April 15, 2010

Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Chapter 4: Interreligious Harmony and Tensions

The survey finds that Muslims tend to view Christians as tolerant, honest and respectful of women. Similarly, in most countries half or more of Christians say Muslims are honest, devout and respectful of women. In roughly half of the countries, majorities also say they trust people who have religious values different than their own. In most countries, significant minorities (20% or more) of those who attend religious services say their mosque or church works across religious lines to solve community problems. Roughly similar numbers of people also report involvement in interfaith dialogue.

Consistent with these attitudes, fewer than half of respondents in most countries surveyed perceive widespread anti-Muslim or anti-Christian hostility in their countries, and most give their governments generally high marks for treating both groups fairly.

The survey finds, however, that Muslims are significantly more positive in their assessments of Christians than Christians are of Muslims. By their own reckoning, neither group knows much about the other, and significantly more people in most countries say the two religions are very different than say the two faiths have a lot in common. Relatively few people are married to someone of a different religion (less than 10% of married people in most countries), and many people are uncomfortable with the idea of their children marrying someone from outside their faith.

People throughout the region generally see conflict between religious groups as less of a problem than unemployment, crime or political corruption. However, in a few countries, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, roughly half or more say religious conflict is a very big problem. The degree of concern about religious conflict tracks closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict in many countries, suggesting that they are often related.

A large number of people surveyed (upwards of four-in-ten in most countries) also express concern over religious extremism in their nation. In general, concern about Muslim extremism outweighs concern about Christian extremism. However, in four countries, Christians say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism. And in many countries, sizable numbers express concern about both Muslim and Christian extremism.

This chapter includes information on:

  • Views of Muslims and Christians
  • Knowledge About Islam and Christianity
  • Perceptions of government treatment of Muslims and Christians
  • Perceptions of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hostility
  • Concern over religious conflict and religious extremism
  • Violence in defense of religion

Download chapter 4 in full (12-page PDF, <1MB)


Photo credit: Sebastien Desarmaux/GODONG/Godong/Corbis

Part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project