In Conflict-Torn Africa, Senegal Shows A Way To Religious Harmony

Dec 28, 2013
Originally published on December 28, 2013 9:35 am
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Tension and deadly conflict between Muslims and Christians in parts of Africa continue to make the headlines as 2013 ends. Hundreds of people have been killed in religious clashes in the Central African Republic and in Nigeria. But as NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Dakar, there are also examples of coexistence and religious harmony on the continent. Take, for instance, Senegal.


OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The melodious voice of Saida Binta Thiam rises and falls as she delights the audience at the Grand Theatre in Dakar. The young religious singer is Muslim. She's sharing the stage with the choir from the Roman Catholic parish of St. Theresa's Grand Dakar for the recital they're calling "The Dialogue of Religions."


QUIST-ARCTON: Senegal is a majority Muslim country, but the Senegalese observe all Christian holy days as well as Islamic holy dates on the calendar in a show of solidarity, tolerance and togetherness. Audience member, Amelie Regine Tendeng Diatta says she's overcome by the symbolism of the event.

AMELIE REGINE TENDENG DIATTA: Senegalese people are all the same. Yes, we are all one. And we can see in one family, you can have Muslims and Christians in the same family.

QUIST-ARCTON: While the Senegalese are enjoying an evening of inter-religious musical harmony in Dakar, civilians from both Muslim and Christian communities are dying in the Central African Republic, caught in the crossfire between rival militias. One faction supports the former rebel Muslim-led government, the other says it's protecting the beleaguered country's Christians.

In Senegal, the leader of St. Theresa's choir, Edouard Diegane Sene has this message for the warring factions: Dialogue, peace and true leadership.

EDOUARD DIEGANE SENE: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Sene explains that the Senegalese talk through their problems. He says Senegal's example of religious harmony is one that African countries in conflict, such as Nigeria and CAR, can learn from.

SAIDA BINTA THIAM: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Saida Binta Thiam, the Muslim religious singer speaking in a local language Wolof. She says she and the Christian choir are showing Africa and the world that solidarity and respect for others are very much a part of Senegalese life. And she hopes that message of unity will spread. Denwenati, say the Senegalese performers, with best wishes for a peaceful and harmonious new year. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.


(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.