Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


In Africa, Islam and Christianity are growing - and blending

(Page 2 of 2)



Quite the opposite. Next to his mosque is a televangelist's dream - an auditorium with 1,500 seats, banks of speakers, a live band, and klieg lights. On Sundays the choir switches easily between Muslim and Christian songs, and Pastor Saka preaches from both the Bible and the Koran. His sermons are often broadcast on local TV.

Skip to next paragraph

The broader context here is Africa's dramatic shift in recent decades to Christianity and Islam. During the 20th century, fully 40 percent of Africa's population moved from traditional religions to "different shades of Christianity," says Philip Jenkins, a history and religion professor at the University of Pennsylvania. It is, he adds, "the largest religious change that has ever occurred in history." There are debates about whether Christianity or Islam is spreading faster in Africa, but clearly they're both on the rise - and sometimes are the source of tension.

In Nigeria's religious city of Jos (short for "Jesus Our Savior") the government says 50,000 people died between 1999 and 2004 in sectarian clashes. Until a peace deal last year, Sudan's northern Muslims and southern Christians were at war for two decades.

Clearly, the religious revolution is still shaking out. "People are converting rapidly, but they don't necessarily have instruction" in the details of their faiths, says Boston University's Professor Robert. Nor have they had "time for their belief system to solidify." It is, she says, "still shifting." She argues that eventually the faithful will choose one religion or another, and the hybrids will fade away.

But the ferment is quite evident on the chaotic streets of Lagos, which is home to some 10 million people. Hundreds of church-sponsored banners scream out, "It's your day of RECOVERY @ LAST where life's pains are healed" or "Jesus Christ: A friend indeed! Even in times of need!!"

Healing is a regularly promised feature of churches across Africa. It's symbolic of a key element of the continent's religious explorations - fusing faith and rationality, Professor Balogun says. According to Western thought, with its emphasis on rationality, "Everything that goes up must come down," he says. But a more African approach is that, "By divine intervention it may not come down." In fact, his university is initiating a degree focusing on the religion-science nexus.

Meanwhile, it's not just Saka who's exploring the common ground between Christianity and Islam. Sitting in a wrought-iron throne, swathed in silky white fabric, the founder of "Chrislam" has these words for followers of the two great faiths: "The same sun that dries the clothes of Muslims also dries the clothes of Christians." Stroking his beard, the man named Tela Tella says, "I don't believe God loves Christians any more than Muslims."

His followers calls him His Royal Holiness, The Messenger, Ifeoluwa or "The Will of God." Since the religion's founding two decades ago, this small band has been gathering almost daily to hear his message of inclusiveness - that Christians and Muslims, "who are sons of Abraham, can be one."

Permissions