As far as Sufi brotherhoods are concerned, they differ from country to country in West Africa. Their examination is very complex. In Senegal, Islamic confraternities have developed as a cause of Sufism, whence the Sufis, following their initial development during the first centuries of Islam (IX, X, and XI century), started organizing themselves around confraternities in the XII century.
These are complex structures (tariqas) built around disciples and masters (the first known as “talibe”, the latter as sheikh). The master taught the disciples the “mystic way” to a direct knowledge of God. The roots of Sufism go back to the first centuries of mystic Muslim preachers whence, through religious meditation, the study of the sacred books and asceticism, they expressed their search for the divine and their will to dedicate their lives to God.
In Senegal, Sufi brotherhoods play a huge role in the overall stability of the country. Furthermore, Sufi brotherhoods have a direct influence on the political stability and situation in Senegal. Political leaders have a certain connection with the supreme leaders also called caliph generals with whom they established a social contract of mutual respect pertaining to political and religious affairs in Senegal. Together, they shaped the evolution of political, social, economic, and religious structure of Senegal.
In Senegal, the best-known confraternities include the Qadriyya, the Tijaniyya, the Muridiyya, and the Layeiniyya, following a chronological order. The founders of these communities have left behind them sacred texts, lessons of discipline, brotherhood support, secularism, and non-violence. When the political situation is in turmoil, political leaders visit the caliph generals of the Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal to discuss matters.
Furthermore, Sufi brotherhoods have a direct influence on the political stability and situation in Senegal
Islamic confraternities have played a key role in the Islamization of the African continent through their constant dialogue with local pre-Islamic cultures that have also generated syncretic forms linked to the sanctification of local lineages. Before colonization (until the end of the XIX century), spiritual leaders took care of their disciples and of their families.
They would receive respect and gratitude in exchange. During colonization, the French exploited the leaders trying to obtain their collaboration, if not they were deemed dangerous and eliminated. Even local political leaders looked up to the religious guides for support in a sort of social contract between secular and religious powers: religious guides grant the social control over the population; the administrative and political apparatus allocates resources to the guides and praises them in public. This deal has given birth to what is known as “ndigel” (religious guide suggestion to voters), which all Senegalese presidents, from Senghor to Diouf to Wade and Sall, benefited from. They all have courted the most popular confraternities.
“If we choose to trace back the history of Sufi brotherhoods, we can see how their influence has developed over the years starting from Senegal’s first president Leopold Sedar Senghor’s office all the way to Macky Sall’s presidency.” In 2009, Souleymane Bachir Diagne wrote an essay examining the relationship between religion and the state as articulated in the thought of the founding father of the republic of Senegal: Leopold Sedar Senghor and Mamadou Dia (Senegal’s first “Prime Minister”). Although Senghor was Catholic and Dia a Muslim, they shared a vision of a state built upon the philosophical foundations of an African socialism that was at once secular and spiritualist.
Indeed, religion was central to their project of modernity. While fundamentally convinced of the necessity of a secular state, both Senghor and Dia also believed just as firmly that religious fervor was a cultural energy essential for achieving modernization and development. According to Senghor, secularism made possible the liberation of religion from political control and protected religion from fossilization, by encouraging its constant movement and progression.
If we choose to trace back the history of Sufi brotherhoods, we can see how their influence has developed over the years starting from Senegal’s first president Leopold Sedar Senghor’s office all the way to Macky Sall’s presidency
Diagne further explains that the disposition towards pluralism and tolerance found in Sufism was highly compatible with this vision. But Senghor’s spiritualist discourse disappeared with him, replaced by a compromise pact that assured politicians the support, especially during elections, of the marabouts, who became participants in the “political game.” This art of securing the political support of the marabouts is widely considered to be a characteristic of the “Senegalese social-contract” – a contract that can be efficacious while the country awaits the establishment of a true democracy and an open society.
