Society and lifestyle
20 October 2021, Fadel Dia
My intention is obviously not to make fun of the religious fervor of the Senegalese people, which is strong and often sincere. Our country has centuries of Islamic tradition behind it and has given the Umma some of its greatest minds...
Ramadan is the month in Senegal with the most sugar, dates and ... decibels. The Senegalese are not content to fast, to go at mosques more assiduously than usual, and to sacrifice for forgiveness and good works; some also need to demonstrate their faith. With us, very often, meditation passes after the oratorical incantation, the practice is done in ostentation and to the sound of microphones.
Over the years, religion has fueled a huge industry. It has become, so to speak, by the means it mobilizes, the infrastructure that underlies it, the people it employs, the companies that depend on it, Senegal's number one heavy industry.
Religion feeds these long and perilous processions of cars which crisscross the country all year round, to the delight of carriers, with the highlights being the “Magal of Touba” and the “Gamou of Tivaouone.” It is this which justifies this raid of sheep which converge on our fairgrounds from the surrounding countries and whose prices sometimes soar to incredible levels. It is Religion that justifies this lucrative date trade that is offered even at the traffic lights. It is Religion who transformed certain markets of Dakar into hubs of products supposed to come from Mecca and which are in fact manufactured in Shanghai, Jakarta or Bangkok...
This prosperous industry therefore has its peaks and low water levels. The month of Ramadan is the blessed month of religious operators: thirty long days punctuated by the rite of “Suukaru-Koor,” (a somewhat mandatory gift during Ramadan) which has no more sugar than the name. It has become forms of sumptuous feasts, extraordinary offerings and expensive religious “conferences.” Like any industry, it has its business leaders, workers, and even moonlighters, unions and big bosses. Even if it is seasonal or intermittent, it is an industry which benefits from the tolerance (not to say the complicity) of the public authorities, employs an abundant workforce, requires a certain “expertise,” brews enormous figures of business and above all, paradoxically, makes profits.
The first to trade in religion are of course companies and factories specializing in products without which there is no good Ramadan: sugar (the importation of which has quadrupled!), Dates, milk, sausages, drinks of all kinds, pastry ... but also fabrics or luxury items. Most of these are parasitic companies that make no effort to locally produce the raw materials on which their activities are based or to develop a quality workforce. There are thus in Senegal - this is undoubtedly one of the signs of our underdevelopment - industries based exclusively on bagging and whose sole purpose is to put in packaging suitable for all budgets products imported from all horizons. They have in fact transposed into the modern world, the old customs and traditions of our markets where you can buy vegetables by the kilo and sell them in small piles.
The drifts and faults resulting from the eruption of the consumer society make the happiness of a few shrewd traders. The bowl of “Ngalakh” (Senegalese Food) quickly degenerated into a chicken feast, itself gradually recycled into groceries. Supermarkets and a few imaginative entrepreneurs have seized the leap, the explosion and especially the denaturing of the “Suukaru-Koor” to invent the "gift basket", which is not within the reach of all budgets but represents the top range of the new rites of Ramadan.
The media, especially television and radio stations, both public and private, as well as advertising agencies, are also fat on the backs of the faithful. In a matter few years, they created and propelled a new profession: that of preachers, generally chosen from outside the traditional staff of mosques and Daaras (traditional schools teaching Koran). These professional sermoners, easy to speak and elegantly worn, have become as popular as the stars of show business and are, in prime time, on television channels, between two pillows of secular advertising. Advertisers boast on huge panels, the quality of products that often compete only for the facade. For their part, the telephone operators distribute, for hard cash, prayers and indulgences. The embassies themselves take advantage of the opportunity to advertise on the cheap and Senegalese imams have compromised themselves by going to have the Iftar meal and pray at the ambassador of the country which occupies and takes hostage the third holy place of Islam.
Service providers, sellers or renters of tarpaulins, chairs, sound equipment, also play their part because without them, there are no religious “conferences.” Never as much as during the month of Ramadan is there so much debate about religion, and, at the end of this blessed month, the Senegalese should have stored up enough good words to resist all the diabolical temptations during the following eleven months.
Religious conferences are preferably held in the streets, sometimes in the very spaces where “Sabars” (cultural Senegalese dance) are held, but with more pomp. They have their favorite themes and one is unlikely to hear about the plight of the suburbs and the countryside, or of the fear and disarray of the populations under occupation; for the most part, self-righteousness and accounting of thanksgiving trumps spirituality. Religious conferences have their protocol, their choirs, their stars, their sponsors. They have, of course, their DJs, which are also the same ones that promote wrestling matches. They contribute to further disintegrate Senegalese society, according to brotherhoods, regions and ethnicities, neighborhoods and professions and especially gender. Women are the masterpieces and privileged spectators of these ceremonies, some of them gold-colored, and often in white or green uniforms. But, whatever the sponsor, the religious conferences all, or almost, place of choice for the money, that is invested by the organizers (not necessarily without ulterior motive), that is given by the guests and the sponsors, constrained or volunteers, the one distributed with full hands, according to a discretionary allocation key.
Difficult movement of people and vehicles, streets and even large arteries blocked, waste and noise: this is the hallmark of successful conferences. For the rest, God will recognize his own!
My intention is obviously not to make fun of the religious fervor of the Senegalese people, which is strong and often sincere. Our country has centuries of Islamic tradition behind it and has given the Umma some of its greatest minds. We can even say that our nation draws its strength from the firmness of its convictions and the religious peace it has preserved since independence.
My purpose is first to warn of the temple merchants. The phenomenon of overconsumption is not peculiar to Islam, and many Christians are also shocked by the distortion of the Christmas holidays, which has become a huge and irresistible trade fair. With us, to the waste is added the threat to our health: excess consumption of sugars and fat, poor quality of certain products whose traceability, and sometimes even the true nature, have not been established. It’s no wonder that chronic diseases are taking their toll on society.
My purpose is also to reject the social snobbery which often exploits and perverts our most generous traditions, in particular to stigmatize the dictatorship of certain forms of “Suukaru-Koor.” There are women today who go into debt to keep their rank, to win, not affection, but the praise of their in-laws. What used to be a mark of respect and solidarity has gradually turned into a guillotine that executes all those who refuse to overbid. The symbol has turned into a chore.
Finally, and this is certainly the most important, should we allow an à la carte religion to flourish that carries so many syncretism that it ends up pitting Muslims against each other rather than uniting them. Are our religious practices which tend to encourage ostentation and the cult of personality, often preferring clamor to interior prayer, respectful of the Islamic way? Are we fully in the spirit of a religion which preaches for the establishment of a "community of the happy medium" (Koran, II, 143), teaches not to "exaggerate in religion" (Koran IV, 171 ) because God wants "relief" for believers (Koran, IV, 28), who calls his faithful to "cling only to the (only) cable of God" (Koran, III, 103) and finally proclaims that God “does not impose on us except according to our ability” (Koran, VI, 152)?
In the meantime, a little less money in religion and a little more religion in money would not hurt us.
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