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Cote d’Ivoire

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.1 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census in 2014, 42.9 percent of the population is Muslim and 33.9 percent Christian.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include adherents of indigenous and other religious beliefs.  According to the census, 19.1 percent of the population identifies as following no religion.  The government carried out a new census in November and December; however, as of the end of the year, the results had not been released.  Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Harrists (a group that follows the teachings of William Wade Harris, a Liberian who evangelized in Cote d’Ivoire in the early 20th century), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Southern Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Copts, the Celestial Church of Christ, and Assemblies of God.  According to 2014 census data, 17.2 percent of the population is Catholic, 11.8 percent evangelical Christian, 1.7 percent Methodist, 0.5 percent Harrist, 0.4 percent Celeste, and 2.2 percent belongs to other Christian denominations.  Muslim groups include Sunnis (95 percent of Muslims), many of whom are Sufi; Shia (mostly members of the Lebanese community); and Ahmadis.  Adherents of other religious groups include Buddhists, Baha’is, Rastafarians, followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jews, and Bossonists, who follow traditions of the Akan ethnic group.

Muslims are the majority in the north of the country, and Christians are the majority in the south.  Members of both groups, as well as other religious groups, reside throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates a secular state that respects all beliefs and treats all individuals equally under the law, regardless of religion.  It specifically prohibits religious discrimination in public and private employment and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship consistent with the law, the rights of others, national security, and public order.  It prohibits “propaganda” that encourages religious hatred.  It recognizes the right of political asylum in the country for individuals persecuted for religious reasons.

The Department of Faith-Based Organizations (DGC), which is part of the Ministry of Interior and Security, is charged with promoting dialogue among religious groups as well as between the government and religious groups, providing administrative support to religious groups attempting to become established in the country, monitoring religious activities, and managing state-sponsored religious pilgrimages and registration of new religious groups.

The law requires all religious groups to notify the government of their existence.  Foreign religious groups with a presence in the country require authorization from the Minister of Interior and Security, and all religious groups – foreign and local – must register with the DGC.  Whether a religious group is categorized as local or foreign is based on the nationality of its members, the source of its funding, the make-up of its executive board, and the location of its head office.  Groups with 75 percent foreign membership, foreign funding, foreign board members, or a foreign head office are considered foreign.  Local religious groups are allowed to operate two months without official approval after they submit their registration application.  Foreign religious groups are technically not allowed to begin operating until they receive authorization, but this is not enforced.

There are no penalties prescribed for groups that do not register, but registered groups benefit from government support, such as free access to state-run television and radio for religious programming if requested.  Registered religious groups are not charged import duties on devotional items, such as religious books or rosaries.  Registered religious groups are also exempt from property tax on the places of worship they own.  Nonregistered groups are not allowed to sue for damages or receive compensation for injuries suffered.

To register, a group must submit an application to the DGC that includes its bylaws, names of the founding members and board members, date of founding, and general assembly minutes.  The DGC investigates the group to ensure it has no members or purpose deemed politically subversive and that no members have been judicially deprived of their civil and political rights.

There are legal penalties for threatening violence or death via an “information system.”  This definition includes print and electronic media.  When such a threat is of a “racist, xenophobic, religious, or ethnic [nature] or refers to a group characterized by race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin,” the law provides for a prison term of 10 to 20 years and a fine of 20 million to 40 million CFA francs ($34,400-$68,700).  Additionally, defamation, insults, or threats made towards a group of people who belong to a certain race, ethnicity, or religion are punishable by a prison term of five to 10 years and a fine of 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($860-$8,600).

Religious education is not included in the public school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith.  Religious groups running those schools normally provide opt-out procedures.  Teachers and supervisory staff in religiously affiliated schools must participate in training offered by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training before the school receives accreditation from the ministry.  The government provides some funding to both secular and religious primary private schools pursuant to legal conventions between the government and these schools.  Subsidies are paid on a per student basis and the rate per student is the same for secular and religious schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 106.4 million (midyear 2021).  Most experts and media sources estimate that approximately 90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim and 10 percent is Christian.  Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.

