Religious Tolerance – Burkina Faso; an Example for the World
There is saying that in Burkina Faso, there are 50% Muslims, 50% Christians, and 100% Animists. What this basically means is that regardless of your current faith, everyone pays homage and respects the ancestral spiritual traditions of animism. To not believe in God, is an anomaly, one that will conjure up mixed reactions from a number of people.
There are mosques and churches scattered prominently all over the city, and there are some in the most inconspicuous places. There is a grand/central mosque, located in the city centre, which is an establishment that receives a lot of the local people, particularly for the main prayer on the Friday. The central church, which is a catholic church, is located approximately 5 minutes from the central Mosque, and receives equal attention on their days of worship.There is a beauty that the world could learn from in the way that people of different faiths come together on the principles of humanity and are tolerant, as well as respectful of one another. On special occasions or festivities, the members of the different faith groups will come together to celebrate. If it is Eid - the Muslim festival, the festivities are held with the priests, reverends and congregation of the churches. If it is Christmas or Easter, equally, the Imams and Muslims will celebrate alongside the Christians. Inter-religious marriages or unions are not forbidden, quite the opposite, it is very much the norm and happens on many occasions. I met a Muslim man who told me that he married his wife, who is Christian, and that he understands her faith is important to her, so he supports her in this. He will take her to prayer meetings and worships, and join in with her during the large festivities. I found this quite endearing.
Furthermore, you will see on many occasions, Muslims lined up in various locations during prayer times about to start a prayer. Sometimes they are stood adjacent to a Church, yet still there is no hostility, unlike that which I have witnessed in my hometown of London. You’ll also see, in random locations, an individual about to prostrate in prayer. The most captivating memory I have of this example was when I saw a young Muslim woman prayer alongside the motorway during the hustle and bustle of the evening rush hour traffic. In that sea of tumult and turmoil, she had found her island of peace.
The level of religious tolerance and inter-religious unity, is the highest I have witnessed anywhere in the world. Though this example has gone oblivious to the world, it is really one that the world could learn from.
It is often the case, particularly in the west – at least through my personal experience – that those of different religious backgrounds are often in competition regarding whose path or teaching is the “truth” and who are the “chosen” children of God. This is not the case in Burkina Faso, not even in the slightest. In my humble opinion, I think this is down to the homage and reverence those of all faiths pay to the animist tradition (in keeping with the earlier saying mentioned at the start of this piece), because one of the fundamental beliefs of the animist tradition is that of the harmony of nature and of unity all living things, including human beings. The animist tradition, nonetheless, is widely misunderstood, particularly amongst the younger generation, who hold the misconception that animists do not believe in God and practice witchcraft, which is absolutely not the case, in fact, it is quite the contrary. One must, however, understand how this misconception was formed, and history reveals this was as a result of the invasion that came with the religious conquests included in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the trans-Saharan slave trade, which did in fact convert thousands if not millions into Islam or Christianity, all the while demonising the earliest spiritualist animist traditions. The consequence of this is that as generations passed, the sacred knowledge became diluted and the fear and demonisation become more potent, which completely transformed the conception regarding the animist or spiritualist tradition, and made it seem as though animism is a practise of witchcraft or sorcery.
I will write in more detail regarding animism and traditional Afrikan spirituality, in part two of this blog piece. As well as looking at the Afrikan origins and influence of religion.