Persecution of traditional African religion

Traditional African religions have faced persecution from the proponents of different ideologies.[1][2] Adherents of these religions have been forcefully converted to Islam and Christianity, demonized and marginalized.[3] The atrocities include killings, waging war, destroying of sacred places, and other atrocious actions.[4][5]

By Muslims

After the establishment of Islam, its rapid expansion and conquests displaced traditional African religions either by conversion or conquest. Traditional African religions have influenced Islam in Africa,[6] and Islam is considered as having more commonality with traditional African religions,[7] but conflict has occurred, especially due to Islam's monotheistic stance and the rise of Muslim reformers such as Askia.

In the Senegambia region, the Serer people who held "a strong connection to their ancient religious past"[8][9] became the targets of Islamic jihads and persecution from the 11th to the 19th-century resulting in the Battle of Fandane-Thiouthioune.

Traditional African religions are tolerant of other gods, which allows general co-existence for multiple religions. This has been regarded by some authors to be another reason behind the rise of other religions in Africa.[10] Most followers of traditional religions accommodated Islam during the start of its spread in Africa,[11] but in West Africa, it was not until the coming of colonialism that Islam gained mass appeal, transforming even groups with historical animosity towards Islamic domination into Muslim communities.

In many instances, conflicting groups chose to align with Muslim armies against other African communities.[12]


The relationship of Islam and traditional African religions was far from hostile but more defined by accommodation and co-existence.[citation needed] The tradition of jihad remained a minor theme.[13] In the Songhai Empire, the ruler Sonni Baru held or syncretised aspects of the African traditional religions and was challenged by Askia because he was not seen as a faithful Muslim.[14] Askia would later wage wars against those who were politically non-aligned Muslims and non-Muslims.[15]

After Dunama Dabbalemi of the Sayfawa dynasty converted to Islam, he waged Jihad, or holy war, against the proponents of the Kanuri religion, seeking to destroy its presence.[16]

In the Swahili coast, Muslims were not interested in preaching, colonization, or jihad. It was not until the 18th century that Islam spread into the interior. Molefi Asante notes that:

The religion of Islam made each Muslim merchant or traveler an embryonic missionary and the appeal of the religion with its similarities to the African religions was far more powerful than the Christian appeal.[17][18]