Why there are few Atheists in Africa


The African continent has a relatively low population of atheists because atheism is incompatible with the core beliefs of many African cultures. Africa is the world’s most devout continent, and even before the arrival of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religions were highly spiritual and were intertwined with and inseparable from the rest of the culture. It is impossible to remove the concept of God or the concept of the spirit world from Africa without also removing part of the spirit of the continent. A quote taken from sacsics.org reveals the importance that Christianity has in South Africa:

“… [T]he South African version of Christianity is far broader and encompassing smorgasbord of religious eclecticism. Many Africans hold parallel beliefs in ancestral systems of spiritual belief that are shored up through their conversion to various exotic branches of the Christian church.”

In South Africa, over 80% of the population identified itself as Christian, with four percent choosing “other religion” and 15% declining to give any religious affiliation. It was in this last group that atheists were included.

In Nigeria, 93% of the population described itself as religious. That number is split almost evenly between the Muslim population in the northern part of the country and the Christian population in the southern part of the country. Atheists in Nigeria are few, and they are generally viewed as evil or dangerous. Most fear admitting they are atheists because of the social stigma attached to atheism.

In nations like Egypt, non-believers aren’t even acknowledged in religious discussion

Between 80 and 90% of Egyptians identify as Muslims, with the remaining identifying themselves as Christians. A tiny minority identifies with “other,” which includes atheists. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar, said that “The Egyptian people are religious by nature, and there are no atheists.” Islam is the official state religion under the new Egyptian constitution, and the Sharia is the primary source of law.

The statistics from these three different African nations represent common trends in Africa. Most of the population will identify with either Christianity or Islam, with others identifying with other religions, and very few identifying with no religion.

How Atheism become popular in Africa?

Atheism has become more popular in Africa with the advent of the Internet, but it still faces a social stigma that keeps it underground. It is still essentially a foreign concept to many Africans. In most of Africa, a person’s belief in God is seen as a given.

Studies have shown that atheism is more popular among more “developed” nations. European nations like the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and France have among the highest population of atheists. Out of the top ten most religious countries, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya come in first, second, and eighth place respectively with 96% of Ghanaians, 93% of Nigerians, and 88% of Kenyans identifying themselves as religious.

There are few atheists in Africa because atheism is a modern philosophy that doesn’t fit traditional African cultures. Atheism is not a socially acceptable school of thought in most of Africa, so the atheists who do live on the continent aren’t publicly sharing that information. It has been said that Africans are “notoriously religious.” Spirituality and religiosity are pillars of many African cultures, and a philosophy that has no room for God currently has no room in Africa.

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