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4 Largest Religions Widely Practiced in African Continent

Africa is one of the continents that inherited the world’s major religions and a few trivial or minor ones.

African religions have always been a significant factor in influencing culture, art, philosophy, and people.

There are various types of religion practiced in Africa, and below is a highlight of the most widely practiced in this vast continent.

1. Christianity

In Africa, Christianity is a religion that people desire most, and it holds on to the teachings of Jesus Christ while following the rules of the holy bible.

Christianity became the dominant religion practiced in Africa because over 50% of the continent follows the faith.

The arrival of Christianity in Africa

Christianity initially arrived on the continent via North Africa in the late 1st and early 2nd century AD, making the Christian communities the earliest religion.

The record shows that Christianity came from Jerusalem to Alexandra on the Egyptian coast by one of the evangelists named Mark in 60 AD.

It widened gradually west from Alexandria and East to Ethiopia, and in the 4th century AD, the Ethiopian king Ezana made Christianity the kingdom’s authorized religion.  

By the 7th century, Christianity withdrew under the progress of Islam, but it remained the preferred religion of the Ethiopian empire.

Through the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century, Christianity came to sub-Saharan Africa.

Until the 19th century, people in the inner part of the continent continued to practice their religions in peace.  

During the 19th century, Christian missions to Africa improved, motivated by an antislavery campaign and the concern of Europeans in colonizing Africa.

Christianity in Africa was an instrument of significant change, weakened the status quo, brought opportunities to people, and also diluted the power of others.

Although the Christian mission made education, literacy, and hope for the disadvantaged possible, it also paved the way for commercial speculators.

The first African Bishop

The first African bishop was Ajayi Crowther, who was among the famous African representatives of the European church.

Ajayi, the first African bishop in the Anglican Church, was taken as a slave in 1822, although the British Naval Patrol salvaged him from slavery and moved him to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

After careful education and baptism, he kept back his name Ajayi and took Crowther from an affiliate of the church missionary society (CMS).

He published many write-ups, including the first written grammar of the Yoruba language and the first Nupe grammar.

Also, he organized the invention of a mission in Badagry, Abeokuta, and several other places in Nigeria.

The first African Catholic bishop

The first African Catholic Bishops in 1939 were Joseph Kiwanuka from Uganda and Joseph Faye of Senegal. 

Church reformation

So many factors made the reform of churches in Africa achievable, including race, segregation, exclusion, and prejudice of the Europeans.

Churches that sprung up through the reform comprised the Army of the Cross of Christ in Gold Coast, the African national church of Tanganyika Tanzania, the church of the blacks in Congo, among others.

Religion before the birth of Christianity in Africa

Before the widespread of Christianity in Africa, polytheism already existed in almost all the ancient African regions.

Christian belief

Christians accept that one God created heaven, earth, and everything in the whole universe.

They also deem that Jesus is the Messiah, son of God, savior of the world, and all these believes started with the Jewish religion.  

2. Islamic religion

The Islamic religion is another religion mainly practiced by Muslims who believes nothing can happen without the permission of Allah.

Islam, an Arabic term that means “Surrender,” was propagated in the 7th century CE by the prophet Muhammad.

Coming of the Islam religion in Africa 

The narration of Islam and account of widespread Islam in Africa, specifically in the North, has been controversial.

Islam came to Africa first with Muslim migrants running away from the Arab peninsula and military assault.  

Africa was the first continent that Islam broadened from southwest Asia around the early 7th century.

In the 8th century, Islam came to root beside the east African coast as a component of the long-lasting dialogue involving the populace on the east coast, a trader from the Persian Gulf, and Oman.  

The religion served as a modernizing power that enforced a steady order among diverse societies, breaking down ethnic faithfulness, and unlike Christianity, it allowed polygamy.

In the early centuries of its creation, there was an active and unstable history of Islam in Africa, with restructuring actions succeeding each other.

Facts about Islamic religion in Africa

Since the history of Islamic religion in Africa is contentious, below are some facts that you should be conversant with, and they include:  

  • The formation of Islam began with the prophet Mohammed who died in 639.
  • The lengthy foundation of Islam influenced many local African religions, thereby creating a distinctive mix of African representation and Islamic structure.
  • The followers of the Islamic religion are known as Muslims.
  • The religion adores only one God called Allah, an Arabic term.
  • Muslims have worship places identified as mosques.
  • Its holy book or text is called Quaran or Koran.

  Believes and practices of Islam

Islam has an outlined expected practice of its followers, these practices and beliefs are called the five pillars of Islam, and they are

  • The profession of faith (shahada): this is a belief that Muhammad is the messenger of God, with no other small gods but God. Again, they believe that a true Muslim needs to recite the phrase with conviction.
  • Prayer (salat): this is another practice that Muslims pray, facing Mecca five times (at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, after dark) in a day.
  • Alms (zakat): it’s a belief that Muslims should offer a fixed fraction of their income to members in need, and wealthy ones can build schools, drink fountains, etc.
  • Fasting (sawm): Sawm is a practice that ensures that all healthy Muslims refrain from food and drink at the daylight hours of Ramadan, meaning the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
  • Pilgrimage (hajj): this entails that Muslims with enough finance and sound health must visit the holy city of Mecca, currently called Saudi Arabia.   

