Religious Beliefs In Madagascar

A small church in Madagascar.
A small church in Madagascar.

Madagascar has one of the highest proportions of indigenous religious practitioners in Africa. The constitution of Madagascar provides for the freedom of religion and registration of religious groups is allowed by the government. The religious landscape in Madagascar is characterized by tolerance, although isolated cases of societal discrimination are occasionally reported.

Religious Beliefs In Madagascar

Traditional Malagasy Beliefs Honoring Zanahary and Family Ancestors

The Traditional Malagasy Beliefs Honoring Zanahary and Family Ancestors is adhered to by 50% of the country’s population. The Malagasy people trace their ancestry to Asia, Arab, and African origin and thus pride in unique religious practices. The traditional religion is centered on one creator known as Zanahary or Andriamanitra who is neither male nor female. Zanahary is believed to have unlimited power and is, therefore, able to bless those who act according to his will and punish those who offend him.

The close relationship between the living and the ancestors is integral in the traditional religion. Ancestors are believed to be the link between the living and the Supreme God and to be actively looking for their descendants. Adherents of the religion observe various taboos (fady) to avoid the disapproval of the ancestors.

The Malagasy hold periodical ceremonies to venerate their ancestors, where they open their family tombs and re-wrap the dead in fresh shrouds amidst the jubilant celebration. Tomb building is a common practice in Madagascar, and the tombs are often more expensive and substantial concerning the houses of the living. Tombs have become a cultural landmark on the African island. Respect for ancestors is widespread in the Island and unites all the citizens, even most of those who practice other religions.

Protestant Christianity

Protestant Christianity boasts 25% of Madagascar’s population. The religion is mainly rooted among the Merina ethnic group, who are concentrated in the country’s central highlands. Protestantism Christianity on the island is traced back to 1818 when the first Christian Missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived. The missionaries translated the Bible, erected churches and began converting the Malagasy people.

Although the process of conversion to Christianity was stifled by Queen Ranavalona I, the religion found its bearing during the reign of Queen Ranavalona II. Protestantism grew to become the religion of the royalty and nobility on the island. The three oldest denominations are the Lutheran, Anglican, and Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar are all part of the Malagasy Council of Churches which has significant influence in the country’s politics. Other Protestant Churches include the Seventh-day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness. Most of the adherents integrate Christianity with traditional religious practices.

Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, Mormonism and other Forms of Christianity

Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, Mormonism and other Forms of Christianity are represented by 16% of the country’s population. The Roman Catholic Church is popular with the Betsileo ethnic group. Introduced to the island by French missionaries, Roman Catholicism gained popularity during French colonization. Being part of the Malagasy Council of Churches, the Catholic Church maintains a degree of political influence in the country.

Orthodox Christianity was introduced to the island by Greek traders and still has a following till date. A smaller population subscribes to Mormonism as well as other forms of Christianity.


Islam is practiced by 7% of Madagascar’s population. Madagascar’s history reflects the immigration of Arabs to the island and continued interactions with Arab merchants and traders. Arab immigrants trace their origin to Comoros, Pakistan, and India. Sunni Islam is the most dominant Islam branch alongside small numbers of Shia Muslims and Ahmadis. Modern day immigration from Islamic territories including Yemen and Iran has further influenced the number of Muslims in the country. Muslims are actively involved in commerce and Islam has a notable presence in the country’s media.

Other Forms Of Beliefs And Religions

Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, other Beliefs and Irreligion have a 2% share of the country’s population. Hinduism is mainly a reserve for the Indian immigrants in the country. Baha’i Faith is a relatively new religion in the country, having been introduced in the 1950s. Irreligion reflects a small number of Malagasy people.

Religious Beliefs In Madagascar

RankBelief SystemShare of Population of Madagascar
1Traditional Malagasy Beliefs Honoring Zanahary and Family Ancestors50%
2Protestant Christianity25%
3Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Mormonism, and Other Forms of Christianity16%

Baha'i Faith, Hinduism, Other Beliefs, and Irreligion2%

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