The majority of Rwanda's population is Christian. About 45% belong to the Catholic faith, 35% to the Protestant faith. Only about 5% profess Islam. This is primarily due to the first German, later Belgian colonization, in the course of which the country was Christian missionized. Because of the controversial role of the Catholic Church during the genocide, the Church is often criticized.

Islam has gained in prestige since 1994 because of the exemplary solidarity of the Islamic community during the genocide. But also many new free churches and other charismatic groups could establish themselves since 1994.

In pre-colonial times ancestor worship was the dominant religion. Because of the similarities to Christianity, the Rwandans were easy to win over to Christianity. Both are monotheistic religions with a Creator God and a great personality who functions as mediator and earthly representative of God.

Traditional Faith

Before the spread of the Catholic faith, Rwandans worshipped the god Imana in the predominant traditional religion of Rwanda. This monotheistic religion worshipped a creator god (Imana) and a great personality (Ryangombe) who was the mediator and earthly representative of God. This Almighty - Imana - still plays a role today, as can be seen from the names that Rwandans give to their children: they name them after God using names such as Twizerimana (we trust God), Habyarimana (God of Producers), Nkundimana (I love God) and Harerimana (God of Educators). These names testify to the belief in a single God who is worshipped in different ways in different regions. A saying in Kinyarwanda says that "dear God is everywhere in the world, but in the evening he always returns to Rwanda" (Imana yirirwa ahandi igataha i Rwanda). When the first missionaries settled in Rwanda around 1906, it was easy for them to win followers for the Catholic faith. The reason for this was the very strong similarity of the ceremonies of the Catholics and the followers of the Ryangombe cult. Thus, by 1920, more than half of the Rwandan population was Roman Catholics. Today, it is estimated that only less than 1% of the population are still followers of the traditional faith.

Christianity in Rwanda

The history of Christianity in Rwanda began around 1900 with the missionaries of the Order of the White Fathers. Within a short time they were able to missionize large parts of the Rwandan population to the Catholic faith and to secure for the Catholic Church a strong influence on the country. Less than fifty years after the arrival of the missionaries, Rwanda was dedicated to the Christian God. Before 1994, about two-thirds of believing Christians were still members of the Catholic Church. For its controversial role during the genocide the Catholic Church is still strongly criticized today. Many Catholics have turned away from the Catholic Church as a reaction to the time of the genocide. Despite the decline after the genocide, the Catholic faith remains the most widespread in Rwanda. About 45% of the Rwandan population belongs to the Catholic faith. In second place are the Protestant faith communities. About 35% of Rwandans are represented by various Protestant churches such as Presbyterians, Baptists or Methodists. In third place are the Adventists with about 10%. Since the beginning of the 2000s, local free churches such as the "Restoration Church" or "Zion Temple" have recorded a strong increase in supporters.

Islam in Rwanda

Like the free churches, Islam gained in importance after the genocide. The call to prayer, veiled women and minarets are still rare in Rwanda. According to the New York Times, the number of Muslims in Rwanda doubled in the period after the genocide, reaching around one million in 2004. Based on the centuries of activity of the Arab traders on the east coast of Africa, Islam has been an elementary component of East Africa for a long time. According to the New York Times, Islam is the fastest growing religion in Rwanda. Almost without exception, Rwandan Muslims belong to the Sunni faith, which reached Rwanda via the East African coastal regions of present-day Kenya and Tanzania. A clear minority are Indians and Arabs who emigrated to Rwanda for business reasons. Sheikh Saleh, Mufti and head of the Islamic community of Rwanda, estimates the number of Rwandan Muslims at about 700,000, or 8 percent of the population. In today's Rwanda, Muslims and members of other religions live peacefully side by side and enjoy religious freedom thanks to the new Rwandan constitution of a secular state from 2003. Another sign that the previously practiced exclusion of non-Christian religions is a thing of the past is the equality of Christian and Muslim holidays, both of which are celebrated as national holidays.

In Rwanda, Muslims and Christians have not always been treated equally. Until the beginning of the German colonial period, the Rwandan kings had prevented the Arab traders along the East African coast from settling in their area of influence. Islam stood in the German East African regions for influences which prevented a Christian civilization of the country and was increasingly perceived as a danger by the European colonial power. Despite the growing Muslim population, the immigration of Arab traders was hindered at the beginning of the German colonial administration by written permits and initiatives of the Germans. After the seizure of power by Habyarimana in 1973, the situation of Muslims finally improved with the lifting of restrictions on settlement. Many of them moved to the countryside and for the first time mosques were built outside the urban area. In 1990 there were about 250 mosques in Rwanda and in 1974 an Islamic centre was built in Kigali. According to a government directive, the Association des Musulmans du Rwanda (A.M.U.R.) was founded in 1964 as a representative organization of all Rwandan Muslims.

 The time of the genocide was decisive for the Muslim population group. When the country fell into chaos, Muslims were also forced to face the violence of the Hutu extremists. Muslims were one of the few groups that hardly responded to the calls for violence and participated minimally in the massacres. Imams called for peace and non-violence, and the ban on killing and help for those in need were demanded as Islamic values. Muslims were also hardly involved in the massacres for other reasons: they identify themselves mainly through their religion and less through their ethnicity.

Since the genocide, the population's views on Islam have changed and Muslims are no longer regarded as second-class citizens. Today, Muslim Rwandans no longer see any disadvantage in being Muslim, for example when looking for a job. Muslims also play a decisive role in the reconciliation process: Sheikh Saleh Habimana, Mufti of Rwanda, heads the national Interfaith Commission with the aim of building acceptance among members of the various religions in Rwanda and intensifying interreligious cooperation.

Eine Zusammenstellung aus Texten von Michael Nieden, Marie-Claire Muhagatera und Rachel Seigneur 


Quellen und empfohlene Literatur:

Ruanda Revue, Ausgabe 1/2015, Thema Religion in Ruanda. Diese Ausgabe können Sie hier herunterladen.

Rwanda before the Genocide, (Catholic Politics and Ethnic Discours in the late Colonial Era) by J. J.Carney, 2014 Oxford University Press.

Histoire du Christianisme au Rwanda (Des origines à nos jours), Tharcisse Gatwa/Laurant Rutinduka, 2014 Editions Clé, Yaoundé.