Most of the people in Zanzibar are Muslims (followers of the Islamic faith) and all towns and villages on Zanzibar Island (Unguja) and Pemba have mosques. Visitors to Zanzibar Town cannot fail to hear the evocative sound of the muezzins calling people to payer from the minarets, especially for the evening session at sunset. And visitors cannot fail to notice the effects of the holy month of Ramadan, when most people fast during the day, and the pace of life slows down considerably. There are also small populations of Christians and Hindus.
Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammed, who was born around AD570 in Arabia. He received messages from God during solitary vigils on Mount Hira, outside his home town of Mecca. When driven out of Mecca by his enemies, he migrated to Medina. Here, at the age of about 53, he started to convert the world to Islam, and his message spread rapidly through the Arab world and beyond.
Mohammed died in AD632, but fired by evangelist zeal Arab Muslims had conquered all of northern Africa by the early 8th century, and introduced the new religion there. By AD1100 Islam had spread from Arabia and the Horn of Africa along the east African coast, through the current countries of Kenya and Tanzania, all the way down to Sofala (in present-day Mozambique). Today, Islam is the dominant religion of these coastal areas, which includes the islands of Zanzibar.
The five main tenets of Islam are prayer (five times a day), testimony of the faith, fasting (the period of Ramadan), almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Haj). The Muslim calendar dates from the Hejera, the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, which corresponds to 16 July AD622 in the Christian calendar. The Muslim year consists of 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days each, making 354 days. Eleven times in every cycle of 30 years a day is added to the year. This means that Muslim festivals fall 11 or 12 days earlier every year, according to the Western calendar.
There are small populations of Christians on both Zanzibar Island and Pemba.. The two most notable churches are the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ and the Catholic Church of St Joseph in Zanzibar Town, which also has temples for local Hindus.
Alongside the established world faiths, traditional African beliefs are still held by most local people, and there is often considerable cross-over between aspects of Islam and local customs. See The Shetani of Zanzibar
web page for more details.