Religion in Mozambique

1. Religions and their history in Mozambique

The extensive Portuguese colonial expansion was from the outset the joint work of the crown, nobility, clergy and early bourgeoisie. In the process, the Christian bringers-to-be of the colonial land seizure went to work just as brashly as their secular brothers. Mondlane criticized that in the 17th and 18th centuries Dominican missionaries and Jesuits as Prazeiros became owners of large estates, collected the head tax of the natives and operated slave trade. /1/

The starting point for this development was the rivalry with Spain in the process of great geographical discoveries, the aim of which was to eliminate competing powers. To achieve this, Portugal used the power of the Pope Church. A bull issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1454 guaranteed the Portuguese court the rights to all countries discovered so far and claimed in the future. With further edicts of 1493, 1497 and 1499 by Pope Alexander VI this was secured. Since competitor Spain pursued the same interests in the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, a “division of the world” was agreed upon. This division of the non-European territories into a Portuguese and a Spanish sphere was confirmed by the mutual treaties of Alcáçovas (1479), Tordesillas (1494) and Zaragoza (1529). The direction of expansion thus given secured for Portugal the way to India around the Cape of Good Hope and its claims to possession of Brazil. This division lasted until the 16th century. /2/

In addition to the African west coast, which was important as a supplier of slaves to Brazil, the east coast of the continent, where Mozambique initially had the function of a supply and trade establishment on the way of the Portuguese to the Indian Goa, which was important for them, belonged to the base system created in the emerging Portuguese colonial empire, since 1559 seat of the Portuguese vice-king.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the evangelization of Mozambique’s population began. In 1577, the Dominican Order settled on the Ilha de Moçambique under the leadership of Father Jerónimo do Conto and Pedro Ususmariz. In the following years, religious orders founded churches in Sofala, Sena and Tete. The Society of Jesus was the first religious order to make the evangelization of the indigenous people of Mozambique its goal. Its missionaries first entered the country in 1560 with the expedition led by Father Gonçalo da Silveira and began their missionary work in 1607. A group of 7 Jesuits settled on the Ilha de Moçambique in 1610. In the 17th century other religious orders appeared at times. In 1696 the presence of Augustinians can be proven. Francisco da Mota Pessoa was the first prelate for Mozambique to head the church administration in 1614. Under the Portuguese kings Pedro II. and João V. the commercial activity on the coast was expanded and the military penetration into the interior was forced. The Roman Catholic Church and the missions played an important role in consolidating the positions achieved. Setbacks in colonisation led to Mozambique’s separation from the administrative sovereignty of the Viceroy of India in 1752. The colony was headed by Governor Francisco de Melo e Castro. When José I entrusted the Marquês de Pombal (1699-1782) with the affairs of state, he tried with an iron hand to stop the decline of the Portuguese monarchy. He expelled the influential Jesuits from Portugal and Mozambique (1759), imprisoned the missionaries, reorganized the tax and customs system in favour of the state, the administration and the military. Around 1825 the ecclesiastical crisis expressed itself in the mass reduction of its institutions – churches, parishes, chapels – with only 3540 Christians including slaves. Throughout Mozambique, the Catholic clergy included 1 bishop-prelate, 5 secular priests, 5 Dominicans, 1 Carmelite and 1 Capuchin, including 3 Portuguese, 9 Indian and 1 Chinese. /3/ With the establishment of private schools in the metropolis, missionary activity in Mozambique increased again. In 1811, the Jesuits returned to the plan. In 1910 the monarchy fell in Portugal, the republic expelled the religious orders. In Mozambique 71 Catholic Portuguese missionaries worked in 25 missions. /4/ In the middle of the 30’s the number of missions grew rapidly. (s. 2.)

