The integrative influence of religion in society varies considerably depending on the historical context and the situation in which individual members find themselves. The importance of religions in society and the role they play cannot be ignored, given what is happening in Northern Ireland, Iran and the Middle East. The need to examine the relationship between ideology (political) and the religious belief systems is called for.

Theories on the integrative aspect of religious life show that (Parson 1951) where there are social and economic problems there is a tendency to legitimise values for the purpose of solving those problems. Such values may be manifest in group form, or among individuals. For example, where the ideology of the country emphasises the collective nature of socio-economic development, religious institutions are also likely to support communal undertakings for the benefit of all the people rather than encourage individuals to work in isolation. In a more individualist society, like in the West, where individual economic and political entrepreneurship are highly valued, religious institutions are likely to emphasise the individual relationship between man and the supernatural being, while societal progress is looked at as a reward of such a relationship. Such explanations go back to Weberian theory on the relationship between religion and economic development (Weber 1930). This states, among others, that an individual’s belief system helps to shape his actions and relationships in society.

It is easy to have such a situation where we have one predominant religion. But in a society like Tanzania, where we have more than one major religion, to delineate the aspects of these religions and show how each individual carries his belief system beyond the institution is rather an interesting exercise. Tanzania claims to have a harmonious relation among her religious groups, while these religions groups as well as individual members are contributing to the socio-economic development of society. From the beginning of Tanzanian independence, political parties based on religious group factions were discouraged. This was in a bid to curb divisions which might have disrupted the political unity and integration which Nyerere was aiming at. He guided his political party in a secular manner, which allowed individuals to participate fully regardless of their background. The party was inter-religious, inter-ethnic and inter-racial in its nature.

Although religion is not the basis for political participation in Tanzania, individual belief systems shape the individual’s contribution to the socio-economic development of the country. Individuals meet at political rallies, economic organisations, social gatherings to discuss matters of mutual interest with their religious background. In this way some kind of influence on the directions and relationship among the different religions may be dictated by this background. In some parts of the world such religious backgrounds have led to conflicts among the various religions existing in society. The Tanzanian scene gives a rather interesting picture of a harmonious relationship between various religions in spite of the fact that these have different and opposed belief systems. The aim of this short paper is to look into the extent different religious groups live and participate harmoniously in the socio-economic development of the country. The paper carries a sociological interpretation in its presentation.

The Religious Scene
Tanzania is a secular state. She does not uphold any of the existing religions in the country as a state religion. Yet Tanzania respects religions very much. Individual citizens who interact among themselves in their daily lives are members of various religious groups, as it will be presented in this paper. The Tanzanian position and attitude towards religions is embodied in both Party and Government official documents. For example, the National Anthem starts by evoking God to bless Africa and Tanzania in particular. The National Assembly (Par1iament) starts its sessions with prayers and the Party constitution guarantees religious freedom (Omari 1976).

There are no accurate statistics on religious groups in the country. Since 1967, when the national census had questions on religion, the religious question has been played down purposely in other information-seeking documents. We have, however, some est1mates which can give us a rough picture of the religious situation in the country. The official reports on the distribution of religions in Tanzania show that the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religions make up 30% each. The remaining 10% belong to other religions like Hindu, Shinto and other minority groups. Such statistics can be disputed, for they have been given for convenience sake. On the other hand, we have David Parrett in the World Christian Encyclopaedia, who estimates that there are 44% Christians; 33% Muslims and 23% Traditional Religions.

Perhaps it is correct to say that statistics among Christians are more correct, for these are used to keep up the records of their memberships accurately, than it is for other religious groups where it remains an estimate only. As it can be noted below in Table 1, only the figures for 1967 can give us some indication with regard to religious distribution accurately, for in the 1978 census the religious question was removed from the questionnaire for reasons known to those concerned. At that time (1967) in mainland Tanzania, out of 12 million people, the majority were Traditional. However in the urban centres, the Muslims were in the majority, (a phenomenon which shows religious geography in the country).

Table I: Head of Household Religious Inclination 1967 (%)

Region Christians Muslims Traditional Others Total
Arusha 21 11 67 1 569,229
Coast 10 86 3 1 500,697
Dodoma 24 27 47 2 677,296
Iringa 54 4 41 1 654,364
Kigoma 23 15 61 1 447,429
Kilimanjaro 66 15 18 1 619,741
Mara 46 6 45 3 523,319
Mbeya 43 2 53 2 946,143
Morogoro 45 42 12 1 639,723
Mtwara 16 82 2 – 989,673
Mwanza 23 4 72 1 1,009,678
Ruvuma 57 39 3 1 385,789
Shinyanga 11 3 84 2 893,889
Singida 19 34 46 1 452,304
Tabora 24 28 47 1 529,826
Tanga 25 71 3 1 702,579
West lake 62 9 28 1 635,001

Mainland rural 32 28 39 1 11,177,315
Mainland urban 32 63 1 4 585,600
Mainland total 32 30 37 1 11,762,915

Zanzibar total 3 96 – 1 349,943

Source: 1967 Population Census Vol. 3

The religious groups geographical distribution in Tanzania can be said to be spread all over the country. However, some differences exist. For example, the majority of Muslims are found around the coast areas, Zanzibar and the slave trade corridor, which includes Bagamoyo, Tabora and Kigoma – Uvinza. As it can be noted in the above Table I, Regions like Coast (including Dar es Salaam), Mtwara and Tanga are predominantly Muslim while in Regions like Kagera (West Lake), Kilimanjaro and Ruvuma, Christians are in the majority.

