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Burkina Faso - Religion

Traditional indigenous beliefs (animism) continue to play a major role in the lives of many Burkinabč, regardless of their formal religious orientation. The Burkinabč are known for their tolerance and acceptance of ethnic and religious diversity, and religious fundamentalism is rare. It is very common to find Christians, Muslims, and animists in the same family participating in one another’s religious celebrations, and marriage across ethnic lines is widely accepted.

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 18.9 million (July 2015 estimate). According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs. Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups. Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, and Christians are concentrated in the center of the country. Indigenous religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities. The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.

The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. Unlike previous years, the transition government did not subsidize travel costs for Muslim pilgrims going on the Hajj, but allocated subsidies to the three main religious communities. The government created a National Observatory of Religious Facts (ONAFAR) to “monitor the implementation of regulations on cultural practices” and promote tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

Religious teaching is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education. By law schools (religious or otherwise) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy, but the government does not appoint or approve these officials.

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($124,400) each to various Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities. According to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the government might provide an additional subsidy when the religious community or organization pursued a mission of general interest, such as education, health, or vocational training; when the religious community conducted an activity of national interest, such as promoting peace or social stability; or when the success or failure of an activity could have affected a significant part of the population, as in the case of religious pilgrimages.

The essentially the missionary and teaching role of the “marabouts” enabled Islam to spread from nodular commercial centers to the surrounding villages and rural areas. The term “marabout”, widely used in francophone West Africa for one who has studied the Koran, is arguably a French deformation of the Arabic murabit, signifying inhabitant of a ribat or waystation in the network of commercial and religious dissemination.

This was a gradual and piecemeal task, except in specific zones of the West African interior like the Fouta Djalon (upland Guinea and neighboring plateau) where the entire population was Islamized through conquest in short order, or the Mossi plateau (in present-day Burkina Faso) which remained resistant to Islamic incursion. By the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the Islamic movement had constituted a network of institutions and learning systems spreading across the Sahelian and savanna regions of West Africa.

In March 2015 violent clashes within the Muslim community between members of the Tijaniyah and broader Sunni movements in Ouaregou, Boulgou Province, led to several injuries and damage to private property. Local authorities told journalists that the incidents started after the arrival in Ouaregou of a group of migrants adhering to a different form of Sunni Islam. The Tijaniyah community, which was already present, prevented them from praying separately and attacked them when they did so. Local authorities, including the prefect, the gendarmerie, and the police, attempted an unsuccessful mediation. The Tenkodogo High Court indicted nine individuals for offenses related to the clashes and kept them in detention.

In Burkina Faso, this kind of social exclusion is based on the popular belief that older women, who are outliving their relatives or are jealous of not having been able to have children, may have the power to steal the lives of young people. Accusations of witchcraft often follow a sudden death that is viewed as suspicious. These women, defamed as “soul-eaters,” are forcibly banished from their community and lose any right to assistance despite their vulnerability.

The accused women all have a similar profile. They are illiterate, past childbearing age, and often widowed. Many have children who no longer live in their villages, and therefore cannot protect their mother from allegations of witchcraft. Once excluded, these women are forbidden from any contact with their progeny.

The economic condition of banished women is incredibly strenuous, and the intense hardship inevitably leads to the decline of their mental and physical health. This kind of social exclusion is more often practiced in animist and Christian Mossi communities.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2017 18:16:03 ZULU