The education of the Africans was almost exclusively in the hands of the church. Therefore, it is necessary to consider their position and activities. While the Colonial Act declared freedom of conscience and religion, the Catholic Church contrasted this with its missionary programme. The government of the Republic of Portugal recognized the special rights and functions of the Church, which consisted in christianizing the natives and civilizing them through education. This was confirmed by the Missionary Treaty (Acordo Missionário) of 1940 and the Missionary Statute (Estatuto Missionário) of 1941, in which the government declared its support for the church’s mission programmes and at the same time restricted the scope for action of foreign, non-Catholic missionaries. Of the 7 million inhabitants, about 800,000 were Catholic, served by about 100 missions and parish churches, including the priests of various orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Holy Spirit Brotherhood and Lazarists). Mondlane states that in 1959, out of 240 priests, only three were Africans. /One of the main activities of the Catholic Church was the running of schools (primary, secondary, vocational, seminaries), health stations and hospitals. Thus the Catholic Church was given responsibility for the education of Africans, although their masses were not Christians. Thus, the black man who was to be assimilated to the Portuguese had to be a Catholic. The State declared Catholic missionary activity as an integral part of Portuguese patriotism and with the identity of Christian and Portuguese qualities. The aim of the state’s educational policy was to educate a docile population that was loyal to Portugal. In reality, however, Catholics also appeared in the leading bodies of the liberation movements, such as in the Central Committee of FRELIMO (Felipe Magaia, military commander; Samora Machel, leader of the liberation army). Mondlane lamented that the elementary education of Africans by the Catholic Church remained predominantly religious, while the level of knowledge taught in Portuguese, reading, writing and arithmetic remained at a low level and history and geography were limited to Portugal. The rest of the time was spent doing handicrafts. The Vatican did little to change this situation. In 1967 Pope Paul VI visited Portugal and gave the government 4.4 million escudos for “overseas use”. The Roman Catholic Church opposed the Mozambican liberation movement. Alvim Pereira, bishop of Lourenço Marques, formulated that the demand “Africa to Africans” was a “monstrous philosophy and a challenge to Christian civilization”, “because communism and Islam want to impose their civilization on Africans”. /6/

On Islam in Mozambique

His beginnings in Mozambique were in the 9th century, when he made his way south along the East African coast via trade networks and connected himself with the Shirazi (Xirazi), from Persia immigrated rulers embodying religion and political leadership in unity. Especially from Zanzibar, Mogadishu and Pemba the trade was intensified in the following centuries. Arabs from Oman ruled it as far as Sofala and developed the Swahili culture with Islamic centres (sultanates, sheikdoms). In the profitable slave trade of the 19th century, the Islamic ruling clans secured access to the trading centres inland through wars and alliances and spread Islam in the hinterland through “a network of leading chiefs and subservient Muslim slave robbers”. /The constant rivalry with the Portuguese intensified when in 1897 and 1905 two Sufi orders (Sufi or Dervish: followers of Sufism), the Shadhuliyya Yashrutiyya and the Qadirriya, settled in the Portuguese administrative centre on the Ilha de Moçambique. Muslims from India had settled on the mainland and lost their protection to the Portuguese administration when it left the island in 1896 and moved south to Lourenço Marques. Under Ahmad al-Ngaziji, the Qadirriyya moved to the mainland and took over the leadership of the Afro-Indians. /8/ This contributed to the spread of Sufism, commonly known as Islamic mysticism, as a mass movement carried by the will of the followers to come close to God. They see mysticism as a part that cannot be separated from Islam. Competition between both Sufi orders caused their splitting into several turuq, which in Sufism tread different paths of the mystics on their migration to God. Until the end of the colonial period Islam remained mainly in the north of Mozambique, but the leadership was passed on in the sense of the matrilineal tradition. Muslim leadership clans supported the anti-colonial liberation movement. When, after Mozambique’s independence, Frelimo declared itself to be an avant-garde party based on Marxism-Leninism in 1977, hostility to religion as a state doctrine deprived the Islamic leaders of the North of their power base. In 1978, a Wahhabi group led by Abubacar Ismael “Mangira” in Maputo opposed the resulting weakening of Islam and created the conditions for a future national mass organization that denied its rivals in the North its claim to leadership. As Wahhabis they represented a dogmatic variant of Sunni Islam. The Koran is regarded as the word of God. The followers of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s interpretation of the original doctrine of Islam as an important authority, claim to proclaim it authentically and reject Sufism, seek spiritual security. In 1981 the government accepted the Islamic Council of Mozambique (Conselho Islámico de Moçambique) and its secretary Abubacar Ismael “Mangira”. Since the North Mozambican and other non-Wahhabites did not see themselves represented by this national organization, they founded their own representation in 1983, the Islamic Congress of Mozambique (Congresso Islámico de Moçambique), which also includes the Sufi Order.