Indeed, the marabouts have often played the role of social moderators or peacemakers in the public arena. Nonetheless, many observers have noted the more recent appearance of new phenomena that threaten to blur the line between politics and religion – particularly the increased implication of the Sufi brotherhoods in public life – which pose challenges for Senegal.
In 2000, Abdoulaye Wade used the Mouride network to help organize himself during the presidential elections. He was the first Senegalese president to openly associate himself with a Sufi Islamic brotherhood – the Mourides. Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of the brotherhood’s influence like other Senegalese politicians backed by other brotherhoods such as the Tidianes and Layennes. This is a common approach used by political figures in Senegal, who choose to capitalize and highlight the importance of all the Sufi brotherhoods. One could argue that it is highly efficient because although the caliph generals may not be directly implicated in political affairs, they have built their own political legitimacy since colonization.
Another prominent topic is the debate surrounding homosexuality in Senegal, which has always been an interesting point of debate, however very sensitive as well, especially from a religious point of view. With presidents like Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau having talked to president Macky Sall in the past, homosexuality is still not legalized in Senegal because it goes against the religious, cultural, and social norms of the country.
Submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, December 22, the bill amends paragraph 3 of article 319 of the penal code by punishing “a sentence of five to ten years imprisonment and a fine of 1 million CFA to 5 million FCFA 5 approximately 7,600 euros) without the possibility of granting extenuating circumstances, anyone who has been found guilty of acts against nature”.
On January 8th 2022, Macky Sall invited the collective for the preservation of values “And Samm Jikko Yi” composed of imams and religious figures, to discuss the state of affairs concerning the debate on passing a law of criminalizing homosexuality in Senegal. He did this because “if it were only a political issue, he wouldn’t be bothered but it has turned into a religious dilemma, concerning the religious figures in the country.”
The reason why the bill made such an impact is because it was misunderstood by the population because they didn’t understand why the government couldn’t come to a common agreement on whether or not we should criminalize homosexuality as it completely goes against our values. According to Macky Sall, Senegal has already dealt with the issue since 1960 under Senghor. The law has not been touched since then however, he does not plan on going so far as to criminalize the act because the current law already presents severe punishments on those who choose to engage in the act.
This shows the extent to which the Senegalese population have chosen a lifestyle that conforms the most with their moral, religious and historical convictions
If we look back at Senegal since 2020, there have been several attempts to disturb the public order, especially with the main opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, leader of the PASTEF party. Senegal has always been known for its political stability, never having dealt with any coups, war, or major civil protests. But in March 2021, the country dealt with one of the worst unrests in years, resulting in the death of 14 Senegalese citizens.
#FreeSenegal was top trending on Twitter and received a tremendous amount of attention in Senegal and the diaspora. On his way to the courthouse to respond to rape charges by a young lady working at a beauty salon, Ousmane Sonko was detained and arrested for disturbing the public order after hundreds of his supporters who followed him on his way, clashed with the police forces leading to an unauthorized protest. His arrest triggered the worst unrest seen in Senegal since a long time.
The country was in political, social, and economic distress: infrastructures were severely damaged, groups of young people were heavily fighting with police officers and authorities during the protest, the signal of two private television stations (SenTv and Walf channels) were suspended for 72 hours, even the Wi-Fi signals and WhatsApp faced some issues, and most significantly, the lives of 14 individuals were taken, some even innocent having nothing to do with the protests.
Even though the country was in political turmoil, the caliph generals have spoken on the situation, first by presenting their condolences to the families of the deceased, second by communicating on the impact of the situation voicing their disapproval on the violence and damage done by the younger generation in connection with the police officers, and finally by bringing everyone back into an agreement.
This shows the extent to which the Senegalese population have chosen a lifestyle that conforms the most with their moral, religious and historical convictions. Radical Islam will not find adequate room in Senegal, regardless of the alarm signals sent by the Senegalese government and the religious fanaticism of some religious guides. Moderate and maraboutic Islam continues to play its role of stabilization of society.
Crédit photo : Senego