Other Christian communities together constitute less than 2 percent of the population.  These include Anglican/Episcopalian, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Maronite, Latin, and Syrian), and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches.  Most Protestant denominations are members of the umbrella group known as the Protestant Churches of Egypt, also known as the General Evangelical Council.  These include the Apostolic Grace, Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Christian Model Church (al-Mithaal al-Masihi), Church of Christ, Faith (al-Eyman), Gospel Missionary (al-Kiraaza bil-Ingil), First Grace (al-Ni’ma al-Oula), Second Grace (al-Ni’ma al-Thaneya), Independent Baptist, Message Church of Holland (ar-Risaala), Open Brethren, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), and Seventh-day Adventists.  There are an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses and fewer than 100 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the vast majority of whom are expatriates.  Christians reside throughout the country.

Scholars estimate that Shia Muslims comprise approximately 1 percent of the population.  Baha’i representatives estimate the size of their community to be between 1,000 and 2,000 persons.  There are very small numbers of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims as well as expatriate members of various other religious groups.

According to a local Jewish NGO, there are six to 10 Jews in the country.

There are no reliable estimates of the number of atheists; in 2020, local media sources quoted a former Minister of Culture and a scholar at al-Azhar University estimating numbers of atheists at “several million” and “four million,” respectively.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation.  The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine [Abrahamic] religions is a right regulated by law.”  The constitution also states citizens “are equal before the law,” prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, and makes “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason” a crime.  The constitution prohibits political activity or the formation of political parties based on religion.  The constitution also states, “No political activity may be engaged in, or political parties formed, on the basis of religion, or discrimination [be permitted] based on sex, origin, sect, or geographic location.”

The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and allows only their adherents as defined by the government to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship.  The constitution defines al-Azhar, the main authority on theology and Islamic affairs, as “an independent scientific Islamic institution with exclusive competence over its own affairs… It is responsible for preaching Islam and disseminating the religious sciences and the Arabic language” worldwide.  Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam is elected by al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars and is officially appointed by the President for a life term.  The President does not have the authority to dismiss him.  The constitution declares al-Azhar to be an independent institution and requires the government to provide “sufficient funding for it to achieve its purposes.”

According to the law, capital sentences must be referred to the Grand Mufti, the country’s highest Islamic legal official, for consultation before they can be carried out.  The Grand Mufti’s decision in these cases is consultative and nonbinding on the court that handed down the sentence.

The constitution stipulates the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.  Individuals are subject to different sets of personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) depending upon their official religious designation.  The Ministry of Interior issues national identity cards that include official religious designations.  Designations are limited to Muslim, Christian, or Jewish citizens.  Although the government designates Jehovah’s Witnesses as “Christian” on identity cards, a presidential decree bans their religious activities.  Since a 2009 court order, Baha’is’ religious affiliation is denoted by a dash (“-”) on national identity cards.  The Minister of Interior has the authority to issue executive regulations determining what data national identity cards must list.

Neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam, nor efforts to proselytize.  The law states individuals may change their religion.  However, the government recognizes conversion to Islam, but generally not from Islam to any other religion.  The government recognizes conversion from Islam for individuals who were not born Muslim but later converted to Islam, according to a Ministry of Interior decree pursuant to a court order.  Reverting to Christianity requires presentation of a document from the receiving church, an identity card, and fingerprints.  After a determination is made that the intent of the change – which often also entails a name change – is not to evade prosecution for a crime committed under the Muslim name, a new identity document is issued with the Christian name and religious designation.  In cases in which Muslims not born Muslim convert from Islam, their minor children, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, remain classified as Muslims.  When these children reach the age of 18, they have the option of converting to Christianity and having that reflected on their identity cards.

The law stipulates Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men who wish to marry Muslim women must convert to Islam.  Christian and Jewish women are not required to convert to Islam in order to marry Muslim men.  A married non-Muslim woman who converts to Islam must divorce her husband if he is not Muslim and is unwilling to convert.  If a married man is discovered to have left Islam, his marriage to a woman whose official religious designation is Muslim is dissolved.

A divorced mother is entitled to custody of her son until the age of 15 and her daughter until she marries.  The children’s father has the right to petition the court to ask the children to choose between staying with their mother or father, unless one parent is Muslim and the other is not, in which case the Muslim parent is awarded custody.

The government recognizes only the marriages of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim citizens, with documentation from a cleric, and does not recognize civil marriage between Egyptian citizens.  Marriages of Shia are recognized as Muslim.  The government recognizes civil marriages of Baha’is, as well as of individuals from other unrecognized religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, if one or both are foreigners.  Authorities deny Baha’is the rights of married couples pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and sponsoring a foreign spouse.  In practice, however, Baha’is have reported occasional success in filing individual petitions for recognition of their marriages in civil court.

