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Ghana - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 26.3 million (July 2015 estimate). Approximately 71 percent is Christian, 18 percent is Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous religious beliefs, and 6 percent identifies as belonging to other religious groups or having no religious beliefs. Other religious groups include the Bahai Faith, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism. Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Evangelical Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zionist, Christian Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, African independent churches, the Society of Friends (Quaker), and numerous charismatic religious groups.

Many individuals who self-identify as Christian or Muslim also adhere to some aspects of indigenous beliefs. There are also syncretic groups that combine elements of Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs. Zetahil, a practice unique to the country, combines elements of Christianity and Islam.

While the north of the country is primarily Muslim, all of Ghana's large urban areas have significant, long-established Muslim populations that have mostly migrated from northern rural areas. Ghana,s Muslims are divided into four main sects, two of which represent different strains of Sunnism, plus smaller groupings of Shia'a and Ahmadia. The Muslim population includes the Tijaniyah and Qadiriyya orders of Sufism. The Alhussunna Wal-Jama'a Sunni sect hosts Wahabi missionaries and is more fundamentalist than the other group, the Tijanniya. Muslims in Ghana generally perceive themselves as marginalized from the mainstream Christian culture and the economic and political power they believe Christians monopolize. Some Muslims acknowledge that this marginalization is a partially self-inflicted distancing due to longstanding fear of proselytization and conversion.

The leadership of the middle-of-the-road Tijanniya has exerted a moderating influence over its younger, more radical elements and, to a certain extent, with the more Islamist Alhussunna. At the leadership level, the two factions get along fairly well, although both face resistance from younger and more impatient radicals, especially in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana's second city. The Shia'a maintain a fairly low profile, accepting assistance from Iran, although the Iranian mission does not confine its outreach to Shia'a. In the overcrowded and underserviced urban slums where many unemployed Muslim young men live, discontent with US policy in the Middle East, and with a government that is viewed as a close ally of the US, is a potentially volatile and exploitable negative force.

Ghana has been predominantly free of the religious communal violence that has taken place in other West African countries. For the most part, Christian-Muslim relations are good. Even in the most deprived urban areas, where members of all faiths are crowded together, disagreements do not escalate into religion-based strife. Nevertheless, this tolerance has in the past been characterized by a degree of fragility.

There is no significant link between ethnicity and religion, but geography is often associated with religious identity. Christians live throughout the country; the majority of Muslims resides in the northern regions and in the urban centers of Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi-Takoradi, Tamale, and Wa; and the majority of the followers of traditional religious beliefs resides in rural areas.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, on at least one occasion local government officials restricted this right. The Government does not always prosecute those responsible for religiously motivated attacks. For example, none of those who attacked churches during the 1999 annual ban on drumming were arrested or charged with an offense. Police authorities said that pursuing the cases only would exacerbate tensions. No suspects were charged in the attacks on a Christian charismatic church in December 1996 and March 1998.

In January 2015 female Muslim secondary school students reported that testing officials from the WAEC ordered them to remove their hijab and/or veil before they could take the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Within days of the report, the Ghana National Office of the WAEC publicly stated that testing officials only needed to identify students before allowing them to take the WASSCE, and that proper identification did not necessarily require removal of a hijab or veil. Students were required to pose for passport-sized photos for WASSCE registration purposes, but the WAEC officials stated that removal of any head or face covering would not be required if key facial features were visible in the photograph.

Christian and Muslim prayers and occasionally traditional invocations were used at government meetings, receptions, and state funerals. The president and vice president continued to make public remarks about the importance of peaceful religious coexistence. The government initiated a “Worship in Schools” program intended to be a class on moral and social education. Some religious groups said the program became a pretext for promoting the religious leanings of the respective teacher. Teachers punished and sometimes beat students who refused to participate. After several complaints, the government discontinued the program in September 2015.

Religious tolerance in Ghana is very high. The major Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter are recognized as national holidays. In the past, vacation periods have been planned around these occasions, thus permitting both Christians and others living away from home to visit friends and family in the rural areas. Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is observed by Muslims across the country.

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Page last modified: 15-03-2017 18:21:38 ZULU