The Great Debate UK
Senegal has a reputation for harmony between its Muslim majority (about 90%) and Christian minority (about 6%). President Abdoulaye Wade ranks as a Muslim champion of dialogue with Christians and even with Jews. So it came as a surprise over the holiday period that the 83-year-old leader provoked separate protests by imams and Catholics, including the country's cardinal. Even stranger, the dispute was sparked by a huge Stalinist-style statue that North Korean workers are constructing on a hill overlooking the capital Dakar.
Wade stirred up protests in recent months from imams who say the project smacks of idolatry and its celebration of a near-naked man and woman offends Muslim modesty. He compounded the problem by announcing that he, as the memorial's designer, would personally take 35% of its expected tourism receipts. When the imams' campaign spread with anti-memorial speeches in the mosques, Wade rejected their suggestion the statue was somehow pagan. "There are worse things that happen in churches," he told a meeting of teachers on Dec. 28. "They pray to Jesus in churches and he's not a god. Everybody knows this, but nobody has ever said we have to knock down the churches. Nobody has ever objected or cared what the people do there."
At a meeting in the Catholic cathedral in Dakar on Dec. 30, Cardinal Theodore Adrien Sarr responded firmly: "We were shaken and humiliated by the comparison the head of state made between the monument to African renaissance and the representations found in our churches. It is scandalous and unacceptable that the divinity of Jesus is jeered and questioned by the highest authority of state." At the same time, he urged Catholics to stay calm and thanked Muslims who had criticised Wade's comments. Despite that, several hundred Catholics began a protest outside the cathedral, located close to the presidential palace, and security forces quickly intervened to break it up.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors' alone. Sarah Sayeed is Program Associate and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.
By Sarah Sayeed and Matthew Weiner
A Canadian judge recently ruled that a Toronto Muslim woman must take off her face veil while giving testimony in a sexual assault trial. This tension between public space and private religion comes up repeatedly in western urban centers where Muslim women increasingly occupy the pubic square. This time it happened in Toronto, but the issue arises regularly in western countries in the schools, workplaces and courtrooms that Muslims increasingly share with the majority population. At stake is whether a Muslim woman's choice to dress in accordance with her religious beliefs infringes upon "our way of life."