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Tanzania - Religion

Tanzania's population of 45 million is roughly evenly split between Muslims and Christians. The US government estimates the total population at 48.3 million (July 2013 estimate). Most religious leaders estimate that the population is 50 percent Christian and 50 percent Muslim. A 2010 Pew Forum survey estimates that approximately 60 percent of the population is Christian, 36 percent is Muslim, and 4 percent belongs to other religious groups.

On the mainland, large Muslim communities are concentrated in coastal areas, with some large Muslim minorities also located inland in urban areas. The population of Zanzibar is approximately 98 percent Muslim, of which 80-90 percent is Sunni. The remainder consists of several Shia groups, mostly of Asian descent. Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants (including Pentecostals), Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovahs Witnesses. Other religious groups include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahais.

The countrys three largest political parties are secular, but include the opposition Civic United Front party, often associated with Zanzibars Muslim community, and the opposition Chadema party, often associated with the Christian majority on the mainland.

On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases except for family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce and the adoption of minors, where Muslims may choose Islamic law. In 16 mainland regions, a kadhi court system hears civil cases concerning Muslims. Judges trained in Islamic legal traditions administer the kadhi courts. If the parties do not agree with a kadhi court decision, magistrate courts hear the cases.

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago. While Zanzibar has its own president, constitution, court system, and legislature, it is also subject to the Tanzanian constitution and its religious freedom provisions. The Zanzibar constitution and Zanzibars laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. Its constitution stipulates that every person has freedom of thought or conscience, belief or faith, and choice, including the freedom to change religion or faith and that all are entitled to equal protection under the law without discrimination, including on the basis of religion.

In Zanzibar, Muslims have a parallel system of kadhi courts for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving constitutional matters and Islamic law, can be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibars kadhi courts can be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The president of Zanzibar appoints the chief kadhi, who oversees the kadhi courts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran.

One of the most pressing problems facing Tanzania is the ongoing political crisis on volatile Zanzibar, where the ruling CCM party faces a strong test from the opposition CUF in elections in October. Unlike the mainland, Zanzibar's elections in 1995 and 2000 were marred by fraud and violence, and more of the same is quite possible later this year. The fact that the CUF membership is almost exclusively Muslim lends unfortunate sectarian undertones to the contest.

No problem is more important or more vexatious. Beyond the possibility of electoral fraud and violence lies a longer term threat of increased radicalism and separatist sentiments in the isles. Strong leadership from the union Government will be vital in heading off this threat. As the weak government struggles to pull the nation out of poverty, increasing violence by radical Islamists may discourage tourists from visiting Tanzania's great national parks and attractive coastline. Once an island of religious tolerance, Zanzibar has seen a spate of church burnings and violent attacks.

Many Tanzanians, whether or not they are Muslims or Christians, retain in their world views notions that stem from indigenous beliefs. Details of these faiths vary considerably as does their emphasis. Almost all, however, assume that there are spirits (often but not entirelv ancestral) in addition to the high god that they are concerned with what men and women do, and that they may manifest their displeasure by visiting illness, or other inconvenience, or disaster, and that properly placated they may be helpful to one.

Also widespread is the notion that men and women, whether deliberately or inadvertently, are capable of harming others by magical means. Again details and emphases vary: some groups assume that sorcerers become such by acts of will and training; others that witches are either born or acquire their proclivities hy means not under their control. Witches may also be thought to have animal familiars, In some cases both kinds of persons are thought to exist. Whatever the belief, it provided a kind of explanation for one's difficulties whether these be illness, death, crop failure, or animal disease.

Given the possibility that several kinds of human or spirit agencies may be responsible for what has happened, a crucial role is played by the diviner whose task it is to discover whether it is sorcerer, witch, ancestor, or other spirit that has caused the misfortune. Such diviners can ploy a variety of techniques, but their diagnoses seem to be based on their knowledge of the social relations and personal characteristics of the individual afflicted.

The colonial regime forbade accusations of witchcraft and sorcery and made the accuser rather than the accused guilty of a crime, a process that kept most accusations out of the courts of record, but it did not end the belief system underlying them. Occasionally during the colonial period states of tension and uncertainty gave rise to or at least supported the emergence of witchfinding movemets, sometimes led by a person who claimed the power to discover and therefore cleanse the area of witches.

Some educated Tanzanians would state with disdainful superiority that such and such is merely the custom of the ignorant washenzi [savage], but despite his pretended emancipation from such childish beliefs he will take care that he does nothing to offend the deities or evil spirits that have it in their power to visit punishments upon evil-doers. With scorn he points to the practices of his heathen brethren; yet for safety sake he leaves himself a loophole for use in case of need.

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Page last modified: 15-05-2015 20:29:15 ZULU