Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Homosexuality, Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Mesquita Nacional em Abuja, NigériaImage by Moises.on via Flickr
Source: African Activist

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just released an extensive study on Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is almost impossible to discuss the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Africa without a careful and sensitive awareness of Africa's religious context.

Christianity and Islam is practiced at a much higher rate in Africa than in Europe or the United States and coexists with traditional African beliefs and practices.

The Executive Summary opens with the following paragraph:
The vast majority of people in many sub-Saharan African nations are deeply committed to the practices and major tenets of one or the other of the world's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam. Large majorities say they belong to one of these faiths, and, in sharp contrast with Europe and the United States, very few people are religiously unaffiliated. Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices have not disappeared. Rather, they coexist with Islam and Christianity. Whether or not this entails some theological tension, it is a reality in people's lives: Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions.
A large number of the Christians and Muslims surveyed take the Bible or Koran literally, word for word.

In the chapter, Commitment to Christianity and Islam, research indicates that large majorities in every country express belief in the core tenets of Christianity or Islam and took more literalistic approaches to the Bible and the Koran.
In addition, large numbers of Christians - including at least half in every country surveyed and nearly nine-in-ten people in Nigeria and Liberia - say they believe the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, word for word. Most Muslims adopt a similar view of the Koran, including roughly nine-in-ten or more Muslims in Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana.

The median % of Christians saying the Bible is the literal word of God in Africa is 76%. This goes up to 80% for Muslims and the Koran.
To see a visual representation of how pervasive Christianity is in many parts of Africa, visit African Activist's post titled "Is Christianity the Key to Gay Liberation in Africa?"

While the survey revealed strong support for democracy, there was also strong support for government based on the Bible or sharia law.

In the chapter on Religion and Society, research demonstrated a lack of commitment to separation of church and state.
Across the sub-Saharan region, large numbers of Christians and Muslims alike express strong support for democracy as well as for religious freedom. At the same time, there is strong backing among both groups for government based on the Bible or sharia law. And sizable numbers, especially among Muslims, support the application of criminal sanctions such as whipping or cutting off the hands of people who commit theft or robbery...
Although this may simply reflect the importance of religion in the region, it is nonetheless striking that in 13 of 16 countries with a sufficient number of Christians to analyze, half or more Christians favor making the Bible the official law of the land. And in 12 of 15 countries where analysis of the Muslim population is possible, half or more of Muslims favor establishing sharia, or Islamic law, in their countries. Support for religiously based civil law is highest, at roughly eight-in-ten, among Muslims in Djibouti (82%) and among Christians in Zambia (77%). Significant minorities of Christians in 15 countries and at least half of Muslims in every country also support allowing leaders and judges to use their religious beliefs when deciding family and property disputes.  In this religious context, Africans hold very conservative views about homosexuality and believe Western influence hurts the morality of the nation.
The survey reveals very conservative views on homosexuality and the belief that Western influence hurts morality.

In the chapter on Religion and Society, the research shows the deep interconnection between religion and morality in African nations.
African Muslims and Christians see a close relationship between religion and morality, with at least two-thirds of the population in most countries saying it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values. At least three-in-four people in nearly every country believe there are clear and absolute standards of right and wrong. Tanzania and Ethiopia are the only exceptions, and even there more than two-thirds of the population believes in absolute standards.

Majorities in almost all the countries surveyed believe that Western music, movies and television have hurt morality in their nation...

On social issues, Christians and Muslims alike express very strong opposition to abortion, prostitution, suicide and homosexual behavior, with nine-in-ten or more in many countries calling these practices morally wrong. Large majorities in nearly every country express opposition to sex between unmarried people, and substantial numbers (roughly four-in-ten or more) in every country say that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.
The people who struggle the most in Africa's religious context are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Christians or Muslims. The reality is that most LGBTI people will grow up in one of these religious communities before they discover their sexual orientation or gender identity.
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