Attempting to analyze religions across the vast continent of Africa is a daunting task. The second largest continent in the world after Asia, Africa contains more than fifty countries. It possesses amazing geographical variation and cultural diversity. Each of its countries has its own history, ethnic group, and language. Many of the religious beliefs, customs, and rites evolved due to the environment in which the followers were born, grew up, and survived.
There is no single body of religious dogma for the continent, yet many similarities are found among all the countries. The simple common denominator is the belief in a single god or creator who is somewhere else. Even though in some instances there is a collection of gods, there is usually one supreme god who has domain over all. These other spiritual beings can be nature spirits and ancestors and are often called the Children of God. Sacrifices to lesser spiritual beings go to the Supreme Being. Many of the religious groups in various parts of the continent are on the decline.
The largest religious influence in Africa has been Islam, which came first to North Africa. Islam spread early on along the Mediterranean shores from Egypt to Morocco. Islamization of African was well advanced by the ninth century; Muslim dynasties were established in West Africa as early as the eleventh century in Takrur and Kanem.
By the nineteenth century, Muslim mysticism — Sufism — was of considerable influence in Saharan and Sudanic Islam. Closely associated with Sufism in sub-Saharan Africa was the veneration of the Wali, the holy men of Islam, and the influence of the Muslim healing arts such as Quranic erasures and protective amulets, ornaments worn as a charm against evil.
The Arabs then brought the faith into the Sahara, where it was embraced by many western Africans.
People often mistakenly think of African religions as being exclusively concerned with animism, sorcery, and various tribal rituals. First, one has to consider that Africa is virtually divided in two at the Sahara Desert. (It is cut almost equally in two by the equator, meaning it is bound in the north by the tropic of Cancer and in the south by the tropic of Capricorn.) Islam took hold in the north; Christianity at one time was in the Sudan, and it's still active in Ethiopia, which is the only African kingdom with a Christian state church. Christian missions have spread throughout most of the areas south of the Sahara.
In the dense tropical forests, ancient traditional beliefs are still active, except where missionary zeal has made a presence in a country. In those cases, the majority of people have followed the customs and beliefs of the imported religion. Even so, it is highly probable that there has been an intermingling of the traditional with the new.