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Ghana’s Uneasy Bedfellows: A Skin-Deep Muslim-Christian Harmony

Nora K Nonterah (PhD) – a theological and comparative ethicist from Ghana. She carries out theological and ethical discourse in a way that has impact on the day-to-day lives of people. She is a lecturer in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

Kasise Ricky Peprah – an independent scholar and author who devotedly contributes to topical issues in Ghana in the media. He is also a columnist of the Catholic Standard Newspaper (Longest running private news paper in Ghana).


The advent of Islam in Africa preceded the coming of Christianity, arguably by a couple of centuries. Though contested in some quarters, Islam appears, at the very least, to have been the first at successful proselytization. Notably however, the political organizations that prevailed at the time of the Islamic crusaders had morphed into colonial entities by the time that the Christian Missionaries arrived. When Islam arrived, Africans were under the rule of emperors whose empires stretched far and wide thus making effective control limited to the metropolitan areas, largely. These empires relied on the personality of the emperor and so they tended to rise and fall with the fate of the ruler.

Another point of note is that Islam did not succeed, if at all it intended to, occasion the abandonment of the hitherto cultural practices of the people they sought to convert. The result therefore was that there was a smooth blending of the main Islamic tenets with the prevailing cultural practices, save a few, like human sacrifice.

Christianity on its part arrived on the tail of the colonial exploits of Metropolitan Powers and thus met systems that were relatively more centralized, with more effective control and subtle coercive authority. Unlike Islam, Christianity sought to, and succeeded somewhat in replacing, in the places in which they successfully proselytized, the key cultural and religious practices with those that they brought along. In effect, Christianity tended to produce an entirely new human being, who had abandoned ‘old ways’ and adopted new ones, while Islam produced persons who retained some crucial aspects of their way of life, only ostensibly voluntarily adopting a few new ways.

Most crucial however was the marked difference that the two religions took in educating their converts. For a long time Islam was satisfied to only teach their converts to learn the Quran by rote while Christianity introduced Western style education, the products of which formed the critical mass of opinion leaders and organizers that would later on lead the struggle for independence. Upon independence they will go on to constitute the bulk of the political elite thus giving them the opportunity to give shape to the new state.

Independence and After

Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah with his broad-based Convention People’s Party was very quick to realise the quicksand that religion could constitute and so very early in the life of the country, legislated to proscribe the formation of political parties along religious lines. In the same breath ethnicity also attracted the same treatment, having been adjudged a very potent force along which people could mobilize to the detriment of the national project of building a united country, with guarantees of equality for all and opportunity for everyone. Ghana, aided by the optimism of the era and the single-minded focus of its founder, Kwame Nkrumah, started on a very good footing with no noticeable fissures along religious lines. Ethnicity on its part was more difficult to subordinate and as time has proven, it has always lurked dangerously in the shadows ready to make its ugly appearance.

In post-independence Ghana, Christianity continued to occupy the pride of place due largely to its pioneering role in education and the simultaneous disinterest by Muslims in said education.[1] The aforesaid notwithstanding, a few Muslims got themselves educated and were quickly co-opted into the elite political class and thus resulted in the semblance of a beautiful symbiosis of religions. It is important to note at this juncture that both Islam and Christianity considered African Traditional Religion as backward, even primitive and so there was, or appeared to be, a comfortable relation between Christianity and Islam. However, this relationship was only perfunctory devoid of any deep understanding of the core beliefs and worldviews of the each other.

This beautiful co-existence between the two religions went on for some time without major challenges to the idyll save for a few disturbances from time to time. It is therefore common to hear Ghanaians glibly assert that there is religious harmony in our country. To a critical mind however, it may be the case of a comfortable dominance by Christianity accompanied by disinterest of Islam in challenging the status quo that has resulted in said situation.

Present Times

With the proliferation of charismatic and other non-traditional churches, without the benefit of an organized command structure and with the penchant for contra-positioning, the relations between Christianity and Islam is less stable, more strained, even frayed. In fact, the religious eco-system, which has become consumed by the ‘prosperity gospel’, has turned faith groups into business entities, hungry, even desperate for followers. This has led to name-calling, with a view to position one group as better than another. This has seen manifestation within the Christian fold and between certain denominations and Islam. This unhealthy dynamic led to violent clashes in Kumasi, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana and in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana in the 1990s.[2] Indeed though serious, these incidents were overshadowed by a bloodier confrontation between Nanumbas and Konkombas in the Northern Region and so it passed without much public comment or discussion. Indeed it may well be said that this conflict was multi-layered and may well have been ethnic conflict clothed in religious excuse.[3]

This uneasy relation has been further informed, perhaps even exacerbated by the developments in the international arena. With the rise of terrorism and its alleged close relationship with Islamic fundamentalism, many Christians have become even more circumspect about the religion Islam and its adherents. This against the backdrop of the rise and spread of social media and the western propaganda machine, has had the effect of turning neighbours into enemies.

