Islam in Senegal

Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal. Ninety-four percent of the country's population is estimated to be Muslim. [ [ Senegal] . "CIA World Factbook". January 10, 2005.] Most Muslims in Senegal are members of one of the Sufi brotherhoods. Islam has existed in Senegal for more than a millennium. The first ethnic groups to convert to Islam were the Toucouleur kingdoms during the 11th century CE, and by the beginning of the 20th century CE most of Senegal was Islamic.

The way Islam is practiced in Senegal is significantly different from most other Islamic countries. Islam in Senegal is partially derived from mystical Sufi traditions. In Senegal, Islamic practice takes the form of membership of religious brotherhoods that are dedicated to their marabouts (the founders or current spiritual leaders).


Islam may have entered the area of present day Senegal as early as the 11th century CE with the conversion of several of the Toucouleur kingdoms, although it only took hold with the conversion of the leader (Damel) of the kingdom of Cayor, Lat Dyor Diop around 1861 CE. He converted to Islam and established a union with other Wolof and Fulani states to resist the French colonization.

Instrumental in his conversion was the leader (Almamy) of the kingdom of Saloum, Maba Diakhou Bâ. As well as converting traditional states to Islam, Bâ's forces sought to abolish the traditional caste system of the Wolof and Serer aristocratic states. In unifying with other Muslim forces, the West African jihad states aimed to end the reign of small regional kingships, which kept the area in a constant state of war and the lower classes in slave conditions. The Toucouleur Empire of El Hadj Umar Tall in Mali, which rose at about the same time, had much the same goals, and Umar Tall himself was in contact with and recruited among Maba Diakhou Bâ's forces [Bradford G. Martin. "Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-Century Africa". Cambridge (2003), ISBN 0521534518 p.78] .

At the end of the 19th century CE, Senegalese Muslim brotherhoods such as the Tijani and Muridiyyah fought against French and British colonization. Eventually the resistance ended when prominent religious leaders like Malick Sy and Amadou Bamba decided to cooperate with the French in exchange for religious independence. The French colonists established a secular state and post-colonial Senegal has remained secular up to this day. In practice, however, the Muslim brotherhoods have substantial influence on politics in modern-day Senegal.

Schools of thought

Senegalese Muslims are overwhelmingly members of one of the Sufi brotherhoods. The two largest orders are the Tijaniyyah and the Muridiyyah, although the pan-Islamic Qadiriyyah and the smaller Layene sect are also represented in parts of the country. Individuals become a member of one these groups either through their parentage or by adherence to their preferred marabout.

The Tijani brotherhood originates in North Africa but is now more widespread in West Africa, particularly in Senegal, Mauritania and Mali. The Mouride brotherhood is based in Touba, a state within a state in which there is no governor, no administration, and no police force. The "de facto" leader of the city is the Grand Marabout of the Mouride brotherhood, Serigne Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Mbacke. Veiling is not required, and criminal activity is rare. Alcohol, cigarettes, loud music, and politics are banned Fact|date=June 2007.

Present day


The members of the Muslim brotherhoods vow obedience to their marabout, a personal spiritual leader and the inheritor of the "barakah" (divine grace) of the brotherhood's founder. The founders of each of the brotherhoods are considered "mujaddid" (renewers) of Islam by their followers, citing a hadith that implies God will send renewers of the faith every hundred years. The marabouts in Senegal are organized in elaborate hierarchies, with the highest marabouts elevated to the status of "de facto" rulers.

Marabouts are believed to have the power to heal illness and grant spiritual salvation to their followers. Most marabouts have inherited their position from their fathers. Marabouts are expected to teach and counsel their followers, as well as organize their work. The marabout, a scholar of the Qur'an, presides at various ceremonies, makes amulets for good luck, and in some cases actively guides the life of the follower. Marabouts rely on donations to live and often there is an obligation to support the marabout that has accumulated over generations within a family.


After the conversion of Lat Dyor Diop many began writing on Islam in both Wolof and Arabic. The tagg, or ode song in Wolof, was reused in an Islamic context—an important integration of pre-Islamic style into the new Muslim paradigm.ref|Mbye1


The Sufi brotherhoods of Senegal have not been historically destabilizing to the secular government of Senegal. Some fear that this trend is changing since Islam has become more politicized in recent time. Indicators, including as small Wahabi population, suggest it may become the first Black African Islamic state but stresses that it does not imply an extremist one.ref|Ousman1

See also

* Senegal
* Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal
* Mouride
* Tijani
* Sufism
* Islam in Africa


# Mbye, 447-448
# Ousman, 80-82


* Abdelkérim Ousman, " [,1,4; The Potential of Islamist Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa] ", International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Volume 18, Issue 1 - 2, Dec 2004, pp. 65

* Mbye B. Cham, " [ Islam in Senegalese Literature and Film] ", Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 55, No. 4, Popular Islam, 1985 pp. 447-464.
* [ Senegal] . "CIA World Factbook". January 10, 2005.

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