Study suggests Christians and Muslims have mutual respect

06 May 2010

by Rebecca Paveley

CHRISTIANS and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa respect and tolerate each other, a new study suggests, despite the huge growth in both faiths over the past century.

Christians and Muslims told pollsters for Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa that they found each other honest and devout.

Overall, Christians polled are less positive about Muslims: an average of 43 per cent believe that Muslims are violent, compared with 20 per cent of Muslims who agree that Chris­tians are violent. And, notably in Nigeria and Rwanda, which have both suffered ethnic violence, more than half of those polled say that religious conflict is a big problem in the region.

The survey was carried out by the Pew Research Centre, based in Washington, DC. It surveyed 25,000 people in 19 countries.

Muslims are more concerned about Islamic extremism than they are about Christian extremism, the report says. In overwhelmingly Christian coun­tries, Christians are more concerned about Christian extrem­ism than Muslim extremism.

Some tension between the two faiths is reported, however, parti­cularly where the pre­dominantly Muslim north meets the predom­inantly Christian south. In some of these nations, more than a third of Christians polled say that they face hostility from many or most Muslims in their country.

Some of the findings confirm generally held opinions about the region, including the fact that the population is both devout and morally conservative.

The share of people polled who de­scribe religion as “very im­portant” in their lives ranges from 98 per cent in Senegal to 69 per cent in Botswana. That compares with 57 per cent in the US, 25 per cent in Germany, and 19 per cent in Britain.

Over the past 100 years, the Muslim population in the area has grown to 234 million, and the Christian population has grown to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to one in five of the world’s Christians, and one in seven of the world’s Muslims.

Many adherents of each faith still practise elements of traditional African religious beliefs, and more than a quarter of Christians and Muslims believe that sacrifices to ancestors can protect them from harm.

Majorities among both faiths believe that Western music, tele­vision, and films have harmed moral standards. Throughout the region, both faiths oppose homo­sexuality, abortion, and sex before marriage.

The vice-president of human sciences at the John Templeton Foundation, Kimon Sargeant, said that the global influence of religion grew markedly in the 20th century, and shows no sign of abating, not least in Africa. “The results from the survey show how prevalent, para­doxical, and promising religion is in Africa,” he said.

“The tensions and conflicts between Muslims and Christians are likely to increase, but informed under­standing of different religions will also increase.”

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