3. African traditional religion

African traditional is an indigenous religion that deals more with ritual practices, arts, symbols, cosmology, society, etc.

Origin of African traditional religion

It is an autochthonous religion of African people, traced back to the emergence of African people.  

African traditional religion is timeless as it began with the civilization of humans on the continent. However, Africa integrates its worldview into all aspects of life.

The founders of the African traditional religion, Parrinder, Idowu, and Mbiti, with their ancestors, believed to be people who died good and natural death.

Because this religion started in the prehistoric era, little has been written about it though it has extended gradually for millennia.

Essentials about African traditional religion

  • The African traditional religion is highly dynamic, meaning it is continuously reacting to several influences like modernity, old age, and technological advances.
  • It has its basis on lived traditions, implying that the African religion is not based on faith but rather on rituals and ceremonies.
  • The center of its main concern is health, wealth, procreation and this core concern is the crucial reason the religion builds up a body for healing and commerce.
  • It doesn’t base on conversion, so they attempt to coexist calmly with others of unlike religious traditions.  
  • Women play significant roles in African traditional religion because there are a lot of female goddesses, diviners, priestesses, and more.  
  • It provides a connection between the life of humans and the world of ancestors. As a result, traditional religion offers an avenue for humans to preserve the symbiotic relationship with their ancestors.

African traditional religious worship 

In the traditional religion, sacrifices and offerings are the everyday act of worship that usually serves as a gift to appease God.

Their prayers are often negligible, extemporaneous, concise, with sayings and songs that express respect for God.

4. Judaism

Judaism, the most ancient Abrahamic religion, is among the prevalent religions in Africa, having 613 commandments in the Law of Moses.  

A brief account of how Judaism started in Africa 

Judaism first surfaced in greek from 323 to 31 BCE, also known as the Hellenistic era.

It kicked started in Africa during 312 BC when Egypt’s king settled the Jews in Cyrenaica, known today as Tunisia.  

The deporting of jews to Carthage after the destruction of the second temple in 70,30.000 AD gave rise to Judaism in Africa.

After the fall of Granada, the end of Islamic Spain, and discharging of the Iberian jews in 1492, the Sephardi Jews were established in the Magreb under Muslim and Ottoman aid.

Countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya became an abode for large Jewish communities.

Some of these countries later became parts of the Ottoman millet system as Africanized Ottoman Jews.

The laws of the Talmud and Torah covered the Africanized Ottoman but with loyalty to the Caliph of Constantinople.

The founder of Judaism is Abraham, who passed away at 175 years old, buried in the cave of Machpelah by his two sons Ishmael and Isaac.  

Judaism Facts

Below are the facts about Judaism that you are probably unaware of and can also increase your intellectual ability about African religions:

  • The Jewish holy day is Shabbat, just the same way the sacred day for Christianity is Sunday and Islam is Friday.
  • Judaism has three branches, namely Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, but their basics and belief are the same.
  • The holy book of Judaism is Torah, and it includes the laws of Moses.
  • It’s among the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) sharing a unique origin.
  • The jews face in the direction of Temple Mount while paying because they regard it as sacred.
  • Judaism has a Bar Mitzvah tradition, which is the stage when a child can be accountable for their actions.
  • Their place of worship and prayer service is called a synagogue.
  • The spiritual director of Judaism is called Rabbi.
  • Judaism has a religious symbol known as the Star of David.
  • Every year, the Judaisms celebrate three pilgrimage festivals viz; Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles).
  • Believers of Judaism are called the Jews.

Other religions

Apart from the four main religions widely practiced in Africa, there are some other minor ones, which include;

  • Baháʼí Faith
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism and Chinese religions

Abrahamic Religions

Abrahamic religions, otherwise Abrahamism, are a group involving monotheistic religions that firmly support the worshiping of the God of Abraham (originally Abram).

The three (3) religions under the Abrahamic faiths are:

  • Judaism
  • Christianity, and 
  • Islam

What is the dominant religion in Africa?

The two main leading religions in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than 93% of the population, are Christianity and Islam.

What are the prevalent religions in Africa?

Following all the essential surveys, Christianity and Islam represent about 40 percent of the population each, with Christianity dominating in the south while Islam is a leading religion in the north.

Where in Africa are the three major religions practiced?

Christianity is the most practiced religion in Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. 

The majority practice Islam in Senegal, while Nigeria and Tanzania practice both Christianity and Islam, Nigeria being the 2nd most religious country worldwide.


Africa has diverse religions with different ways of worshiping their creature and following other religious practices.

All the African religions discussed above have a unique aspect, and in the end, we can conclude that Africa is one of the continents with vast beliefs.

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