The law generally follows sharia in matters of inheritance.  In 2017, however, an appellate court ruled applying sharia to non-Muslims violated the section of the constitution stating that personal status matters for Christian and Jewish communities are governed by their respective religious doctrine.

According to the penal code, using religion to promote extremist thought with the aim of inciting strife; demeaning or denigrating Islam, Christianity, or Judaism; or harming national unity carries penalties ranging from six months to five years’ imprisonment.

There are four entities currently authorized to issue fatwas (religious rulings binding on Muslims):  the al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars, the al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, the Dar al-Iftaa (House of Religious Edicts), and the Ministry of Awqaf’s (Islamic endowments) General Fatwa Directorate.  While a part of the Ministry of Justice, Dar al-Iftaa has been an independent organization since 2007.

Islamic, Christian, and Jewish denominations may request official recognition from the government, which gives previously unrecognized religious groups the right to be governed by their own canonical laws, practice religious rituals, establish houses of worship, and import religious literature.  To obtain official recognition, a religious group must submit a request to the Ministry of the Interior’s Administrative Affairs Department.  The department then determines whether the group poses a threat to national unity or social peace.  As part of this determination, the department consults leading religious institutions, including the Coptic Orthodox Church and al-Azhar.  The President then reviews and adjudicates the registration application.

The law does not recognize the Baha’i Faith or its religious laws, and it bans Baha’i institutions and community activities.  The law does not stipulate any penalties for banned religious groups or their members who engage in religious practices, but these groups are barred from rights granted to recognized groups, such as having their own houses of worship or other property, holding bank accounts, or importing religious literature.

The government, through the Ministry of Awqaf, appoints, pays the salaries of, and monitors imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques.  According to the law, penalties for preaching or giving religious lessons without a license from the Ministry of Awqaf or al-Azhar include a prison term of up to one year, a fine of up to 50,000 pounds ($3,200), or both.  The penalty doubles for repeat offenders.  Ministry of Awqaf inspectors also have judicial authority to arrest imams violating this law.  A ministry decree prevents unlicensed imams from preaching in any mosque, prohibits holding Friday prayers in mosques smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), bans unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayer services (other prayer services are permitted), and pays bonuses to imams who deliver Friday sermons written and disseminated by the Ministry of Awqaf.  Ministry personnel monitor Friday sermons in major mosques and an imam who fails to follow the guidelines for ministry sermons may lose the bonus and be subject to disciplinary measures, including potentially losing his preaching license.

The Prime Minister has the authority to stop the circulation of books that “denigrate religions.”  Ministries may obtain court orders to ban or confiscate books and works of art.  The cabinet may ban works it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace.  The Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar has the legal authority to censor and confiscate any publications dealing with the Quran and the authoritative Islamic traditions (sunnah) and to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law.

A 2016 law delegates the power to issue legal permits and to authorize church construction or renovation to governors of the country’s 27 governorates.  The governor is to respond within four months of receipt of an application for legalization; any refusal must include a written justification.  The law does not provide for review or appeal of a refusal, nor does it specify recourse if a governor fails to respond within the required timeframe.  The law also includes provisions to legalize existing unlicensed churches.  It stipulates that while a request to license an existing building for use as a church is pending, the use of the building to conduct church services and rites may not be prevented.  Under the law, the size of new churches continues to depend on a government determination of the “number and need” of Christians in the area.  Construction of new churches must meet specific land registration procedures and building codes and is subject to greater government scrutiny than that applied to the construction of new mosques.

Under a separate law governing the construction of mosques, the Ministry of Awqaf reviews and approves building permits.  A 2001 cabinet decree includes a list of 10 provisions requiring that new mosques built after that date must, among other conditions, be a minimum of 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the nearest other mosque, have a ground surface of at least 175 square meters (1,900 square feet), and be built only in areas where “the existing mosques do not accommodate the number of residents in the area.”  The law does not require Ministry of Awqaf approval for mosque renovations.

In public schools, Muslim students are required to take courses on “principles of Islam” and Christian students are required to take courses on “principles of Christianity” in all grades.  Schools determine the religious identity of students, and the religious studies courses they should take is based on official identity card designations, not personal or parental decisions.  Students who are neither Muslim nor Christian must choose one or the other course; they may not opt out or change from one to the other once selected.  A common set of textbooks for these two courses is mandated for both public and private schools, including parochial schools.  Al-Azhar maintains a separate school system that serves an estimated two million students from kindergarten through secondary school using its own curriculum.

