Kenya is a country in East Africa. The equator runs through the country. Kenya borders five countries including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, and South Sudan. The most common religion in Kenya is Christianity. However, Islam also has a significant presence. Other religions in the country include Hinduism and traditional African religions.
Islam and Christianity were both brought into the country from outside — Islam by Arabs, and Christianity by Europeans. Kenya natives had their indigenous religions that were unique to every community before the arrival of Islam and Christianity. Salient features of traditional African Religions include reverence for the ancestors, awareness of the physical world and physical phenomena, and ritual sacrifices. Today Africans who practice these indigenous faiths are the minority.
Religious Beliefs In Kenya
Religious Freedoms and Inter-Religious Tolerance
The Constitution of Kenya, along with other laws of Kenya, prohibits the discrimination of people because of their religious beliefs and protects their religious freedoms. It gives people the freedom to worship, practice, observe, or teach any religion, as well as the freedom to debate and discuss in regard to religious questions and matters. Muslims, predominately ethnic Somalis, have in recent times complained of being targets of government-directed extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrest, detention, and deportation. The government has denied this. Tensions in the country between Christians and Muslims have heightened in recent years due to the rise of Islamist radicalization, and terrorist attacks in the country orchestrated by Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based Islamist terror group.
Protestantism began in the 16th Century when Martin Luther led a break with the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. The main similarity of all Protestant churches is their rejection of Papal supremacy and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants are the majority in Kenya at 47.7% of the total population. It was introduced to Kenya by John Ludwig Krapf, a German Missionary from the Church Missionary Society (CMS), who arrived in Kenya in 1844. He wrote the first Swahili Bible. The colonization of Kenya by the British attracted more missionaries, such as the Church of Scotland. In addition to converting the Africans into their religion, the missionaries brought education and modern healthcare. Many schools and hospitals have been built by the church. Protestant denominations include the Anglican Church of Kenya, and the Presbyterian Church, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Pentecostal churches.
Roman Catholic Christianity
Roman Catholics comprise 23.4% of the Kenyan population. Catholicism was first introduced by the Portuguese in the Fifteenth Century, but would only spread during the Twentieth Century The Roman Catholic Church missionary outreach in East Africa began with the French Congregation of the Holy Ghost among freed slaves at the Coast. Bishop Allgeyer is credited with taking the initiative to penetrate the Kenya interior. After the railway line reached Nairobi in 1899, the Holy Ghost Mission moved there. Then came the Consolata Fathers in 1902, which spread into Kiambu, Limuru, Mang’u, Thika, Nyeri, and Meru. Sister Irene Stefani, who was beautified in 2015, was part of the Consolata Missionaries who were stationed in Nyeri. The Catholic Church in Kenya is one of the biggest owners of land and property in the country. It is active in providing education, health, and other social services.
Other Forms of Christianity
Other forms of Christianity are followed by 11.9% of the population. The development of Indigenous Christianity began during the colonial period. These indigenous churches, as a collective, are growing faster than traditional or mission-founded churches. The majority of these are found in Western Kenya among the Luo and Luhya communities. Indigenous churches were instrumental in the African struggle for independence. They are associated with the rise of cultural nationalism that spread through the country in the 1920s and 1930s. In Central Kenya, independent churches and schools were formed in an attempt by the community to preserve its culture (for instance polygamy and female circumcision) while adopting the new ways.
Islam is a religion that was started by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia. Its teachings are found in the Quran, its most sacred text. Islam arrived in Kenya around the Eighth Century. At 9.9% of the population, the majority of Muslims in Kenya belong to the Sunni denomination in the Shafi School of jurisprudence. In the minority, are those from the Shia and other non-Sunni branches of Islam, accounting for only 1.7% of the population. Muslims are most prominent in the Coast and North Eastern Regions of the country.
Atheists do not believe in the existence of a God or gods. On the other hand, agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve, claiming that it is not knowable. Such people account for 2.4% of the Kenyan population.
Indigenous African Religions
Traditional African religions are rooted in having reverence for ancestors and natural phenomena. Followers of these account for 1.7% of the Kenyan population. Traditional Kikuyu religion states that Mount Kenya is God’s abode. The Mijikenda offer sacrifices and prayers in holy shrines in the Kaya forests.
Other beliefs in Kenya include Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and others. These account for 1.2% of the Kenyan population. With only 2.4% being atheists or agnostics, Kenya is a highly religious country. 97.6% of the population has a religious belief. The country is known for its diversity, and these religions coexist together peacefully, except for recent tensions caused by Islamist extremism.
What is the Biggest Religion in Kenya?
The largest religion in Kenya is protestant Christianity, which accounts for 47.7% of the total population.
Religious Beliefs In Kenya
|Rank||Belief System||Share of Kenyan Population|
|2||Roman Catholic Christianity||23.4%|
|3||Other Forms of Christianity||11.9%|
|5||Atheism or Agnosticism||2.4%|
|6||Indigenous African Spirituality||1.7%|
|7||Shia and Other Non-Sunni Forms of Islam||1.2%|
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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