Religion and Beliefs of Sierra Leone

The people of Sierra Leone are well known for their religious tolerance.
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Sierra Leone, a small country on the western coast of Africa, has a unique history of religious diversity. The country is composed of three primary religious groups: Muslims, Christians and adherents to traditional African beliefs. A fusional practice that incorporates the traditions of multiple faiths is a common characteristic of religions in Sierra Leone.

1 Islam

Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Sierra Leone -- 60 percent to 70 percent of the country's population identify as Muslim. The faith was introduced to the country during the 18th century by small trading groups, and grew in popularity over the next two centuries. The residents of Sierra Leone were especially receptive to Islam because Islamic practices such as regular prayer and polygamy were compatible with traditional values. Other Islamic customs were blended with local traditions to form new practices. Most Muslims in Sierra Leone belong to the Sunni sect; however, Shia and Ahmadiyah are both large minority groups.

2 Christianity

Christianity is practiced by a minority population in Sierra Leone. Estimates vary, but between 10 percent and 30 percent of the population identify as Christian. Christians in Sierra Leone are predominantly Protestants and adhere strictly to church doctrine. Magic, divination and polygamy are forbidden; believers are also often encouraged to take Christian names. Christianity has been less successful than Islam in Sierra Leone because the church's rejection of traditional practices has made it inaccessible to many with a strong cultural identity.

3 The Limba Religion

The population of Sierra Leone is composed of more than 20 ethnic groups. The largest is the Limba, whose religion is followed by the majority of adherents to traditional African religions in the country. Members of the Limba religion believe that after he created them, God taught the Limba how to grow food and perform other tasks, that he provided their first chief, and that he is responsible for all Limba cultural values. For the Limba, religion is incorporated into all aspects of life. Adherents believe in ancestor spirits and the supernatural. Sacrifices, rituals and celebrations are important parts of daily life.

4 Interfaith Fusion

Religious plurality is extremely important to the culture of Sierra Leone. Christians and Muslims regularly pray in one another's churches when their own are full, and people are free to change religions at any time. Religious practices in Sierra Leone have adapted to this plurality. Islam has influenced traditional Limba practices and beliefs; for example, the Limba adopted Islamic naming day conventions and burial rituals. Islamic practices have also been modified to adapt to Limba culture. Some religious leaders create charms by putting holy texts from the Quran into pouches, which are worn to protect the wearer from evil spirits. Muslims also practice divination and use magic cures derived from traditional remedies.

Agatha Clark is from Portland, Ore., and has been writing about culture since 2001. She specializes in intercultural communication and is completing a Bachelor Arts at the University of Oregon with double majors in linguistics and Spanish. Clark is fascinated by expressions of human psychology and culture. Before refocusing her educational path toward language, she originally went to school to become an artist.