A common question I have been asked throughout my time in Ghana is “do you go to church or mosque?” I was taken aback the first time I heard this at my internship site as it would be perceived as an intrusive question in the US but upon further reflection, it makes sense in a Ghanaian context. Much of Ghanaian society operates around religion and with about 70% of the population being Christian and 15% being Muslim, it is understandable why someone would ask if you are a practicing Christian or Muslim rather than asking if you are religious as I would expect in the US. I did not know how to answer that question truthfully because while I am Catholic, I have not attended church in over 5 years. I decided to just tell my co-worker that I attended church as it would be difficult to explain why I stopped attending mass regularly.
Religion can be seen in all aspects of Ghanaian society. On my daily commute to my internship or school, the roads are full of taxis and tro tros, most of which have signs on their rear windows reminding you the God is good or reciting a bible verse. I often see 2-3 preachers on each commute with large speakers and microphones giving sermons to whoever will listen. A large amount of resources is put into religion here as most churches I have seen are large, well-kept buildings and there are even universities and hospitals owned by several denominations of Christianity, whose students oftentimes learn alongside me at KATH.
I have also noticed that religion plays a big role in the general population’s view on social issues such as gay rights. There is largely present unacceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in this country, and the topic is often taboo for most people. These beliefs also slip into politics as homosexuality remains illegal here. While Ghana’s constitution states that it is a secular state, it acknowledges that religion plays a big role in the lives of its citizens and thus have religious representation in several branches of Ghanaian government. The two branches of religion can often times co-exist in government, which can bring a lot of positive However, this freedom of religion does not extend beyond Christianity and Islam as those are the only two that have representation in government. Religious groups with fewer followers in Ghana such as Buddhism or traditional religions like the Akan religion are often times brushed aside and their needs are not as strongly represented in government. While the lack of separation between church and state may be seen as negative and can provide positive outcomes to Ghana as they are able to provide funding for projects that the government wants to take on.
While 15% of the population is Muslim, sentiments of Islamophobia are still prevalent throughout the country. Mosques are oftentimes smaller than churches and kids have claimed that they hate Muslims. There have also been issues with schools not allowing Muslim students to practice their religion openly; however, the government continues to urge that people are free to practice any religion.
Religion also plays a large part in the day to day lives of Ghanaians. I have asked a few people what they do in their free time, to which they have answered that much of their free time is spent in church. Sundays are typically reserved for religious observances and family, causing many local businesses to be closed. Their Sundays can start as early as 5:30 when mass starts, and they often stay in services until noon and then host events with their congregations. It still surprises how integral religion is for the lives of most people in Ghana when compared to the US. I am used to religion being only one aspect of a person’s life rather than their whole life. However, I could not imagine my experience in Ghana without the heavy presence of religion.