In the US talk of Islam and Muslims in general often comes alongside talk of war and violence. At home the news talks about Muslims as terrorists and makes it seem as if the majority of them are extreme jihadists. Here in Senegal I have discovered a new, very peaceful version of Islam that vastly differs from the picture of Islam that so often gets painted by the American media and government.
In Senegal, 95% of the country is Muslim and 5% are Christian and and other Animist religions. Although the Muslims in the country make a clear majority, Senegal is known for its religious peace. In fact, Senegal’s first president, Senghor, was a Catholic man.
Both my host families in Dakar and Thilene are devout Muslims. When they asked me what religion I was, I told them I was Christian – hoping in my head that no awkwardness would ensue. In both places I found total acceptance. Members of both my families have not only shown acceptance, but have also taken an interest in learning more about my religion. In the past three weeks I have carried out various conservations comparing my religion to theirs.
During fall training at Stanford, we learned about the danger of listening to a single story. In the US the single story about Islam is one that ties it to violence and anti-American sentiments, yet here I have discovered another story; one that makes me see Islam as a religion not so different from my own.