Aviva Directory » Local & Global » Africa » Malawi » Faith & Spirituality

The people of Malawi ascribe to a wide range of faiths and practices, from the traditional African religions to the Bahá'í faith, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Rastafarian, and a large variety of Christian denominations.

Malawians tend to change religions easily, so numbers vary from census to census, but approximately 85% of people in Malawi claim Christianity as their faith, the Roman Catholics comprising about 20% of the population, and the remainder divided between several Protestant denominations.

The first Roman Catholic missionaries were the White Fathers, who came to Malawi in 1889, establishing missions at Kachebere, Likuni, and Mua by 1904. The Montforts, who came later, established missions at Nguludi and Nzama. Today, there are two archdioceses and six dioceses in Malawi.

More than half the population of Malawi adheres to one of several Protestant sects, the largest being the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. Additionally, there are smaller populations of Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, and independent African churches.

The first missionary endeavors in Malawi were begun by David Livingston, of the London Missionary Society, who were Congregationalists, teaching a theology that is similar to modern-day Presbyterianism, which may account for the strong representation of Presbyterianism in Malawi today. Besides the CCAP, the largest Christian church in the country, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Malawi, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Malawi, and smaller Presbyterian congregations are active.

The Anglicans arrived in Malawi at about the same time as David Livingstone, and have been active in the country since. In recent decades, Anglican numbers have been reduced due to dissension between its conservative and liberal factions.

Although comparatively small in numbers, Baptists have had a presence in Malawi since the late 1800s or earlier. The oldest continuously operating Baptist organization in the country is the African Baptist Assembly of Malawi, founded in 1892.

Other Protestant denominations in Malawi include a variety of Evangelical churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutheran, and independent African congregations.

After Christianity, Islam is the second largest religion in the country, with nearly all of them adhering to Sunni Islam. Muslims first arrived in Malawi with the Arab and Swahili traders who trafficked in gold, ivory, and slaves, between the 16th and 19th centuries. The first mosque in the country was constructed by Swahili-Arab ivory traders.

Islam was repressed to some degree during colonial times, as the British authorities feared that adherence to Islam might unite the native people to rise up against colonial rule and, of course, because the majority of British in Malawi were Christian missionaries. Since the 1970s, however, Islam has grown stronger through an emphasis on missionary work. There are now approximately eight hundred mosques in Malawi, most towns having at least one. Islamic schools are also common. The greatest strength that Islam has in Malawi has been among the Yao people, who form the majority south and east of Lake Malawi.

The Bahá'í came to Malawi in the early 1950s and, although it remains a minority religion, there are from 25,000 to 35,000 Bahá'í in Malawi.

During British rule, the colonial administrators imported Indian laborers for their building projects, to establish services, operate retail stores, and to provide administrative support. These immigrants were largely Hindus. When Malawi gained independence, the Hindus were discriminated against, and the majority of the migrated to other countries. Some remained, however, particularly those who had taken wives from among the native population. Today, Hinduism has a very small presence in Malawi.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are known for their missionary zeal, and they were making inroads in Malawi as they had in many other countries. However, they came under persecution in the late 1960s due to their refusal to become involved in politics, specifically for refusing to purchase political party cards and become members of the Malawi Congress Party. The religion was made illegal, and Witnesses were beaten and killed, and the majority of them fled. Although the ban was lifted in 1993, the Witnesses make up a tiny portion of the country's population.

Several other religions and denominations are active in the country, such as Jewish people and Rastafarians, but are not particularly representative of the population. Indigenous religions are also practiced, and sometimes intermingled with that of Christian and Islam. The majority ethnic group, the Chewa people, are predominantly Christian, and concentrated in the central part of the country, while the Yao people, situated along the lower portion of the lake, are mostly Muslim.



Recommended Resources

Search for Faith & Spirituality on Google, Bing, or Yahoo!