The church tower of Fadiouth
The minaret of the great mosque of Dakar
Religion is omnipresent in Senegal and plays an important role in people’s lives. 95% of the people are Muslim, 4% Christian and 1% of traditional beliefs (animists). However, elements from these traditional notions such as ancestor worship and magical practices and rites are deeply rooted to this day and practiced across religions.
The Senegalese themselves like to spread the bon mot that there are 95% Muslims, 5% Christians, but 100% animists in Senegal, one of 16 countries located in Western Africa according to iamhigher.
A specialty of Islam in Senegal is that it is shaped by Sufi brotherhoods. Almost every believer belongs to a brotherhood. The most important are the Tijanes, the Mourids, the Kahdriya, the Layennes and the Niassins.
Religious chants of the Mourides at night
Religious motifs are omnipresent in the streets
One of the world’s largest pilgrimage festivals with several million visitors is the Grand Magal in Touba in honor of the founder of the Brotherhood of the Mourids, Cheikh Amadou Bamba. The brotherhoods form parallel structures of great economic and political power. This goes so far that every new head of government first pays his respects to the large religious families. In the past, the religious leaders usually made an election recommendation before the elections and thus de facto decided the elections. Meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer of these direct “ndigëls”, but more and more marabouts who are directly involved in politics or actively intervene in politics. For example, that the influential marabouts mouridischen Modou Kara Mbacké, founder of Parti de la Vérité de Développement, in common usage but only Parti de la Vérité de DCalled ieu, i.e. the party of divine truth – fanatically revered by its mostly young followers, feared by many others for its anti-democratic statements and paramilitary protection troops.
The power of the murids (26:10 min.) – audio contribution on the importance of the Senegalese brotherhood
The marabouts play an eminently important role in Senegalese society, be it as important religious leaders who interpret and explain the Koran, be it the “little marabout” around the corner who makes amulets and performs incantations and magical rites.
Fresco by Cheikh Amadou Bamba
What distinguishes Islam and Christianity in Senegal is their peaceful coexistence. Christians and Muslims live in peaceful neighborhoods, visit and give gifts to each other on the respective holidays (both Muslim as well as Christian celebrations are public holidays) and marriages across denominational borders are not uncommon, so that in almost all families there are also members of the other denomination. Of course, with such an overwhelming majority like the Muslims, this does not work entirely without subliminal conflicts and the Christians often complain of a certain amount of discrimination and already have numerically smaller groups. Unfortunately, ex-President Wade, for example in December 2009, fueled tensions through thoughtless remarks. Nevertheless, the interreligious togetherness in Senegal is exemplary.
Christians and Muslims are buried together in Fadiouth Cemetery
The US State Department’s report on international religious freedom gives Senegal an impeccable testimony. The secularity of the state and the free right to practice religion are enshrined in the constitution.
Health station Dakar
The health care of the population is very poor, especially outside the capital Dakar the health care is completely inadequate. There is a strong urban-rural divide and around three quarters of doctors practice in the capital Dakar. There are hardly any hospital beds in rural areas.
The low life expectancy, the high maternal mortality rate for births (315 deaths out of 100,000 births, 2015) and the high infant mortality rate reflect these deficits, as well as the inadequate access of the population to clean drinking water (78.5%, 2015) and to a correct one Plumbing. State vaccination campaigns are showing the first results and in 2012 the vaccination rate among children for common infectious diseases averaged 80%. In 2004 and 2005, nationwide cholera epidemics increased. Malaria is widespread throughout the country all year round, although state campaigns to use impregnated mosquito nets and other preventive measures have resulted in a drastic decline in the prevalence of malaria caused. The main causes of child mortality are diarrheal diseases and malaria, diseases that could easily be limited with better prevention and better education of the population. In 2015, Senegal spent almost 4% of its gross domestic product on the health system.
Senegal is trying to get the most dangerous diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis under control with national control programs.
So-called civilization diseases are on the rise. Today, cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Senegal.
The HIV prevalence rate is low for an African country and was 0.4% for adults between the ages of 15 and 49 in 2019, which is partly due to the early and careful introduction of a national AIDS control program in the mid-1980’s. In addition, prostitution is allowed in Senegal and sex workers have regular health checks. Nevertheless, the infection rate is increasing, especially among them, and now varies between 11 and 30% within this risk group. AIDS sufferers complain of social marginalization.
At the end of August 2014, the first case of the Ebola epidemic, which was rampant in West Africa, was confirmed in Senegal, but it was successfully isolated. The Senegalese Ministry of Health was able to prevent the disease from spreading through a national action plan.
In addition to western conventional medicine, traditional medicine is widely used and is used by large sections of the population. There are also efforts to standardize traditional medicine and improve its quality.