St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Tanzania is an East African country with an estimated population of 51.8 million. The country has two major religious groups, namely Christians and Muslims. Christianity is the predominant religion, with more than half of Tanzania’s population identifying as Christian. Tanzanians generally identify as Christians or Muslims, although many still practice folk beliefs. Minority groups such as traditional Africanists, Buddhists and Hindus are also present in the country.

Roman Catholic Christianity

Roman Catholics make up 31.3% of Tanzania’s population. The first Catholic evangelists in Tanzania were Portuguese missionaries who arrived with Vasco Da Gama in 1499. They were unsuccessful in their mission due to the Arab conquest in the 17th century. The second Catholic evangelists arrived in the 19th century, led by the Holy Spirit Fathers, Benedictine monks and White Fathers. They trained locals to be catechists who helped in evangelistic efforts. Missionaries played an important role in the development of Tanzania by building many schools and hospitals.

Protestant Christianity

Tanzanian Protestants are estimated to make up 27% of the population. Most Protestant missionaries arrived in the 19th century along with Catholic missionaries. Some of the missionaries were Augustana Lutheran Mission, Seventh Day Adventists, and Moravian Mission. During colonial times, Protestant missionaries competed fiercely with Catholic missionaries to evangelize the locals. The competition was so bad that the colonial government assigned different areas to different groups of missionaries. Nevertheless, Protestant missionaries brought development to Tanzania by building schools, hospitals and social halls. Today, the main Protestant groups in Tanzania include Lutherans, Moravians, Anglicans, Pentecostals and Adventists.

Islam

Islam is also a major religious belief system in Tanzania, with 35.1% of the population following Islam. In fact, 99% of people on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania identify as Muslim. Islam was brought to Tanzania by Arab traders who settled as traders in Zanzibar in the 13th century. When Arab Muslims encountered Christian missionaries in the 15th century, they clashed and drove the Christian missionaries out of Tanzania. The second encounter between Arab Muslims and Christian missionaries in the 19th century was equally hostile. The reason for the hostility was that the missionaries were campaigning against slavery which was the main business of the Arabs. Eventually, the slave trade was abolished. Today, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is not hostile. Islam is mainly practiced in the coastal areas and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The country’s Islamic sects include Suni (14.4%), Shia (7%), Sufis (1.4%), Ahmadiyya Islam (5.6%) and non-denominational Islam (7. 0%).

Indigenous spirituality

Followers of indigenous spirituality are a minority group with only 1.8% of the population. These people believe in a supreme being just like Christians and Muslims. However, they engage in ancestor worship unlike Christians and Muslims. They seek the help of traditional healers and soothsayers in times of sickness and calamity.

Religious diversity and cooperation

The Tanzanian constitution provides for freedom of religion. This provision has allowed different religious groups to coexist peacefully. Religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Idd-ul-Fitr and Prophet Muhammad’s birthday all have equal importance in Tanzania. The various religious groups in Tanzania have played a key role in shaping Tanzanian society. Arab Muslims brought Islam and introduced the Swahili language, the official language of Tanzania. Christian missionaries developed the nation by providing education and health care to residents. Peoples of indigenous spirituality have helped preserve Tanzanian traditions. In the country, there are also people who do not identify with any religion constituting 1.7% of the total population of the country.

Religious beliefs in Tanzania


Rank belief system Share of Tanzanian population
1 Roman Catholic Christianity 31.3%
2 Protestant Christianity 27.0%
3 Sunni Islam 14.1%
4 Shia Islam 7.0%
5 Non-denominational Islam 7.0%
6 Ahmadiyya Islam 5.6%
7 Other forms of Christianity 3.1%
8 Native spirituality alone 1.8%
9 Sufi Islam 1.4%
Irreligious or other beliefs 1.7%