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Mozambique - Religion

Mozambicans identify primarily with a tribe or linguistic group. Colonialism tied them to a common language (Portuguese) and to a common religion (Catholicism). The greatest cultural differences are those between the northern and southern regions. Northern groups are matrilineal, semi-nomadic, and less influenced by the Portuguese. Southern groups are patrilineal, and many have adopted Portuguese dress, language, and religion.

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 25.9 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the U.S. government, 28 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 16 percent Zionist Christian, 12 percent Protestant, 18 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), and 8 percent other religious groups including the Bahai Faith, Judaism, and Hinduism. Approximately 18 percent does not profess any religion or belief.

Muslim leaders state their community accounts for 25-30 percent of the total population, a statistic frequently reported in the press. The northern provinces are predominantly Muslim, particularly along the coast, while areas of the northern interior have a stronger concentration of Christian communities. Christians are generally more numerous in the southern and central regions, but Muslims are also present in these areas. Differences between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims are not particularly important for many local Muslims, who are much more likely to identify themselves as followers of local religious leaders than as Sunni or Shi’a.

The constitution provides for the right to practice or not to practice religion freely and prohibits discrimination based on religion. These and other rights may only temporarily be suspended or restricted in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency. The constitution prohibits faith-based political parties and the use of religious symbols in politics.

Mozambique does not have a state religion; however, Muslim leaders claim discrimination based on observance of National Family Day, a holiday that is observed on 25 December. The Muslim community believes Eid al fitr should be made a national holiday if Christmas is observed de facto under the guise of family unification. Tensions arise over the public recognition by the government of certain religious holidays such as National Family Day, which is celebrated on 25 December, but not others, such as Eid al Fitr. These tensions are not expressed in violence, but do create division. The government in response has not officially recognized any religious holidays as official government holidays. However, there are provisions in the constitution that allow groups to declare holidays for themselves.

Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools. The government continued to register religious groups and organizations; however, a Catholic Church representative said that authorities in certain provinces required some dioceses to register locally in what he said was a violation of the 2012 agreement between the central government and the Holy See. The Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches continued to seek the return of properties the government seized in the years after independence.

A 2012 accord between the national government and the Holy See governs the Catholic Church’s rights and responsibilities in the country. The agreement recognizes the Catholic Church as a “legal personality” and recognizes the Church’s exclusive right “to regulate ecclesiastical life and to nominate people for ecclesiastical posts.” The agreement requires Catholic Church representatives to register with the government to benefit from the Church’s status. The accord also gives the Catholic Church the exclusive right to create, modify, or eliminate ecclesiastical boundaries; however, it stipulates that ecclesiastical territories must report to a Church authority in the country.

Before Mozambique became independent from Portugal in 1975, Roman Catholicism was the colony’s quasi-official religion and the dominant Christian denomination in Chibuto and elsewhere. However, the colonial era also saw a strong growth of mission-initiated (or “mainline”) Protestant churches, such as the Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist churches; these churches played a key role in the formation of local educated elites that led Mozambique to independence. Yet, after the nation’s independence, the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant churches alike have lost much of their political influence. Paralleling their political decline, their membership has also shrunk, largely due to competition with other churches.

A sizeable share of the population belongs to Apostolic churches (particularly the Church of Old Apostles), an array of African-initiated churches that were first established in South Africa and then spread through the other southern African nations. These churches are distinguished by strong organizational identity and hierarchy and introvert corporate culture. The country has also seen a proliferation of foreign-origin, even if considerably “Africanized,” Pentecostal churches, such as the Assemblies of God and Brazil’s Universal Church of the Kingdom of God—a part of the continent-wide phenomenon.

Most remarkable, however, has been the explosive growth of the Zionist variety of Pentecostalism. Some of the Zionist churches were imported from South Africa since the early twentieth century, but many are home grown in southern Mozambique. Their more recent propagation is attributed in part to growing societal inequalities and insecurities. These churches are distinguished by a strong emphasis on miracle healing that is often aided by herbs and similar medical accoutrements borrowed straight from traditional healers’ treatment kits, despite Zionists’ fervent rejection of the very institution of traditional medicine.

According to Christian and Muslim religious leaders, a significant portion of the population adheres to syncretic indigenous religious beliefs, characterized by a combination of African traditional practices and aspects of either Christianity or Islam, a category not included in government estimates.

Traditional healers are very resourceful and play a pivotal role in many spheres of the people’s lives since they are ‘medical knowledge storehouses’, African traditional healers serve important roles as educators about traditional culture, cosmology and spirituality. They also serve as counselors, social workers and skilled psychotherapists as well as custodians of indigenous knowledge systems.

The services of traditional healers go far beyond the uses of herbs for physical illnesses. A particular example of the role of traditional healing extends to its use in Mozambique. Traditional healers were found to be invaluable in post civil war social reconstruction and community rebuilding in Mozambique, particularly in the rural areas. It is doubtful whether modern psychological and psychiatric services would have been appropriate in Mozambique, since traditional healing was highly involved by rendering culturally relevant psychological services that included communication with the ancestors.

In June 2017 police in Mozambique warned bald men in the country to be vigilant, after at least two such men were killed for the use of their body parts in witchcraft rituals. According to local experts, widespread poverty is as much to blame for the killings as mystical belief. Sociologist Book Sambo, who lectures at Mozambique's Eduardo Mondlane University, said the attacks must be seen in a context where people are desperate to improve their lives, and willing to use "magic" in hopes of changing their luck. "This should not be seen as isolated from our social problems — the low level of education, people with socio-economic difficulties ... the difficulty of getting a job," he said.

The leader of an association of traditional healers, Fernando Mate, told VOA Portuguese that members of his organization do not kill bald men in order to perform rituals. But Mate said he could not guarantee others might take such action. "People take chances to gain some money," he said. Until recently, albinos were the primary group targeted by hunters hoping to profit from witchcraft — or, more accurately, the widespread belief in it.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2017 19:52:26 ZULU