Senegal is an example of peaceful coexistence between different religious communities.
“My grandfather was a Muslim. On the day of my priestly ordination, he was in front of the church praying with everyone else even though he had his prayer beads. This grandfather, for whom I have a lot of respect and to whom I still pay homage for the education that he transmitted to us, has children who have become Muslims and others Christians. My mother is Christian, but some of her sisters have remained Muslims. And we have always lived in harmony and cohesion,” Father Alphonse Birame Ndour, pastor of the Saint Paul parish in Grand Yoff, Dakar, told Apa News on Friday, May 6. His testimony, however rare, is frequent in his country, Senegal, where the Muslim majority largely accommodates religious minorities, especially Christians.
“The history of Senegal is marked by encounters with different peoples and cultures that have led to a mixing of ethnicities and families,” said Sheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy al Amine, founding president of the Think Tank GUESS, whose father, Abdoul Aziz Sy Al Amin, who died in 2017, was the sixth Khalifa General of the Tijaniya, one of the main Sufi Muslim brotherhoods in Senegal, along with the Mourides (Al Mouridiya) and the Khadres (Al Kadiriya).
This Senegalese particularity “can be explained by the fact that the Islamization of our people was not imposed but accepted as a result of cultural mixing between the caravans from North Africa and the natives,” says this former president of the Cadre unitaire de l’Islam, an organization that brings together the main Sufi Muslim brotherhoods in Senegal.
“We owe this situation not only to what we have in common, that is to say family, kinship, blood, but also thanks to the insight and wisdom of our predecessors who, from the day after independence in the 1960s, were able to install in our country a concern for the other, this concern for living together...” said father Alphonse Birame Ndour, who cites as a recent example of cordial relations between religious in Senegal, the visit of the Archbishop of Dakar, Benjamin Ndiaye to Serigne Mountakha Mbacké, the General Khalifa of the Mourides, on the occasion of the inauguration in 2019 in Dakar of the splendid Massalikoul Djinan mosque, the largest in the city with more than 30,000 seats. A gesture that should be welcomed especially since “the God we love and worship, is not the God of division. It is the God of love, peace, harmony and unity,” the Grand-Yoff priest insisted.
According to Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy al amine, there are no “clear lines of separation between communities but rather a symbiosis or an emulsion between religious communities.”
This “cohabitation” or “coexistence” that the priest and the Muslim leader magnify is sometimes shaken by extremist remarks.
“We note a tendency to undermine the Senegalese exception of living together because of the emergence of new currents more or less structured that do not have the same spiritual basis as the Sufi brotherhoods,” lamented Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy.
Father Alphonse Birame Ndour also deplored “the emergence of new preachers who do not hesitate to blame others for unfounded and senseless accusations.” This, according to the parish priest, “cannot fail to arouse emotion and even sometimes violent reactions on the part of those who feel targeted.”
To face these discussions that threaten the good understanding between confessions in Senegal, the Catholic and the Muslim wishes strong measures from the political authorities.
For father Ndour, it is urgent that the authorities “respect the secular nature of the Senegalese state.” Sheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy al Amine added “it is necessary to introduce in the school curriculum the compulsory teaching of the values of tolerance and peace carried by the great religious figures to the current and future generations.”
He also proposed “the regulation of social media, which is conducive to all excesses even if it means tightening the law on all forms of incitement to violence or hatred between communities.”