The penal code criminalizes discrimination based on religion and defines it as including “any action, or lack of action, that leads to discrimination between people or against a sect due to… religion or belief.”  The law stipulates imprisonment, a fine of no less than 30,000 pounds ($1,900) and no more than 50,000 pounds ($3,200), or both, as penalties for discrimination.  If the perpetrator is a public servant, the law states that the imprisonment should be no less than three months and the fine no less than 50,000 pounds ($3,200) and no more than 100,000 pounds ($6,400).

Customary reconciliation is a form of dispute resolution that predates the country’s modern judicial and legal systems and is recognized in the law in instances that do not involve serious crimes (i.e., homicide, serious injury, or theft).  Customary reconciliation sessions rely on the accumulation of a set of customary rules to address conflicts between individuals, families, households, or workers and employees of certain professions.  Parties to disputes agree upon a resolution that typically contains stipulations to pay an agreed-upon amount of money for breaching the terms of the agreement.

In matters of family law, when spouses are members of the same religious denomination, courts apply that denomination’s canonical laws.  In cases where one spouse is Muslim and the other a member of a different religion, both are Christians but members of different denominations, or the individuals are not clearly a part of a religious group, the courts apply sharia.

Sharia provisions forbidding adoption apply to all citizens.  The Ministry of Social Solidarity, however, manages a program called “Alternative Family” which recognizes permanent legal guardianship if certain conditions are met, including requirements that the guardians share the same religion as the child and have been married to one another for a minimum of five years.

The quasigovernmental National Council for Human Rights, whose members are appointed by parliament under a 2016 law, is charged with strengthening protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom.  It also is charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements pertaining to human rights.  The council’s mandate includes investigating reports of alleged violations of religious freedom.

The 2014 constitution mandates that the state eliminate all forms of discrimination through an independent commission to be established by parliament, but the parliament has not yet established such a commission.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but declared in a reservation that it became a party considering that the provisions of the covenant do not conflict with sharia.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 32.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2010 government census (the most recent available with this data), approximately 71 percent of the population is Christian, 18 percent is Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs, and 6 percent belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and followers of Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism.

Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, African independent churches, the Society of Friends, and numerous nondenominational Christian groups, including charismatic churches.

Muslim communities include Sunnis, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Sufis (Tijaniyyah and Qadiriyya orders).

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion, and does not designate a state religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

Religious groups must register with the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice to receive formal government recognition and status as a legal entity, but there is no penalty for not registering.  The registration requirement for religious groups is the same as for nongovernmental organizations.   Most indigenous religious groups do not register.

According to law, registered religious groups are exempt from paying taxes on nonprofit religious, charitable, and educational activities.  Religious groups are required to pay taxes, on a pay-as-earned basis, on for-profit business activities, such as church-operated private schools and universities.

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Christianity and Islam.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the Ministry of Education responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools, but these must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, including those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.  Faith-based schools that accept funds from the government are obliged to comply with the directive that states students’ religious practices must be respected.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 54.7 million (midyear 2021).  The government estimates that as of 2019, approximately 85.5 percent of the total population is Christian and 11 percent Muslim.  Groups constituting less than 2 percent of the population include Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, and those adhering to various traditional religious beliefs.  Nonevangelical Protestants account for 33 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 21 percent, and other Christian denominations, including evangelical Protestants, African Instituted Churches (churches started in Africa independently by Africans rather than chiefly by missionaries from another continent), and Orthodox churches, 32 percent.

Most of the Muslim population lives in the northeast and coastal regions, with significant Muslim communities in several areas of Nairobi.  Religion and ethnicity are often linked, with most members of many ethnic groups adhering to the same religious beliefs.  For example, ethnic Somalis and Swahilis living in the coastal region account for the majority of the Muslim population.  The five largest ethnic groups (the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, and Kamba) are predominately Christian.  There are more than 230,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the Dadaab refugee camps near the Somali border, mostly ethnic Somali Muslims.  The Kakuma refugee camp in the northwestern part of the country has more than 177,000 refugees, including Somalis, South Sudanese, and Ethiopians, who practice a variety of religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance, and to debate religious questions.  The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion.  These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”

The constitution requires parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion.  The constitution also specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.”  The secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.

