God is great

Insha’Allah. If there is an expression heard in the streets of Senegal is this: Insha’Allah, if God wills it. “I will go to Spain to work to help my family, Insha’Allah.” And in Spain: “I will return to Dakar to celebrate the tabaski (the feast of the lamb) with my family, Insha’Allah, I will go with my new boubou (dress) and buy a new pair of rams to share with my neighbors.”


And other expressions of everyday life: Alhamdulillah, praise be to God, for his blessings, for having slept well, because a relative has got a visa in Spain.Sometimes it is replaced by the equivalent in Wolof: Sante Yalla. How’s the family?: Gnu ngi ci jamm? Sante Yalla, well, thanks God. O Bismillah (literally, in the name of God, the most merciful, the compassionate) before eating to wish a good digestionto guests around a thiéboudienne. It is also often heard Waay Yalla baaxna: do not lose hope that everything will be OK, because God is great in his mercy.

They are daily demonstrations of the strength of Islam in Senegal, where 95% of the population is Muslim, a proportion that has been increasing at the expense of Catholics and Animists in the course of the twentieth century.

The (Sufi) Islam of Senegal is in many ways unique, and much more friendly and tolerant than what is commonly thought in Spain. The teachings of the Quran (the main sacred text of Muslims) are interpreted based on traditions that existed before the arrival of those who brought Islam to West Africa. The marabouts, religious leaders of the community combine their teachings and duties in the mosque with other unorthodox practices, such as the sale of amulets (gris gris), homemade solutions against the evil eye and remedies to treat “spiritual diseases” ranging from impotence to migraines. The marabouts are very influential figures in social, economic and political life.

Muslims in Senegal are divided into “guilds” (confreries) or brotherhoods that coexist without significant friction with the Catholic and Animist population of the country. It is not exceptional (especially in the Casamance region, south of the country) to have in the same family people who practice different religions and who combine several practices in their daily lives. This peaceful coexistence is illustrated by the fact that the first president of Senegal after its independence (1959-1960) was a Catholic from the Sereer ethnic group: Leopold Sedar Senghor.

Of the brotherhoods, the biggest one is that of the Tijaniyya originally from Algeria and brought to Senegal by El-Hadj Malick Sy. However, the most influential in the political life of the country is the Muridiyya, based on the work of the spiritual leader and founder of the brotherhood,

Cheikh Amadou Bamba. The Baye Fall, followers of Ibrahima Fall, are a section of the Mouridism: they preach that physical work is an alternative to the spiritual salvation of the soul. Other brotherhoods are the Qadiriyya (originally from Iran) and Laayeen (a local brotherhood particularly popular among Lebou, an ethnic group living mainly in coastal areas).

Women are relegated in these brotherhoods, as in the rest of the country’s public issues, to a secondary place. However, this does not prevent them to be enthusiastically identified with their brotherhood or fully engage in religious celebrations both in Senegal and Spain. And the fact is that Senegalese people God is great, Allahu akbar, and in his hands are both our miseries and our fortunes.

In the picture, a group of girls at a mosque in Casamance, a photograph that is part of the exhibition “Women and Borders.”

Javier Acebal

About the author: Javier Acebal

I'm a photographer based in Dakar (West Africa). I love to document cultures and people! (but also working for tourism industry).

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