RELIGION IN TANZANIA
The cohabitation of religions in Tanzania is a fascinating aspect of Tanzania’s culture. The country has many religions and over 50 different tribes.
Although Christianity is the main religion, followed by Islam, there are followers of many other religions inside Tanzania. Including Buddhism, Hinduism, and African traditional.
In the 14th century, the location of Tanzania on the coast of East Africa was strategic for Arab traders and slave traders. During the 15th century, German Christian missionaries were sent to Tanzania to expand Germany. Upon arrival the Christians were chased away by local Muslims; Christianity came back in the 19th century, and the relation between the two was hostile. Arabic arrived in Tanzania mainly for business in the slavery industry, to which Christians opposed themselves. Later, the slave trade was abolished. From this, the relationship between the two religions groups improved and has not been hostile since then. (1)
This relationship on Tanzania’s mainland is peaceful and civil. However, nowadays Zanzibar Island is composed of 99% of Muslims people (1). When Christian locals are traveling to Zanzibar and are not dressed according to Muslim beliefs, with skin on show, Muslim people speak negatively towards them; not aggressively or violently, but in a way that can make mainland locals feel uncomfortable.
“The government of Tanzania and the semiautonomous government of Zanzibar both recognize religious freedom as a principle and make efforts to protect it.” (3)
Tanzanian society has been shaped by the presence of its different religions. Islam and the Swahili language have been introduced by Arab Muslims. The Indigenous Spirituality people helped in keeping the Tanzanian traditions alive. Christian missionaries provided education and health care to the population, which helped develop the nation as a whole. Every religion is celebrated equally: “religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Eid-el-Fitr, and Prophet Mohammed’s birthday are all given equal emphasis.” (1)
For people living on Tanzania’s mainland, religions are not a big deal. People are believing in the God they want, and everyone is accepting it. Mosques are making a lot of noise, but so do gospel churches. People are respectful of other people’s beliefs: they see each other as human beings and don’t emphasize other religious belonging.
I talked with Ruth Mgalula and Hadija Mohammed, respectively Christian and Muslim. These are some of the stories they told me to help me understand the cohabitation of religions in Tanzania.
|When people are about to fight about religion issues, one of the two clans always stop it; people know it is going to end badly otherwise, and it’s not worth it|
|“People respect other people’s religion, but when it comes to marriage, sometimes, it’s more difficult. “I remember my friend was Christian, and she wanted to marry a Muslim guy. They didn’t say it to their parents, because they knew they would have a bad reaction. They got married to a government marriage. Soon after the parents find out, both sides were shocked and mad. A lot of fighting appeared, and they had to divorce.” Obviously, it’s not like this in all families. When you introduce your partner to your family, it’s in the first and basics questions, to ask: what is your name? Where are you from? What religion are you from?|
The common thing to do when the two aren’t from the same religion is for one to change religion for the other one. The thing is, when you change religion, you change a lot in your beliefs. People will notice that you change, and they may talk to you about it, but no more. People are letting others be.
“All my family is Muslim; we believe in God, and my mom prays five times a day, as well as my sister.” Her other sister changed when she met this Christian man. Everyone was fine with it, except Hadija’s grand-dad. He was really against it. He felt like he was losing one of his grand-kids. When you change religion, it is viewed as if you wanted to reach a higher level of religious perfection. Which discredits your initial religion in your choice to change. Afterward, it went fine. He was against it in words, never in a violent way.
|“When someone died, Muslims can go to the church and attend a funeral; same with Christian. Everyone can befriend everyone, no distinction of religion.”|
Tanzania is different from other countries, especially from other African East coast countries. “The first president we had told us: there will be no war in this country.” Julius Nyerere stayed 30 years has Tanzania’s president. He never installed a dictatorial or authoritarian regime. There is over 50 different tribes and many different religions. Everybody can believe in what they want and practice whatever religion they want, as long as it doesn’t break the rules of the government. “When we were seeking independence, Julius Nyerere went to one of the mosques in Bagamoyo, even if he is Christian, and prayed with Muslims all night for the independence of the country. It just shows that we have the same God. He said to us: we are not going to fight for independence, there will be no blood in our hands. We are just going to have a peaceful way of getting independence. Let’s pray to God together.”
Our first president created this strong belief: we are all related. Believe in whatever you want, but don’t break the constitution’s rules, because they are the same as what the Quran and the Bible say: don’t kill, because you will be punished.
“Every neighborhood is full of different religions, but when something happens, everyone is there for others. Our differences have nothing to do with our religion, or in whom we believe. As human beings, we have weaknesses, and this is our biggest difference, either we like it or not.”