Is Sufism the Better Version of Islam

How stable is Senegal's moderate Islam?

The Senegalese police checked more than 900 people last weekend. The use was part of a counterstrike against the threat of terrorism, the authorities said. The security forces certainly reacted to the Islamist terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkinabe, in mid-January. Stricter safety rules now apply across the region. Since October 2015, security forces have arrested around 30 imams and preachers in Senegal. The Senegalese police are currently training more than 1000 new employees - also for anti-terrorism operations. Senegal was seen as one of the model countries for a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Is everything changing now? Just a few days ago, the magazine Jeune Afrique reported on a number of young Senegalese who are fighting for IS in Libya.

Bakary Sambe from Gaston Berger University in Saint Louis, Senegal, has long perceived his homeland as an exception in the region: "Senegal has been an island of stability in recent years," he says. An island of stability in an ocean of uncertainty that West Africa has become. "This situation is due to the influence of the Sufi brotherhoods, which have managed to propagate and maintain a peaceful Islam," explains the political scientist. But everything is different now, he says. "I believe the recent attacks in Ouagadougou heralded the end of the exceptions in West Africa."

Dakar, Senegal: Large-scale police controls

Dissatisfied intellectuals

Experts say that extremist currents have existed in Senegal since the 1950s. Influenced by Saudi Arabia, new, strict orientations emerged. While the Wahhabis and Salafists lived peacefully with the traditional Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal in the past, fear of radicalization is now increasing.

Ute Boncandé is a research assistant at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Dakar

Ute Gierczynski-Bocandé from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Dakar observes the growing gap between rich and poor. At the same time, the education system is deteriorating. More and more young Senegalese turned to Koran schools or the Arab university. The result: miserable chances on the job market, where knowledge of French is usually a prerequisite.

"That creates dissatisfaction not only among the poor, but also among the intellectuals, and that is dangerous," says Gierczynski-Bocandé. For some years there has been an increase in young people who do not want to fit into the traditional brotherhoods. Instead, they were attracted to Islamists, who also offer them a social network.

Problem area Pikine

Illiteracy, floods, overpopulation - this is how Daouda Gueye describes the problems in the suburb of Pikine. More than two million people live here close together at the gates of the capital Dakar. Gueye runs Radio Oxyjeunes, a station that mainly targets the young people in this neighborhood. He observes a religious change among the young people here: "In Senegal, Sufism and tolerant Islam still prevail, but today we can see that here in Pikine young people are attracted to the doctrine of the Salafists."

Students of a Koran school

Radio Oxyjeunes is therefore trying to put pressure on the government to invest in schools in Pikine. Gueye sees education as the key against Islamism. But he is not afraid of terror: there is no religious intolerance in Senegal. "Our Salafists are level-headed and non-violent. The proof: So far there has been no assassination attempt in Senegal!"

Political scientist Bakary Sambe is more skeptical. He sees an urgent need for action to fight terrorism in Senegal: "Today we need real de-radicalization through prevention," he says. At the same time, however, the country must also fight the main causes of terror: poor governance and social injustice.