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Persecution of traditional African religion

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Title: Persecution of traditional African religion  
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Subject: Freedom of religion, Traditional African religion, African traditional religions, Freedom of religion in Colombia, Freedom of religion in Ecuador
Collection: African Traditional Religions, Religious Persecution
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Persecution of traditional African religion

Traditional African religions have faced persecution from the proponents of different ideologies.[1][2] Adherents of these religions have been forcefully converted to Islam and Christianity, demonized and marginalized.[3] The atrocities include killings, waging war, destroying idols and sacred places, and other atrocious actions.[4][5]


  • By Muslims 1
    • Relationship 1.1
  • By Christians 2
  • Modern times 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

By Muslims

After the establishment of Islam, its rapid expansion and conquests displaced traditional African religions either by conversion or conquest. Traditional African religions have influenced Islam in Africa,[6] and Islam is considered as having more commonality with traditional African religions,[7] but conflict has occurred, especially due to Islam's monotheistic stance and the rise of Muslim reformers such as Askia.

Traditional African religions are tolerant of other gods, which allows general co-existence for multiple religions. This has been regarded by some authors to be another reason behind the rise of other religions in Africa.[8] Most followers of traditional religions accommodated Islam during the start of its spread in Africa,[9] but in West Africa, it was not until the coming of colonialism that Islam gained mass appeal, transforming even groups with historical animosity towards Islamic domination into Muslim communities.

In many instances, conflicting groups chose to align with Muslim armies against other African communities.[10]


The relationship of Islam and traditional African religions was far from hostile but more defined by accommodation and co-existence. The tradition of jihad remained a minor theme.[11] In the Songhai Empire, the ruler Sonni Baru held or syncretised aspects of the African traditional religions and was challenged by Askia because he was not seen as a faithful Muslim.[12] Askia would later wage wars against those who were politically non-aligned Muslims and non-Muslims.[13]

After Dunama Dabbalemi of the Sayfawa dynasty converted to Islam, he waged Jihad, or holy war, against the proponents of the Kanuri religion, seeking to destroy its presence.[14]

In the Swahili coast, Muslims were not interested in preaching, colonization, or jihad. It was not until the 18th century that Islam spread into the interior. Molefi Asante notes that:

The religion of Islam made each Muslim merchant or traveler an embryonic missionary and the appeal of the religion with its similarities to the African religions was far more powerful than the Christian appeal..[15][16]

By Christians

The early Christians of Niger Delta who were against the customs and traditions of the indigenous tribes carried out atrocities such as destroying their shrines and killing the sacred iguana.[17]

The European colonization of Africa is noted to have paved the way of Christian Missionaries into Africa. In some cases, the leaders of traditional African religions were persecuted by the missionaries and regarded as "Devil's Agents", Ali Mazrui has discussed about the similar issues in the book The African Condition.[18]

Modern times

On 2001, an Oro Cult festival in Sagamu was violated by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani inhabitants, causing a temporary breakdown between the groups.[19]

In September 2005, the sleepy town of Iwo, Osun State, became theatre of war when a group of Muslims called the Tahun took on the community's masquerade cult in open combat.[20]

Practitioners of the Bwiti religion have faced persecution by Christian missionaries and French colonial authorities, as well as some members of the present Gabon government.[21]


  1. ^ .African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the ShameAnne C. Bailey,
  2. ^ M. Darrol Bryant, Rita H. Mataragnon, The Many faces of religion and society (1985), Page 100,"African traditional religion went through and survived this type of persecution at the hands of Christianity and Islam..."
  3. ^ Garrick Bailey, Essentials of Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (2013), Page 268,"Later, during the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries became active in Africa and Oceania. Attempts by Christian missionaries to convert nonbelievers to Christianity took two main forms: forced conversions and proselytizing."
  4. ^ Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulam, Towards and Understanding of the African Experience (1990), p. 161,"The role of Christian missionaries are a private interest group in European colonial occupation of Africa was a significant one...Collectively their activities promoted division within traditional African societies into rival factions...the picture denigrated African culture and religion..."
  5. ^ Toyin Falola et al., Hot Spot: Sub-Saharan Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa (2010), p. 7,"A religion of Middle Eastern origin, Islam reached Africa via the northern region of the continent by means of conquest. The Islamic wars of conquest that would lead to the Islamization of North Africa occurred first in Egypt, when in about 642 CE the country fell to the invading Muslim forces from Arabia. Over the next centuries, the rest of the Maghreb would succumb to Jihadist armies...The notion of religion conversion, whether by force or peaceful means, is foreign to indigenous African beliefs...Islam, however, did not become a religion of the masses by peaceful means. Forced conversion was an indispensable element of proselytization."
  6. ^ Black God: The Afroasiatic Roots of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Religions, Julian Baldick
  7. ^ "African traditional religion in the modern world", p. 125, by Douglas E. Thomas
  8. ^ Molefi Kete Asante, "Encyclopedia of African Religion", Volume 1, 287:"It is this awareness of the limitation of human knowledge of God that explains, in part, the amazingly tolerant nature of African traditional religion and the absence of excommunications and persecution of heretics in the religious history of Africa ..."
  9. ^ "The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to African Religions", 325, by Elias Kifon Bongmba
  10. ^ Warfare in African History (New Approaches to African History) Richard J. Reid, Kindle Edition, location 617
  11. ^ Muslim Societies in African History (New Approaches to African History), David Robinson, Chapter 1.
  12. ^ Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical By Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulam
  13. ^ "The West African Empire of Songhai in 10 Easy Lessons: Introduction to Black History", p. 17, by Robin Walker, Siaf Millar
  14. ^ "Three Continents, One History: Birmingham, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Caribbean", p. 18, by Clive Harris
  15. ^ Asante, Genocide in Africa 1991 10
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Visions & Revisions: Selected Discourses on Literary Criticism", p. 176, by Emeka Nwabueze
  18. ^ "Education for Renaissance in Africa- Large Format" by Raphael J.Njoroge, p. 314
  19. ^ "West African Militancy and Violence", by James Gow, Funmi Olonisakin, Ernst Dijxhoorn, p. 31-32, url = [1]
  20. ^ "West African Militancy and Violence", by James Gow, Funmi Olonisakin, Ernst Dijxhoorn, p. 32
  21. ^

Further reading

  • Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels (eds). The History of Islam in Africa. Ohio University Press, 2000.
  • David Robinson. Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

External links

  • African Comparative Religion
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