After the end of the civil war and the signing of the peace treaty in 1992, Frelimo recognized the importance of traditional structures, offices and personalities (leaders, healers, chieftains, …) above all in their role in the election campaign, summarized them under the term “traditional authorities” and put them under the protection of the state with a constitutional amendment in 1996. However, the authority of the leaders in the North today is largely based on their traditional, inherited relationship through kinship as claims acquired by Islam.

For Mozambique as a multi-religious country, traditional values and religious practices are cultivated for the majority of the population and also maintained in connection with the Christian and Islamic faith and cultivated in mixed and parallel forms of spiritual practice. This applies especially to the widespread ancestor worship, which sees the deceased as mediators between the living and the natural powers and has produced corresponding rituals and cults, as well as other aspects of the primary religions (natural religions, animatism, animism). In the church of Mozambique this can be read during the services in the trinity singing – dancing – prayer. Sometimes they are formed by means of magic and belief in spirits and lead individuals to trance states.

Rituals of the traditional religions are not always bound to the church as place of practice, but are carried out on concrete occasions (bad harvest, death, illness) in a given place. Their aim is above all to seek help in this world, while Christian rituals are strongly directed towards the hereafter. /Fetiçeiros (magicians) and Curandeiros (traditional healers) united in 1990 in an umbrella organization and enjoy state support. Since 1990 there has been freedom of religion again. The Protestant church, which was less closely linked to the colonial power in colonial times, has retained a relatively independent position from the state. It plays an important role in the social reconciliation process after the end of the civil war and in AIDS prevention, and with the Christian Council of Mozambique (Conselho Cristão de Moçambique, CCM) it has created a leadership body to which 22 Protestant churches and 2 church organizations belong. The traditional religion with its natural, ancestral and unpredictable spirits is seen today above all as an expression of the longing for security in the community. /10/

2. Organisations

In Mozambique, about 8 million people (out of a population of about 20 million) profess one of the recognized religions as believers. 24% of them belong to the Roman Catholic Church of Mozambique, which is part of the Roman Catholic World Church and is headed by the Pope and the Curia in Rome. It is mainly concentrated in the central provinces. 22% are Protestants (mainly southern provinces). Christians are covered by 12 dioceses, including 3 archdioceses. 20% are Muslims (coastal zone and northern provinces). There is a Hindu minority of about 0.2%.

3. Theologians and their teaching

– included in point 1 –

4. Sources

/1/ Eduardo Mondlane: Lutar por Moçambique; Sá da Costa, Lisboa 1977, p. 20

/2/ cf. Heinrich Loth: Das portugiesische Kolonialreich; Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1982, p. 15

/3/ cf. Alcântara Guerreiro: Quadros da História de Moçambique; Volume II, Imprensa Nacional de Moçambique; Lourenço Marques 1954, p. 427

/4/ cf. Pedro Ramos de Almeida: História do colonialismo português em África. Cronologia século XX; Imprensa universitária, Lisboa 1979, p. 73

/5/ cf. /1/, p. 70f

/6/ cf. /1/, p. 75

/7/ Liazzat J. K. Bonate: Islam und Stammesführerschaft. In: Mosambik-Rundbrief 75, Bielefeld 2008, p. 34

/8/ ibid, p. 34

/9/ cf. Bonifácio da Piedade: Zusammenspiel oder Zusammenprall. Katholische und traditionelle Religionspraktiken in Mosambik; In: Mosambik-Rundbrief 65, Bielefeld 2004, p. 19

/10/ Elísio Macamo: Leben in einer unberechenbaren Welt. Traditionelle Religion als Ausdruck der Sehnsucht nach Gemeinschaft; In: Mosambik-Rundbrief 65, pp. 20/21


Rainer Grajek: “Religion in Mosambik”, In: “Handbuch der Religionen der Welt”, Prof. Dr. Markus Porsche-Ludwig und Prof. Dr. Jürgen Bellers (Herausgeber), Bautz Verlag 2012.

original text: https://www.rainergrajek.de/religion-in-mosambik/

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