African Religion: Misconceptions about the African Religion

There are many misconceptions as to what defines African religion and religious practices. Many books and articles have been misleading in their attempts to establish what defines African religion; some of the writings have not only misled but have also been derogatory in their musings. Even some of the African people have been misled in their understanding of what constitutes their religious fabric. This article aims to rectify some of these reflections.

African Religion is not Ancestor Worship

Many sources define African worship as ancestral worship which is wrong. African people do not worship their deceased relatives or ancestors. Many African people believe that when a person dies their spirit lives on in the spirit world and that this spirit continues to watch over the living, based on this logic, the living would attempt to show gratitude and pay respect to the dead through a number of practices and rituals which include; placing bits of drink or food on the altars or shrines built for this purpose, or on the graves of the departed, and sometimes reciting a prayer for them. This expression of gratitude and respect towards the departed souls by the African people is what people or sources wrongly interpret as
Ancestral worship.

African Religion is not superstitious beliefs

Superstition can be defined as an impractical belief in supernatural influences with no basis in determining the various aspects of life. The African religious system is much more than a bunch of superstitious beliefs, the African religion is based on long held reflections and practical spiritual experiences which cannot be merely clustered as superstitious beliefs. If anything, other people and religious systems across the world also have superstitious beliefs within their systems and ways of living but that do not define them. Instead, these superstitious beliefs are simply looked at as part of their religious or belief system as opposed to the definition of that system.

African Religion is not paganism or animism

Animism is defined as a set of practices and beliefs that recognize natural phenomena and inanimate objects as being inhabited by souls or spirits. It is true that in the African religious set-up, there is belief in the existence of spirits and that these spirits can sometimes inhabit inanimate objects like trees, rocks, or water bodies, but this does not define the African religion. In a broad context, African religion is based on the belief of a Supreme God who reigns over the entire universe with dominion over the seen and unseen including the spirits and the spirit world. Acknowledging of divine presence in inanimate objects or natural phenomena like earthquakes does not contradict or negate belief in the Supreme God, rather, are believed to accentuate or compliment His presence.

Paganism on the other hand is derogatory term that is sometimes used to refer to African people who do not adhere to organized religions like Islam or Christianity. But this is wrong considering the fact that a person who does not adhere to a specific religion but still believes in a Supreme God must not be narrowly defined to fit a specific description.

African Religion is not sorcery or magic

Many people mistakenly believe African religion to be the practice of magic or sorcery. However, this is not a correct presentation of what African religion is, much as it is true the practice of magic and sorcery is a prominent feature of the African society, the African religion is not based on such practices neither is it defined by such practices. African people believe that God is the universal force that governs every entity in the world, the fact that there are people who can tap into the universal energies to create certain outcomes (good or evil) and that there are people who believe in such practices does not equate the spiritual or religious beliefs of an entire community to such people or practices.

There are many other misinterpretations and wrong definitions of the African religion, but the ones highlighted above are the most common. We can only say that the despite some weaknesses and shortcomings, the African religious system is major religious system in its own right.

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