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Fiji - Religion

Fiji is a crossroads of three of the world's great religions: Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. The Constitution does not sanction an official religion but does invoke the name of God and guarantees the freedom of religious belief and proselytization. The 2013 constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. It also mandates the separation of church and state. For the first time in the country’s history, the government selected a non-Methodist to become the president in October 2015.

According to the 1976 census, only 1 percent of the population chose not to associate itself with a religion. About 51 percent of the population classified themselves as Christian, about 40 percent as Hindu, and 7.7 percent as Muslim. According to the 2007 census, approximately 64 percent of the population is Christian, 28 percent Hindu, and 6 percent Muslim.

Religious affiliation runs largely along ethnic lines. According to the 2007 census, most indigenous citizens, who constitute 57 percent of the population, are Christian. The majority of the country’s traditional chiefs belong to the Methodist Church, and it remains influential among indigenous people, particularly in rural areas where 49 percent of the population lives. Most Indian Fijians, who account for 37 percent of the total population, are Hindu, while roughly 20 percent of Indian Fijians are Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Approximately 60 percent of the small Chinese community is Christian. The small community of mixed European and Fijian ancestry is predominantly Christian.

The largest Christian denomination is the Methodist Church, which, according to the 2007 census, has approximately 290,000 members. Among Protestant Christian denominations, Methodists have been the most successful, building on the achievements of the early missionaries. They made up about 73 percent of the Christian community in 1976; nearly all were Fijian. The Roman Catholic church claimed about 17 percent of Christian adherents, including significant minorities of Chinese, Indians, Europeans, and Part Europeans. The Seventh-Day Adventist, Assembly of God, and Anglican churches each had 2 to 3 percent of the Christian community, while other denominations made up the rest.

Some 80 percent of the Indians identified themselves as Hindu. Each predominantly Indian community had at. least one Hindu temple, and often there was a second temple representing a reformed sect. Although public and even household rituals have become infrequent, all Hindus took part in Fiji's two most important festivals, Holi and Dewah. Some of the orthodox Hindus— especially Southerners—performed rites of purification, such as puncturing their faces with metal skewers.

Muslims made up 15.4 percent of the Indian community in 1976. Over 63 percent of this group were Sunni Muslims. The largest mosque is at Lautoka, but there are numerous other mosques in other parts ofViti Levu in particular. Some 45 percent of the Muslims lilved in Ba Province.

Education has been closely associated with religion in Fiji since the Christian missions set up the first schools more than a century ago. As late as 1977, when detailed statistics were last available, Christian missions still ran 113 schools, while other religious bodies managed another 76. Local committees were in charge of 575 schools, and the government directly managed 35 others. Although school attendance was not compulsory, enrollment was universal in the 662 primary schools operating in 1981. Over 60 percent of the relevant age-group was enrolled in the 138 secondary and 36 technical and vocational schools operating that year. The number of primary students per teacher dropped from more than 30 students in 1970 to about 218 students in 1981.

The churches in Fiji, dominated by ultra right-wing Fijian leaders, played a very destabilising role in race relations following the first coup in Fiji, led by a supposedly lay Methodist preacher Sitiveni Rabuka. He said it was the calling of God to execute the coup, and later argued that Indo-Fijians were pagans who should be converted to Christianity. During his military reign of the country he had imposed a fundamental Sunday ban in the name of religion.

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