Although there is no penal law referring to blasphemy, a section of the penal code states that destroying, damaging, or defiling any place of worship or object held sacred with the intention of insulting the religion of any class of persons is a misdemeanor.  This offense carries a penalty of a fine or up to two years in prison but is reportedly rarely prosecuted under this law.  Crimes against the property of religious groups or places of worship are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property, which is also a misdemeanor.

According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which in turn reports to the Attorney General’s Office.  Indigenous and traditional religious groups are not required to register, and many do not.  To register, applicants must have valid national identification documents, pay a fee, and undergo security screening.  Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from duty on imported goods.  The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, the promotion of charity, or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.

All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers.  These classes focus on either Christian, Muslim, or Hindu teachings and on the basic content of the religious texts of the religion being taught, as well as ethics.  The Ministry of Education allows local communities and schools to decide which course to offer.  The course selected usually depends on the dominant local religion and the sponsor of the school, which is often a religious group.  The national curriculum mandates religious classes for primary school students, and students may not opt out.  Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but are not required to offer more than one.

The law establishes fees for multiple steps in the marriage process that apply to all marriages, religious or secular.  All officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered.  Officiants must be appointed by a registered religious group to conduct marriages and to purchase the license.

The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 219.5 million (midyear 2021).  The Pew Global Religious Futures project estimates the country is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, while approximately 2 percent belong to other or no religious groups.  Many individuals syncretize indigenous animism with Islam or Christianity.

A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identifies as Sunni, the vast majority of whom belong to the Maliki school of jurisprudence, although a sizable minority follows the Shafi’i school of fiqh.  The same study found 12 percent of Muslims in the country self-identify as Shia, with the remainder declining to answer or identifying as “something else” (5 percent) or “just a Muslim” (42 percent).  Included among the Sunnis are several Sufi brotherhoods, including Tijaniyyah, Qadiriyyah, and Mouride.  A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found 37 percent of Nigerians identify with Sufi orders (19 percent identified specifically as Tijaniyyah and 9 percent as Qadiriyyah).  There are also Izala and Salafist minorities and small numbers of Ahmadiyya and Kala Kato (Quraniyoon) Muslims.  A 2011 Pew report found roughly one quarter of Christians are Roman Catholic and three quarters Protestant, with small numbers of Orthodox or other Christian denominations.  Among Protestant groups, the Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches maintain the largest populations, while evangelicals, Pentecostals, Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, New Apostolics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses report tens of thousands of adherents each.  Other communities include Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

Although accounting for far less than 1 percent of the population, there are also two distinct Jewish communities.  The smallest of these are mostly foreigners, whom Israel and the diaspora recognize.  A larger group of several thousand indigenous Nigerian Jews are not recognized internationally.  There are also significant numbers of Sabbatarian groups, variously self-identifying as Christian, non-Christian, or neither.  These groups include some that have adopted Jewish customs.

Islam is the dominant religion in the North West and North East regions, although significant Christian populations reside there as well.  Christians and Muslims reside in approximately equal numbers in the North Central region.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the South West, including Lagos, which is also home to significant Muslim populations.

In the South East region, Christian groups, including Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, constitute the majority.  In the South South, Christians form a substantial majority.  There are small but growing numbers of Muslims in the South South and South East.

Evangelical Christian denominations are growing rapidly in the North Central and South East, South South, and South West regions.  Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in several cities, including Lagos and Abuja.  The Shia Muslim presence is heavily concentrated in the North West region, while Nigerian Jews and Judaic-oriented groups are prevalent in the South East.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates neither the federal nor the state governments shall establish a state religion and prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate religion “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance,” provided these rights are consistent with the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or health, and protecting the rights of others.  The constitution also states it shall be the duty of the state to encourage interfaith marriages and to promote the formation of associations that cut across religious lines and promote “national integration.”  It prohibits political parties that limit membership based on religion or have names that have a religious connotation.  The constitution highlights religious tolerance, among other qualities, as a distinct component of the “national ethic.”

The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law, in addition to common law civil (i.e., secular) courts, although civil courts have preeminence over all other courts.  Sentences may be appealed from sharia and customary courts to civil courts.  In addition to civil courts, sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory.  Customary courts function in most of the 36 states.  The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction.  The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings, but state laws do not compel participation in sharia courts in noncriminal cases.  Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, have the option to have their civil cases tried in secular or sharia courts.  In addition to noncriminal matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both the complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue.  Zamfara State law makes it mandatory for all Muslims to utilize sharia courts in such cases, but not in noncriminal cases.  Criminal cases with possible sentences of death or life in prison may be heard by secular courts, usually at the preference of police.

Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for serious criminal offenses for which the Quran and Islamic law provide hudud punishments such as caning, amputation, and stoning.  Sharia penal code offenses and charges are only applicable to Muslims.  Sharia courts operate under similar rules as common law courts, including requirements for mens rea and other due process considerations.  According to the Chief Registrar of the Kano Sharia Court, by law defendants have the right to legal representation in all cases, and certain high crimes require the testimonies of four witnesses to be considered as admissible, corroborative evidence.  Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal sentences through common law appellate courts, and these courts have sometimes found for the plaintiff in cases where they have sued individual states for assault for penalties, such as flogging, imposed by sharia courts.  The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the sharia panel of the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code, often do and may seek advice from sharia experts.  In some states with sharia penal codes, blasphemy or religious insult is a crime that may incur a fine, imprisonment, or in some cases the death penalty.  The various states’ sharia penal codes do not prohibit apostasy or heresy.

According to the federal penal code, any person who carries out an act “which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanor” and may be subject to imprisonment for two years.

The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) authorizes the federal government to intervene in the management of private entities and gives it broad and discretionary powers to withdraw, cancel, or revoke the certificate of any business or association; suspend and remove trustees (and appoint any one of their choice to manage the organization “in the public interest”); take control of finances of any association; and merge two associations without the consent and approval of their members.

Both federal and state governments have the authority to regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools.  The constitution prohibits schools from requiring students to receive religious instruction or to participate in or attend any religious ceremony or observance pertaining to any religion other than their own.  State officials and many religious leaders stated that students have the right to request a teacher of their own religious beliefs to provide an alternative to any instruction offered in a religion other than their own.  The constitution also states that no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction to students of that community in any place of education maintained wholly by that community.  The law requires schools that receive state funding (state schools) to admit and accommodate students of all faiths or no faith, regardless of the student’s or school’s religious affiliation.  Christian state schools are required to allow Muslim students to wear a hijab.  In Muslim state schools, the hijab is required of all female students, regardless of religion, as part of the uniform.

Katsina and Kaduna States have laws requiring licenses for preachers, places of worship, and religious schools.  In Katsina State, the law establishes a board with the authority to regulate Islamic schools, preachers, and mosques, including by issuing permits, suspending operations, and imprisoning or fining violators.  The Katsina law stipulates a punishment of one to five years in prison, a fine of up to 500,000 naira ($1,200), or both for operating without a license.  In Kaduna State, the Interfaith Preaching Council issues permits to those who wish to preach in public and regulates against the use of foul, demeaning, or derogatory language against individuals or other religions based on recommendations from the Local Government Interfaith Committee.  Violators of the law are subject to fines and/or two to five years’ imprisonment.  Local government areas and states establish their own modalities for licensing public preachers, but do not license religious organizations.

In the states of Kano, Zamfara, and Sokoto, legally established Hisbah Boards regulate Islamic religious affairs and preaching, license imams, attempt to resolve interpersonal and family disputes between Muslims in those states, and work with police to enforce the respective states’ sharia penal code.  The states of Bauchi, Borno, Katsina, Kano, and Yobe maintain state-level Christian and Muslim religious affairs commissions, ministries, or bureaus with varying mandates and authorities, while many other state governors appoint interfaith special advisers on religious affairs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

South Africa

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 57 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian.  Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs.  Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni.  Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia.  Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices.  The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (as of 2010, the latest figures available).  African Independent Churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and charismatic groups.  Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational Churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population.  Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority reside in KwaZulu-Natal Province.  The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees.

According to a 2020 study published by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UK-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the country’s Jewish population stands at 52,300, with the majority living in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  The study found that the Jewish population declined over the past 20 years primarily because of emigration.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and are conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and take account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to equality courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution establishes and governs the operation of the CRL, which has the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the President and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, list of officers, and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office and its status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law recognizes civil, customary, and same-sex unions but does not recognize religious marriages, although the Law Reform Commission has proposed the “Single Marriage Act.”  Civil marriages do not allow polygamy.  The law allows for polygamous marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people.”

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future