The figures for the Muslims also can be questioned, for there is a tendency among many Tanzanians of having Muslim names without being Muslim. Among the coastal people for example, you will hear someone called Mohamed who hardly knows where the mosque is! With the coming of secularism into Tanzanian society, such a tendency is getting into Christians as well. For the traditionlists, since they vary from one ethnic group to another, the way to identify them is by elimination. If someone does not belong to the major religions and lives in rural areas, he very definitely belongs to Traditional Religion.

Religions and socio-economic development resume
Researchers and scholars like Barrett (1072), van Bergen (1981) and Westerlund (1980) have made studies of the religious scene in Tanzania, especially in relation to social development and have been at pains to produce some interesting statistics on the religious groups. It is very interesting to note that although the statistics are not that reliable, the contribution of religious groups to socio-economic development of the country is significant and is acknowledged fully by both the Party and the Government.

The contribution of religious groups towards socio-economic development in the country is a positive response to President Nyerere’s call for all religious and non-government agencies to contribute towards the process of building a just and equitable Tanzanian society. Ever since Tanzania decided to follow the Ujamaa-socialism path of socio-economic development in 1967, it has been a chal1enee to various religious groups to come out with various contributions and support in the endeavour to build that kind of society. Both Van Bergen and Westerlund in their studies have shown that from the beginning almost all organised religious groups accepted the national ideology, though in some parts with some reservations. Their reservation is centred around ujamaa being equated with communism, an ideology which has had some conflict with religion in other parts of the world.

As far as I can see, their fear is rooted in two basic points: one, the historical development of socialism in many of the Western and Eastern countries in relation to religion has been very antagonistic. Such experiences are known among the Christians through their friends and other Christians who are living in those countries where such experiences are happening. Two, some of the politicians, especially right after the Arusha Declaration in 1967 and in the early seventies did speak against some religious groups like Christians. Their opposition to Christianity was based on the historical relation which exists between Christianity and Western capitalist ideology.

On many occasions, Nyerere himself a Christian had to explain to the Church leaders and the general masses the position of the Party and Government in general with regard to the role of religion in Tanzania. Today we can say that many religious groups in Tanzania are in the forefront of the social development process in Tanzania. As it can be noted in Table II below, the example of the Christian Council of Tanzania in mobilising resources for community development is magnificent. A lot of money has been spent on projects like water, health and other activities which enhance people’s level of social development. I am sure, if deep studies were made in other religious groups, we could find out their contributions like the one through the Christian Council. My quick observation is that organisations like the Tanzania Episcopal Conference for the Homan Catholics and Bakwata ta for the Muslims have mobilised a lot of resources for socio-economic development in Tanzanian society regardless of the differences in the belief systems of the recipients. When all religious groups have realised their potentiality and utilised it fully, Tanzania will have taken heed of the call of President Nyerere to become partners in social development and the concept of “play your part” will have become more pragmatic and concrete.

Table II: Money channelled through the Christian Council of Tanzania for selected socio-economic undertakings. (in Tshs.)

Type of undertaking Year 1981 Year 1982
Agriculture related projects 1,057,768.15 80,740.00
Community Development (General) 8,145,754.75 3,278,730.35
Education related projects 393,232.10 1,713,283.05
Health related projects 331,864.15 3,809,135.90
Water related projects 9,180,967.65 2,241,247.70

Source: Christian Council of Tanzania 1983.

The Christian Council of Tanzania, which represents almost all non-Roman Catholic Christians in the country, mobilises resources both externally and internally for the approved projects. Basically, the projects must be community-oriented with the marginalised and poor groups as the beneficiaries. As such, most of the projects supported by the Christian Council are rural-oriented ones where the majority of the population live.

Table II above reveals other factors as well which I would like to mention. Since the Christian Council acts as a clearing house and a mobilising group for only those projects passed through its office, there is no effort made to trace other resources mobilised by other religious groups for the same purposes. It serves, however, as a good example of how a religious group can work as a pressure group as well as mobilising force for community development. The figures above are only for two years and for the selected projects only.

