Education, not religion, is biggest divide between African Christians and Muslims

Education, and not religion, is the biggest gap between the Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

(REUTERS / Ryan Gray)Children write notes from a makeshift black board at a school in Mwezeni village in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province in this picture taken June 5, 2012.

In the last five years, terrorism-related violence has killed 33,000 people in Africa. The failure of the authorities to manage ethnic and religious diversity plays a role in the vulnerability of Africa to such violence, and weak governments also contribute to this problem, the Tehran Times reports.

Despite the violence in Africa stemming from religious issues, religion itself is not the biggest divide among the people. After studying the number of years that African Christians and Muslims spent in school, Pew learned that 65 percent of Muslims in the continent did not have a formal education. On the other hand, only 30 percent of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa reflected the same deficit in schooling, Quartz details.

Aside from that, Pew took a look at the educational levels of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and the religiously unaffiliated in 151 countries including 36 from sub-Saharan Africa. The research group found that Muslims ranked below Christians by at least 10 percentage points when it comes to education in 18 out of the 27 countries with significant Christian and Muslim populations.

The educational divide between Christians and Muslims is largely attributed to missionaries' educational efforts during the colonial times. Back then, Christian missionaries were the prime movers in educational and curriculum development. However, Muslims did not allow their kids to attend these schools for fear of conversion, and this decision affected the next generations.

"In many cases, Muslims had already established their own Islamic education system, and sometimes political systems as well," said New York University Abu Dhabi assistant professor Melina Platas, according to Quartz. "In these areas, colonial authorities often limited educational investments, especially by Christians, either to avoid conflict or because of perceived low demand for Western-style education."

Other factors that contribute to the lack of formal education among Muslims include the practice of early marriage, the lack of job opportunities and extremist groups' policies against "Western" education, such as the one being enforced by Boko Haram in Nigeria.