Two recent worrying flashpoints have been the furor over the use of hijabs by young Muslim females while in school and under apprenticeship. There was a very acrimonious debate in the public space but it died down due to the intervention of senior clerics on either side. It must be stated however that the issue is sure to make another ugly appearance and one can only guess the extent to which either side will push their position.

The most recent matter was the decision of a Wesleyan Methodist Government-Assisted senior high school to disallow fasting by Muslim students during Ramadan.[4] Interestingly, the school’s purported reasons were mildly reasonable except that better ways were available but not used. What was worrying was the commentary surrounding the issue, the almost fanatical and discriminatory grandstanding and the clear bigotry on the part of some of the people who claimed to be making the Christian case.[5]  Again, senior clerics intervened and quietened the noisy talk shop. At the risk of being accused of doom saying, this matter too, we assert, will see a comeback and one can only guess the character that the matter will take.

Ghana’s challenge in this particular matter is decidedly more dire because, loosely speaking, the two religions have come to be associated with certain ethnicities and so what usually erupts as a religious quibble soon flares into a tribal conflagration. Let us hasten to add that the tenuous situation is not lost on most Ghanaians and so we have come to expect political parties to field both a Christian and a Muslim on their presidential bill. This appears to be working thus far but we dare say that is because Christianity is enjoying the upper hand.  What will happen if and when the tables turn is not difficult to fathom.

The need for deliberate cordial co-existence has long been accepted and so inter-faith committees have seen birth and active working in certain parts of the country but sadly, that is not sufficient. More efforts are required to keep this uneasy bed fellowship within manageable limits. This can only stand to succeed if we are honest to ourselves and admit that the harmony we so tout is but skin deep, that the Christian domination and the Muslim acquiescence is that which allows for the  relatively peaceful co-existence. The trumpeted harmony is contrived, to the detriment of one side. True harmony should come from unconditional mutual respect and acceptance, and that is far from being the case.


In sum, Christianity and Islam constitute two of the three main religious persuasions in Ghana; the third being African Traditional Religion. As indicated earlier, African Traditional Religion has come to earn the collective derision of the Abrahamic religions. Over the life of the country, Christianity and Islam have managed to gingerly co-exist without major incident. There is arguably the lack of interest in acquiring a deep understanding of the core values of each other. The result therefore is a harmony that easily buckles under the weight of even the slightest pressure. Most notably, Christianity has enjoyed a more dominant position while Islam has manifested a disinterest in rocking the boat. Developments over time have revealed this tenuous relationship and bring into focus the fact that the much touted religious harmony is in fact very delicate. If Ghana is to forestall any religious conflict in the future, it must begin now to confront the dynamic in full acceptance that we have been deluding ourselves when we bracingly assert that we have a religious harmony in this country.

[1] See: ObedMfum-Mensah, Education Marginalization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies, Politics, and Marginality (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018), 118.

[2] See: Nathan Samwini, The Muslim Resurgence in Ghana since 1950: Its Effects upon Muslims and Muslim-Christian Relations (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2006), 206.

[3] See:Johnson Mbillah, “Inter-Faith Relations and the Quest for Peace in Africa,” in The Interface between Research and Dialogue: Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa, ed. Klaus Hock (London: LIT Verlag, 2004), 77.

[4] See: Fiifi Tanko Almaestro, “Methodist Church ‘Wages War’ on Islam: Backs Wesley Girls to Stop Muslim Students from Fasting on Campus,” GhanaGuardian, Available at:, accessed: 23/05/2021.

[5] See:Almaestro,“Choose between Togetherness or Bigotry and Apartheid – Muslim Professionals Warns,” GhanaGuardian, Accessed: 10/06/2021.



Almaestro, Fiifi Tanko. “Methodist Church ‘Wages War’ on Islam: Backs Wesley Girls to Stop Muslim Students from Fasting on Campus.” GhanaGuardian. Available at: 23/05/2021.

………..“Choose between Togetherness or Bigotry and Apartheid – Muslim Professionals Warns.” GhanaGuardian. Accessed: 10/06/2021.

Mbillah, Johnson. “Inter-Faith Relations and the Quest for Peace in Africa.” In The Interface between Research and Dialogue: Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa, edited by Klaus Hock, 60-79. London: LIT Verlag, 2004.

Mfum-Mensah, Obed. Education Marginalization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies, Politics, and Marginality. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018.

Samwini, Nathan. The Muslim Resurgence in Ghana since 1950: Its Effects upon Muslims and Muslim-Christian Relations. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2006.