Musings on Islam

It is nine thirty on thursday evening and someone has just installed a new loudspeaker in Sebikotane, right above my bedroom. And currently blaring from this speaker, for the past half hour or so, is what seems to be a never ending chant of verses from the Qur’an. Every once in a while the voices will abruptly cease, and for a minute or so I’ll hear only the distant chatter of all the other loudspeakers in Sebikotane, but then it’ll start up again on a fresh verse. Usually I really don’t mind all the loudspeakers and the singing, and sometimes even find it soothing, but there is something about this new one (maybe the fact that it was installed, uh, right above my room) that makes this singer sound particularly off-key, and the accompanying mush of voices particularly static, and the screeches particularly sharp. I think tonight’s broadcasting must have somthing to do with the fact that tomorrow is Friday, the day of the week when all the men go to the mosque, and everyone dresses in their nicer boubous, but most evenings of the week are rarely without some sort of background narration. And if all the loudspeakers are taking a break, my neighbor, an arabic teacher who rents the room next to mine, never neglects to fill the silence with verses recorded on his cellphone, which he listens to while he prepares his academic charts, sitting at the wooden table where I am now, wearing his funny little winter hat with the pom-pom.

Anyways, I sat down this evening to write a blog post about more practical things (such as my apprenticeship, and don’t worry its on its way) but then the racket started and I felt the moment was only just right for writing a a little bit about our discussions of this past weekend, on Islam. This past weekend, we GCY fellows were in Dakar for our second monthly meeting. As is typical for our monthly meetings we spent a good portion of the time seated around table in Rachel’s living room either talking or eating – assuaging our cravings for good food, english conversation, and believe it or not, academic activity. Away from school for over seven months by now, you’d think we’d been starved for knowledge or something – the way we gulped down the information that Rachel emitted so profusely, diving into the good old tasks of “notetaking” and reading fine print. “Intellectual Stimuli” is what Matt calls it.

The topic of interest for this monthly meeting was Islam, an extremely relevent topic here in Senegal, and one that I knew surprisingly very little about considering I am exposed to concrete manifestations of this religion every hour of every day here in Senegal (including when I’m lying in my bed at ten o’clock in evening, trying to get some sleep, and it feels like someone is standing right behind me singing into a microphone). If anything, the information that I have gathered from our discussions this weekend, on the history, the structure, and the theory of Islam, has reinforced my understanding of how incredibly powerful religious figures and beliefs are in Senegalese society. I’ve always kind of thought of religion as something supplementary to one’s life, just a part of the whole, and its fascinating to start to think of religion as the basis for one’s life. Fascinating to think about the ability of human beings to cultivate and spread faith, and the depth of this faith.

Last night I left the school a little later than usual, having stayed to write this blog post. It was almost seven oclock and the sun was setting and so, sure enough, the call to prayer rang out just as I exited to school gates: timis. The path leading from l’ecole sebiroute to my house was darkening and nearly deserted, and as I walked home, feeling a little uneasy and perhaps guitly, to be out at this sacred hour, it suddenly occurred to me how incredible it is to imagine just how many people in Senegal, and in West Africa, were standing at the borders of their prayer mats at that very moment. And how millions of others had done the same only hours before, assembling like fields of dominos facing Mecca, in the shadow left by the setting sun. I thought about the few times back in the US when somehow a national “moment of silence” would be organized, to acknowledge a tragedy involving many deaths, and how significant those few moments were for us. September eleventh, for example. And here that sort of thing happens every day. Every day, five times a day, the Muslims of Senegal are united in their thoughts, in silent contemplation of God. I thought about faith and doubt, about order and society, solidarity and unity. I thought about how big the world is, and how distant the sun…

And if religious ideas and faith can cross borders, can span continents and can connect people of different ethnicities, nationalities and races, why not others?