Why Africans are Religious

A new study conducted by the Washington based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says that Africans are among the most religious people on earth. The study titled Tension and Tolerance: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa was based on more than 25,000 interviews conducted in more than 60 languages in 19 countries. According to the study at least half of all Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa believe Jesus will return in their lifetime. One in three Muslims in the region expect to see the re-establishment of the caliphate – the Islamic golden age – before they die. At least three out of ten people across much of Africa said they have experienced divine healing, seen the devil being driven out of a person, or received a direct revelation from God. About a quarter believe that sacrifices to ancestors can protect them from bad things happening. Sizeable percentages believe in charms and amulets. Many consult traditional religious healers, and sizable minorities keep animal skins and skulls in their homes.

The study found that in many countries across the continent roughly nine in ten people say religion is very important in their lives.

Do these findings surprise anyone? Surely they shouldn’t. Unless the person is not familiar with the situation in Africa.

These findings do not surprise me at all. I am an African. I was born in Africa. I live and work in Africa. I am non-religious though I was born into a religious home. I attended religious schools. I had a typical (African) religious upbringing. I do not believe that Jesus will return again. I do not think that the Biblical Jesus existed and even if he did, I think he’s gone and gone forever. I can’t see the world coming under an Islamic caliphate except what we have been experiencing since September 11, 2001. I have never experienced divine healing and I don’t think those who claim to have experienced it are honest to themselves. I have not seen a devil being driven out of any person except some self-induced hysteria by some Pentecostal con artists. I have not received any revelation from God- unless maybe one day some godly people might claim that their god revealed this piece to me. I don’t believe that sacrifice to the ancestors will protect people from harm. Otherwise the ancestors would be alive today. I think charms and amulets are useless and consulting traditional healers and clerics is a waste of time.

The reasons why Africans are the most religious people in the world are not far fetched. Africans go through religious indoctrination from cradle to grave. Africans are not allowed by family, society and the state to think, reason or live outside the religious box. In Africa religion is by force not by choice. Religion is by compulsion and not according to one’s conscience. Africans are brought up to believe that there is NO alternative to religion, when in fact there is. So in Africa, either you are religious or you are nobody – you are not a human being, you are nothing. There is too much social and political pressure on Africans to be religious and to remain religious. The social, political and sometimes economic price of leaving religion, renouncing religion or criticizing religion is so high.

So Africans are religious willy nilly. Africans profess all sorts of religious crap even when they know it is all nonsense.

At home, religious indoctrination is the first form of orientation an African child receives. At a very early and impressionable age, infants are taught to recite meaningless syllables called prayers. Children are brainwashed by parents with various religious and spritiual myths. Their minds are infused with all sorts of religious dogmas. Parents ensure that children are brought up in their faith – the faith of the family and the faith of their parents. Children are taught to believe and follow, and not to question religious teachings even when there is every reason to do so. Some of the findings of the Pew Forum constitute the ‘sacred’ teachings which African kids receive and are told not to challenge, examine, criticize or renounce. African children are brought up to believe them and to swallow them hook , line and sinker. Not to question one’s family religion is seen as virtous and as a mark of a good child. This religious tradition is upheld and handed down unchallenged from one generation to another in Africa.
The religious brainwashing continues in schools. Most African colleges are religious indoctrination centers. Western missionaries and Arab jihadists brought formal education(the model widely used today) to the continent. They established schools to win converts and recruit new members, not really to educate Africans. So schools in Africa are covert churches and mosques. Education is faith based. And this religious tradition is still upheld in most schools across the continent. Some of the findings of the study are what African puplis are taught everyday in schools. They constitute what African students recite and memorize as part of their compulsory morning devotions.

Pupils at one islamic primary school near my house in Ibadan sing this song everyday as part of their morning devotion.

We are soldiers. We are soldiers.
Fighting for Islam. Fighting for Islam
In the name of Allah, we shall conquer, we shall conquer.

Every morning these children are made to recite that they are Muslim children ; that they believe in Allah and Mohammed as his messenger. What do you expect from these children as adults after going through this religious drilling and being brainwashed by superstitious messages? Do you think they will ever grow up to say that religion – in this case Islam – is not important in their lives? As in their homes, African students are taught to blindly accept the so-called divine revelations without question. They are induced to try and have some encounter with God or to have some spiritual experience as a manifestation of faith or piety. Children and youths are made to believe that professing articles of faith is a mark of a good student, and that education is not complete without religion or belief in God. So why should anybody be surprised that most Africans attach so much importance to religion?

This religionizing continues in politics and in the state houses across Africa. State power is used to endorse, promote and privilege religion. In Africa, prayer, piety and politics go together. Religion and politics mix. States are not separate from churches and mosques. So there is very high political pressure on individuals to be religious – and to remain religious and faithful even when they are not convinced of the religious teachings or would prefer to be faithless. Many African countries have adopted a religion or some religions as state or official religions. For instance in Morocco, the King is not only the president of the country, but also the commander of the faithful. So every Moroccan is under political pressure to be a faithful – an Islamic faithful, particularly a Sunni Islamic faithful. The president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, is addressed as Dr, Alhaji, Sheikh ….. among others. Some years ago he added to the list of his presidential duties praying for the citizens and trying to heal the sick, including those who have HIV/AIDS, using some verses in the Koran. In the self-styled Islamic republics, anyone who is not a Muslim cannot be president. Is there any special value that being a Muslim adds to the post of the president? None. In Gambia, the government erected magnificent mosques in all public schools in the country. Meanwhile these are schools without good classroom blocks, no libraries or laboratories.

In Africa, politicians have made it look as if to be a good citizen one must be religious or expressly pious. African politicians have made it seem as if theocracy, not democracy, is the best form of government, and that the Bible and the Koran are the best constitutions. In fact the Bible and the Koran are the best constitution no country ever had. African politicians strive to ensure that state legislations are based on these‘holy books’ and that any policy, program or proposal that is not in line with the sacred texts are thrown out. Another reason why there is high level of piety in Africa is because most Africans do not think for themselves. They allow clerics to think for them. Africans consult their priests, bishops,sheikhs, marabous, traditional medicine men and women whenever they have problems or when they want to embark on a major project. And they accept whatever they give them including charms like holy water, olive oil as solutions and remedies. They do whatever they recommend they do including carrying out ritual killing and sacrifice.

Lastly Africans are deeply religious due to lack of human rights, particularly religious freedom in Africa. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. Some may argue that the high religiosity in Africa should be due to ‘too much religious freedom’. No, it is not so. Rather it is due to no guarantee of religious freedom, no protection of freedom of conscience. Africans do not enjoy or exercise their freedom of religion or belief. Africans are denied this basic human right with impunity by state and non state actors. Africans are forced to be religious or to remain religious. That is why they are ‘too religious’. The mechanisms to protect and defend the full human rights of those who change their religion or renounce or criticize religious beliefs or those do not profess any religion at all are weak or non-existent. Religious believers and non believers are not equal before the law. Many Africans are religious because they don’t want to be in the minority. They don’t want to renounce what the majority upholds. They don’t want to denounce what the state or society reveres. Many Africans are religious because they just want to play along.
Africans are among the most religious people on earth due to failure of family upbringing, failure of human rights and the rule of law, failure of educational system, social and political pressure and bad governance. Africans are religious because they cannot but be religious.

About the Author

Leo Igwe is Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.

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