Not only various religious groups participate in socio-economic development through mobilisation of resources and services, but individuals participate fully in various socio-economic activities in their different roles. This is very important, for some of the civil servants and politicians exemplify their different belief systems through their deeds even though they are in a secular state. There are common ethical elements which are generally found in all religions. Tanzanian national ethics as embodied in the national ideology has taken into consideration the major teachings of various religions as related to the secular state. In this way, one can say that the Tanzanian way of handling religious beliefs in socio-economic development is through incorporation and integration rather than identification and isolation. All individual religious groups as well as individual citizens are called upon to participate fully in the national socio-economic process itself regardless of their religious background. Thus candidacy in local and national political posts and participation is based primarily on a national and individual ability rather than religious affiliation.

One could argue, then, that Weberian theory of religions and society could help us to understand Tanzanian political development in relation to the individual beliefs in the society. Among other points, this states that belief systems which individuals hold helps to shape and generate principles which assist socio-economic development. In Tanzania, it could be argued that individual members come out to participate in socio-economic development of the country having party ideology as a unifying factor while at the same time holding to the personal faith without necessarily compromising it.

Table III: Composition of the high office in Tanzania according to religious background as at 1976.

CCM Central Committee Members – Muslims 16, Christians 11, Others -, Total 27
Members of Parliament – Muslims 63, Christians 70, Others 39, Total 172
Ministers – Muslims 11, Christians 20, Others 2, Total 33

With a quick glance at Table III above one gets an interesting picture. Up to 1975, when I made a general survey of the religious background of the various selected individual members holding high offices, almost all major religions were represented. These individuals came to these offices not by virtue of their religious background but by virtue of their ability. The parliamentarians are elected by the people at local level and usually the election manifesto is based on party ideology rather than religious faith. Of course, where one religious group is predominant, like Zanzibar, one expects Muslims to be the majority in any election. In this case, out of 172 Members of Parliament during that year, 35 were from Zanzibar and all were Muslims.

The high number of Christian Ministers and the low number of Christians in the Central Committee is a reflection of educational background as related to the aspirations and interests of individuals rather than the religious variable per se. Many more Christians have been educated and trained in various technical and leadership posts than their counterparts the Muslims. This is an historical phenomenon rather than any deliberate policy (Omari 1976, van Bergen 1981, Westerlund 1980). On the other hand, Muslims found the political posts as the chance for them to balance the uneven participation in the political development of Tanzania. Thus many Party functionaries at district and local level are generally with low level of educational background and have been Muslims instead of Christians while the administrative and bureaucratic offices have been filled mainly by Christians.

In spite of these marked differences of educational background among the members of different religious groups at the high echelon, the harmonious relationship that exists between different members of Tanzanian society is very high. People tend to think of Tanzania first in ethnic terms rather than in terms of religion in their participation in socio-political matters. This does not mean, as I argued above, that individual faith is ignored. It is treated as a private matter which can contribute to the well-being of all the people on the principles of justice and equality for all. Religious faith is thus subordinated to the common social objectives as described in the Party ideology of Ujamaa and self-reliance. This aspect of the religious contribution to the Tanzania Socio-political life is enhanced by the fact that the President of the Republic and his Vice-President are people of religious conviction who participate in both political and religious life. Their lives have been a shining example to the public.

Towards Civil Religion – Conclusion.
Above I mentioned about the National Anthem as having a religious context. It is also interesting to note that at the beginning of every sitting of Parliament, there is a general prayer. Some few people, within the Party and outside, especially those who profess not to belong to any of the organised religions, privately have been raising some questions with regard to such procedures. Yet as I see it, Tanzanian society as it stands today, with its democratic system, their views will not change the present procedure both in Parliament sittings and in the National anthem. At Party meetings, however, it is the Party ideology which is the guiding and driving force; hence some phrases are said at the beginning of the meeting, sometimes rhetorically.

It can then be said that Tanzania is one of the countries of the World which has decided not to have a state religion, yet recognises and utilises religions for the social development process. In this way both the Party and Government depend very much on the individual contribution to the social development of the country. On their part, the Party and Government have ensured the freedom of working for all citizens. It is part and parcel of the human right and has been enshrined in Government law and constitution.

In conclusion, this paper has been an attempt to present briefly the religious scenery and its contribution to Tanzanian society. The role of religion in society has been presented with Weberian theoretical background. Individual members of different religious groups as well as organised religions like Christianity and Islam have been looked at more closely than the traditional religion. This has been done purposely for the sake of brevity.


Barrett, D.B. Frontier situations for Evangelisation in Africa 1972: A Survey Report. Nairobi. 1972.
Omari, C.K.(ed) Essays on Church and Society in Tanzania. Soni 1976 Parsons, ‘P. The Social System. Illinois Free Press. 1951
van Bergen, J. Development and Religion in Tanzania: Madras/Leiden 1981
Weber, M. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: (trans. T. Persons). London: Allen and Unwin 1930.
Westerlund, D. Ujamaa na Dini. Stockholm 1980.

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