Religion in Rwanda

The majority of the population in Rwanda is of the Christian religion. The recent National census in 2012 indicates that 43.7% of Rwanda’s population belong to the catholic faith, 37.7% are Protestants, 11.8% being the seventh day Adventists, 2% are Muslims, 2.5% claim to have no religion and the 2.3% believes in other spirits. The constitution of Rwanda provides for freedom of religion and the government respects this right.

Before 1994, Rwanda was a Christian country and it was ranked as one of the best African countries for strongly holding on to Christianity. However, after the genocide, Christianity has affected especially the catholic faith which owned the majority of the population.

History of religion in Rwanda

The church is considered to have played an important role in the formulation of racial divisions in Rwanda.   During the colonial era, Germany and Belgium rule, Roman Catholic missionaries in Rwanda in the 1880s contributed to racism.

The social ranking between the two tribes (Tutsi and Hutu) contributed to the theory of race origins since these missionaries taught the values that the Tutsi were a superior race since they found more converts among the Hutu.

  • The role played by Religion in the Rwanda genocide

Religion played an important role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This genocide was triggered by cultural and religious differences and over 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives.

It is said that both catholic and protestant churches helped to make the genocide possible by giving moral sanctions to the killing and called the general population to support the interim government which itself triggered the genocide.

Churches in the past had favored the Tutsi tribe and the church teachings consisted of ethnic discrimination during the colonial period then switching allegiance to the Hutu after 1959. However, some religious individuals never supported the genocide. They preached against genocide and they were involved in protecting the civilians which they did at great risk.

Islam in Rwanda – Religion in Rwanda

Islamic faith was introduced into Rwanda by Muslim traders from the East Coast of African in the 18th century and some say that Muslims arrived during the colonial era when Muslim clerks, administrative assistants, and merchants from the Swahili-speaking coast of Tanganyika.

Muslim merchants from the Indian subcontinent married local Rwandans and Rwandans built their first mosque called Al-Fatah mosque.

Muslims in Rwanda are accorded the same rights and freedoms as Christians. Both the Hutu and the Tutsi clans have equal numbers of Muslims in Rwanda. Before the genocide in 1994, Muslims were held in low regard because they were seen as traders and were also affected by genocide.

The number of Rwandan Muslims increased after the genocide due to large numbers of conversions. Many Muslims had sheltered refugees and many converted to Islam because Catholics and Protestants played a big role in triggering genocide.

Muslims in Rwanda are actively involved in social activities. Muslim community engaged in efforts to heal ethnic tensions after the genocide and many Muslims are reaching out to the disadvantaged groups. For example, caring for orphans, forming women’s groups among others.

  • Catholic and protestant churches in Rwanda – Religion in Rwanda

Over half of Rwanda’s total population are Catholics and 37.7% are Protestants. These beliefs in Rwanda began with the coming of missionaries. They laid a big foundation and secured a strong influence of the Catholic Church which is the majority faith in Rwanda which lives up to date.

However, the Church played a controversial role during the genocide. Many clergymen and church leaders kept silent and others helped during the genocide. Many people turned from the catholic faith due to its participation in the genocide which left many Rwandan people dead.

In November 2016, the catholic church of Rwanda apologized for the role it played and its members who participated in the genocide. The Catholic Church regretted having acted outside gods’ commandments in a statement signed by nine bishops.

(We regret that church members violated the oath of allegiance to God’s commandments. Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity. We didn’t show that we are one family but instead killed each other).

Despite its contribution to the genocide, the Catholic Church remains the most widespread in Rwanda. Over 43.7% of Rwanda’s population believes in the catholic faith and many protestant churches have been built in Rwanda today.

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