Demography and Diversity
With an estimated
129 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country
in Africa. Projected figures for Nigeria's religious demography
indicate that Muslims account for nearly 50 percent of the population.
Approximately 40 percent of Nigerians are Christians, and the
remaining 10 percent practice indigenous beliefs, according to
the CIA World Factbook.
always played a major role in Nigerian society, where there is
a strong relation between ethnic and religious identity. Islam
largely dominates the country's northern region, home of the Hausa
and Fulani ethnic groups. Christianity is the prevalent religion
in the south among the Yoruba and Igbo tribes, although the southwesterly
Yorubaland contains a more diverse group of religions. The mid-section
of Nigeria remains mostly neutral, with neither religion a majority.
Nigeria, religion is a tool for social mobility, providing the
means for integration into business and political circles as well
as educational, notes a Country Study of Nigeria published by
the Library of Congress.
the 11th century, gold traders spread the Muslim faith from North
Africa to West Africa along the Trans-Saharan trade routes, inextricably
linking Islam with the local economy. According to religious historians,
many tribal leaders found that adopting Islam expanded their trade
network and promoted them as equal partners in business transactions
with Arab merchants. With Islam's belief in unification, tribal
and ethnic divisions abated and gave rise to an emirate state
structure. Similar to a monarchy, an emirate is a nation or territory
ruled by a single leader, the emir.
by a Library of Congress study, Muslim practice currently pervades
virtually all public institutions in the north. Out of Nigeria's
36 states, 12 states have embraced the Sharia, a legal
code based on the Qur'an [or Koran] and the practices of the Prophet
Mohammed. The vast majority of Nigerian Muslims are members of
the Sunni sect and implement Maliki jurisprudence, based on the
legal interpretations of Malik ibn Anas, an eighth century jurist
begin and end with Muslim prayer. Regardless of the individual's
religious beliefs, all residents are familiar with both Muslim
prayers and the five pillars of Islam. Reputations of religious
piety accompanied with completion of the hajj, a pilgrimage to
Mecca, often yield heightened prestige.
law prohibits religious discrimination, conversion reportedly
occurs frequently among people with political and business ambitions.
In its 2002 Report on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria, the U.S.
State Department noted some instances of religious discrimination
in the hiring practices within both government institutions and
majority of Nigeria's Christian population is Roman Catholic,
the country also has a diverse group of other churches. The Christian
community includes Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians,
Evangelists, Pentecostal Christians and Africanized sects such
as the Aladura. Roman Catholics and Methodists dominate in southeasterly
Igboland, while Protestants and Anglicans maintain strong influence
over Yorubaland in the southwest.
priests accompanying Portuguese traders in the 15th century first
introduced native Nigerians to the Christian faith, but yielded
few long-term converts. Missions in the 19th century attained
much more significant rates of conversion, in part from their
role in the abolition of slavery.
colonial rule throughout the 19th century helped formalize the
geographic and religious differences between the north and the
south. While the British government worked with Muslim leaders
in the north, who prohibited Christian proselytizing, less central
power structures in the south enabled churches to create a system
of religious institutions and schools.
in the 1860s with the establishment of an indigenous leadership
educated in these religious schools, the missionary movement was
able to spread rapidly at the grassroots level. Missionaries of
all denominations organized rural networks that provided schooling
and medical care to residents, and their work continues to this
day. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 1,000
Christian missionaries currently operate in Nigeria.
As in the
north, religion provided a means for social advancement in the
south. Promoted by the British colonial government, missionary
schools produced an elite class of interpreters and civil servants.
independence from British rule in 1960, demand has grown for a
greater indigenous presence in the Christian church. Many Catholic
and Protestant congregations began to include native music and
dancing in their services. Several independent movements have
also cropped up with the purpose of creating a Christian faith
that relates to Nigerians culturally. As an example, several sects
have interpreted biblical passages as supportive of the native
practice of polygamy.
minority of the population still adheres to them, indigenous practices
continue to thrive in Nigeria, especially in the southwest region
of the nation. Nigeria's native religious belief ties genealogical
descent to a particular site, legitimizing claims to land, resources,
and leadership. According to religious scholars, the theology
combines ancestor worship with the worship of primordial spirits,
or the supernatural entities inhabiting a particular locale. Geographical
markers, flora and fauna often embody these entities.
to prayer and other forms of ritual worship are thought to protect
followers from misfortune and many believers use charms and talismans
to ward off evil.
Nigeria, traditional beliefs have fused with imported religious
tradition. It is not uncommon to find Muslims and Christians carrying
out ancient religious rites such as wearing amulets
although younger generations deem compliance with old traditions
as renunciation of the newer faith.
By Luma Khatib, Online NewsHour