampala, Uganda

Baha’i House of Worship, Kampala, Uganda – Image credit to Bxtst – CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Christianity

Christianity is the most popular religion in Africa alongside Islam. In fact, the faith got its start on the continent all the way back in the 1st century AD. Alongside Armenia, it is believed that Ethiopia may have been the first country on the planet to accept the religion.

There are quite a few famous churches and monasteries located throughout the continent. A couple examples include the Monastery of Saint Anthony, founded in 356 AD in Egypt, and the Church of Our Lady Marion of Zion in Ethiopia, founded in the 4th century. The most famous by far however is the Lalibela church complex, also in Ethiopia. The churches in this amazing UNESCO World Heritage site were constructed through a process of excavation, and are among the most unique structures in the world.

1. Islam

Alongside Christianity, Islam is the biggest religion on the continent. Nearly half (47%) of Africans are Muslims, comprising a quarter (possibly as high as a third, according to some estimates) of the entire global Muslim population. Islam got its start in Africa during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Fearing persecution among the Arabs, his disciples fled to Africa where they could practice their religion in safety.

Islam then spread further as Caliph Umar expanded the Arab empire through the Sinai Peninsula. Meanwhile, sailors and merchants making port in West Africa continued to preach the faith. Today, the largest concentration of Islam is in North Africa, West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Swahili Coast.

Most African Muslims are Sunni, but some are also Sufis, Ibadi, Shias, or Ahmadis. As you might guess, just as there are many beautiful churches throughout Africa, there are also many stunning mosques.

Conclusion: Africa is a Continent of Spiritual Richness and Diversity

Because Africa has such a long and storied past, many religious threads have been woven into its spiritual tapestry. Today, Christianity, Islam and Bahá’í are the major religions, but if you visit the continent, you may also encounter practitioners of indigenous faiths, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Rastafarianism.

While fewer in numbers, there are also agnostics, atheists, and practitioners of other faiths not listed here. Be sure to check out our articles ranking Africa’s most beautiful churches and mosques before you plan a tour of Africa’s religious destinations!

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