SHAFAQNA – Sheikh Sherif Ibrahim Mballo is Secretary General of the League of AhlulBayt and the founder of Al-e Yasin Association in the Senegalese capital Dakar. In an exclusive interview with Shafaqna he discussed various topics related to Islam and the Shia Islam in the West African country. Imam Sherif Mballo stresses on the importance of unity among Muslims and says followers of the Shiism and Sufism are living in coexistence with each other. This is part 2 of his interview.
Shafaqna- Are women involved in Senegal’s community?
Imam Sherif Mballo- Yes (they are). We must involve women in social activities more (than before) because they are the guardians of culture, society and religion. Women transfer values; they are always in contact with children who make the future of humanity. Women give warmth and tone to cultural and religious activities and to the world. Women play the leading role because they are smarter and generally more engaged than men are.
Shafaqna- How about the youngsters?
Imam Sherif Mballo- Young people account almost 90 percent of our members; they guarantee the future of our community. Young people and women carry the message of Islam. Most of them are intellectuals and more open to the message than ordinary people are.
Shafaqna- What other activities do you have?
Imam Sherif Mballo- I am also Secretary General of the Senegalese Campaign for the Defense of [Jerusalem] al-Quds and Palestine. Our movement has been organizing International al-Quds Day in Senegal for more than 25 years with the attendance of (foreign) ambassadors and diplomats. I must assert that if Shiism wants to be accepted and viable in Africa and Senegal in particular, it must keep its unique characters. Therefore, we bring together intellectuals, artists, cultural and literature activists to constantly reflect the forms and colors familiar to the African continent. What artistic or aesthetic forms should we have to support our culture and Islamic civilization at the same time? to pass ideas and make it accept? What are the anthropological, ethnological or ethnographic data that can contribute to this end? Let me take an example: there is rhythm. An African individual wants rhythm, which moves the mind and body. Apart from education, there is also folklore. In the other word, we must take into consideration our own cultural norms.
Shafaqna- How is the relationship between the Shias and other Islamic sects?
Imam Sherif Mballo- There is ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity in Senegal that is a source of wealth and fulfillment of all ethnicities, clans and religious communities. Without exception, it exists between Muslims, Christians and animists. We do not have dialog between followers of different communities we only boost cordial relations and friendship among various communities, which is by the way difficult to find anywhere else. I assume we should not use the word dialog between Senegalese Muslims and Christians because there has never been a conflict between the two communities. Dialog comes at the time of conflict. In Senegal, we need to cultivate the concept of conviviality, harmony and family ties. The advocates of Islam call for peace and stability. When one submits himself/herself to the teachings of Islam, he/she must constantly seek peace, armistice, submission, stability.
It is crucial to exchange experiences and knowledge on many things. This brings peace and develops a country or community but as long as there is no exchange, there is no peace or stability, nor development. True development is exchange because it perpetuates development on scientific, philosophical, religious, moral and artistic levels. Dialog is a political term but as far as the economic sphere and the commercial field are concerned, it is better to use “exchange rather than dialog”.
I told myself that we have our particular African individual and as a Senegalese, I cannot behave culturally like a Shia in Iran, Lebanon or Iraq. We have to adjust our Shiism to our black African identity as Iranians and Iraqis did it according to their Iranian or Arab cultures. The power of Shiism is its universal message that can be accepted by all human cultures and universal civilizations. In essence, the Shias fully participate alongside their brothers and sisters of other Islamic sects in religious-national ceremonies, Friday prayers and pilgrimages. We Shias have no problem with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Shafaqna- How well the Shias are informed of Islamic teachings and what Shia texts are needed?
Imam Sherif Mballo- The Shia community is of the Senegalese population, more than half of them are educated. Most discovered and embraced Shiism through reading, talk shows, radio and television shows, etc. The best way to increase the number of Shia followers is through exchange of knowledge. There are two main components of biological growth and education. Above all, the exchange of knowledge is our goal.
Regarding the first part, let me tell you an example: Before, I did not have a family, but now I have small children and a wife. They are all Shia.
The second part is to convey the message of Islam through education, culture and media. By education, I mean through schooling because creating a generation, shaping it, as you want is through education that is the basis of everything. Cultural, social and religious values are conveyed through education. In Senegal, we have three types of schools with different philosophical, religious and political views: madrasa (Hawaza), the Franco-Arab intermediate school and the French colonial schools, through these three types the message is spread.
The Shia Community also has a number of schools, centers and mosques throughout the country. However, a great need is felt at this level because these schools and centers do not have the standard levels required to house students. They are not accessible in poor states and that requires many efforts on the part of the Shias who are well off to finance the construction and expansion of schools, educational facilities and health centers.
To be continued…
This text originally published by Shafaqna French, translated by Shafaqna English.
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