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Zambia - Religion

The religion of most Zambians would fall along a transition from traditional systems to Christianity. Few Zambians have totally abandoned all aspects of traditional belief systerns, and few traditionalists are totally uninfluenced by Christianity. Since Christianity and indigeneous religions differ greatly in their overt manifestations, many Zambians find little contradiction between them: a traditional doctor may also be a staunch churchgoer.

For most Zambians the focus of traditional religion was the alleviation of affliction. It thus differed from Western Christianity with its strong emphasis on salvation and eternal life.

Traditional religious systerns throughout Zambia had much in common. They were not institutionalized religions in, the sense of fixed doctrines, scriptures or rites. People typically thought there was a single high god, the Creator, who was removed from every-day life. Often known as Nzambi or Nyambi in the west and Mungu or Leza in the east, this high god tended to receive little attention in centralized kingdoms and at times of exceptional stress in society.

Ancestors were much more immediate preter-natural agents, because the family included the dead as well as the living. The senior dead, like living elders, demanded respect, but were also concerned that their social group prosper and increase; thus the ancestors could be called upon to aid the living.

Similarly, just as the dead had supernatural powers over the members of thcir families, so did the living; witchcraft is the belief that jealous relatives can harm and thwart through supernatural means. Witchcraft beliefs were thus a powerful force in preserving social order within traditional communities, ensuring conformity with common norms and the sharing of wealth.

The U.S. government estimates the population at 15 million (July 2015 estimate). According to current U.S. government estimates, 95 percent of the country is Christian: 75 percent is Protestant and 20 percent is Roman Catholic. Among Protestants, the Anglican Church, evangelical, and Pentecostal groups have the largest numbers of adherents. Nearly 2 percent of the population is Muslim, with smaller numbers of Hindus, and Bahais. Approximately 1.8 percent of the population adheres to other belief systems, including indigenous religions (some of which include witchcraft) and small communities of Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs, or those who hold no religious belief. Many people combine Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

There are approximately 200,000 Muslims. Muslim communities are primarily concentrated in Lusaka and in the Eastern and Copperbelt Provinces and are often divided along ethnic or national lines. Many are immigrants from South Asia, Somalia, and the Middle East who have acquired citizenship. The Somali immigrant population has increased significantly in recent years and is estimated at approximately 20,000. Almost all those of Somali origin are Muslim and the majority live in Ndola and Lusaka. A small minority of indigenous persons are also Muslim. According to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Zambia, the Bahai community consists of approximately 7,000 adherents, located primarily in Northwestern and Southern Provinces. Most Hindus, approximately 10,000 nationwide, are of South Asian descent.

The constitution declares the country a Christian nation while prohibiting religious discrimination and providing for freedom of conscience and religion. Authorities at times disrupted prayer services to search for illegal immigrants or drugs and enforce a law regulating public gatherings. One such raid resulted in 153 arrests. Government officials enforced registration laws, banned some unregistered churches, and threatened to ban other unregistered churches. Some church groups stated President Edgar Lungu’s declaration of October 18 as a day for national prayer, fasting, and reconciliation did not include appropriate leaders in the Christian community and blurred the line between church and state. Some Christian groups criticized the government’s decision to build a Christian interdenominational church, arguing it inherently discriminated against non-Christian faiths and breached constitutional provisions for church-state separation.

The number of incidents of mobs attacking and killing individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft remained numerous. Victims were often elderly members of the community. For example, police reported that in March unidentified assailants shot and killed 79-year-old Amon Mweene and two others, including a six-month-old baby, in Pemba District on suspicion Mweene had practiced witchcraft. Non-Christian groups reported societal intolerance, and said they were often called “Satanists.” Religious organizations worked closely to promote interfaith relations.

Suspected practitioners of witchcraft, particularly elderly members of the community, were subject to attacks and mob violence. Police reported that in March unidentified assailants shot and killed 79-year-old Amon Mweene and two others, including a six-month-old baby, in Pemba District on suspicion that Mweene had practiced witchcraft.

Police reported the arrest in June of James Silwamba, who killed his 90-year-old father, Waikunda Silwamba, on the belief the father had practiced witchcraft in Southern Province. After the attack, Southern Province traditional leaders met Provincial Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu and police leadership to explore measures to halt violence targeting practitioners of traditional beliefs in the province. The chiefs complained that some community members associated anyone with white hair with witchcraft and subjected them to violence or death threats. The chiefs reported 40 people had been shot and killed from 2010 to June 2015 in witchcraft-related violence in Southern Province alone.

Some non-Christian communities reported being called “Satanist.” Bahai community leaders expressed concern that some churches singled out Bahai practitioners as Satanists, though they noted no other abuse. Politicians also used the Satanist tag to tar political opponents, including a prominent opposition leader, who expressed viewpoints differing from the ruling party.

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