DAKAR In an upmarket suburb of Senegal’s seaside funds, a branch of Iran’s Al-Mustafa University teaches Senegalese students Shi’ite Muslim theology, among the other topics. The branch director is Iranian and a portrait of Iranian Supreme Chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hangs on his place of work wall.
The teaching contains Iranian society and historical past, Islamic science and Iran’s mother tongue, Farsi students acquire free food and fiscal help. The college is a Shi’ite outpost in a region in which Sufism, a far more peaceful, mystical and apolitical form of Sunni Islam, is the norm.
Two miles absent, the Islamic Preaching Association for Youth (APIJ) teaches the strand of Islam that predominates in Iran’s great religious, political and armed forces rival, Saudi Arabia.
The APIJ funnels funds from donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai and Kuwait to mosques operate by Salafists – conservative Sunni Muslims who are sworn enemies of Iran. The APIJ’s cabinets are stacked with Salafist theology texts adorned with gold-leaf Arabic inscriptions – texts its imams use to preach in some two hundred mosques throughout Senegal.
The two institutions embody a contest for affect in Senegal, and far more greatly in Africa, amongst Iran-backed Shi’ites and Saudi-funded Sunnis. It is really one particular strand of a broad power struggle in which each side is investing thousands and thousands of dollars to earn converts. At stake is huge political affect, on a source-loaded continent that has generally served as the theater for rivalries amongst environment powers.
Interviews with academics and converts on equally sides drop mild on the depth of the divide and the techniques equally sides attempt to gain an edge.
The Iranian director of Dakar’s branch of Al-Mustafa can make no key of his worries more than his Saudi rivals. “The Salafists came to Africa to ruin … Islam,” stated Chiekh Abbas Motaghedi in February.
Up the street, in the APIJ creating, the Salafists present equal enthusiasm.
“We simply cannot acknowledge the Iranian affect in Senegal, and we’ll do every little thing to struggle it,” stated Chiekh Ibrahima Niang, the imam, sitting legs crossed in a silky white gown. “We have to have to present the environment that Shi’ism is improper.”
But for Senegal, both affect would be a disruption. It is really a modern society that has always leaned in direction of political moderation, thanks mostly to a tradition of tolerance espoused by its Sufi orders or “brotherhoods.”
“The place the brotherhoods are weak, as in jap Senegal, is in which the danger of radicalisation is greatest,” stated Bakary Sambe, director of the Dakar-primarily based Timbuktu Institute and a coordinator for the Observatory on Spiritual Radicalism and Conflicts in Africa.
Iran has generally been a destabilizing affect: In 2010, an Iranian arms shipment was intercepted in the Nigerian port of Lagos which Senegal suspected ended up destined for rebels in its southern Casamance region. Dakar briefly slice ties with Tehran more than it.
Salafism is the far more troubling strand, Sufis say: It is mostly free of political interference, but has shared trigger with violence that Senegal has so considerably escaped.
“Salafists in Senegal are cousins of those generating jihad in Mali,” Ahmed Khalifa Niasse, son of a deceased potent Sufi Imam and vocal critic of Gulf Arab religious affect, told Reuters at his palace in Dakar.
“They see themselves as troopers of God purifying Islam.”
Salafists vehemently deny that website link. “Salafism has practically nothing to do with terrorism,” suggests Niang. “Certainly, there are folks who want to use power to impose the Salafist way, but we are incredibly considerably against them. We are against violence.”
Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei supervises the actions of Al-Mustafa, which is primarily based in the Iranian city of Qom and has branches in fifty nations. Countless numbers of students from throughout Africa acquire sufficient Iranian cash to permit them and their people to check out Qom although finishing their reports, stated the son of a cleric primarily based there who declined to be named for the reason that of the sensitivity of the issue.
Al-Mustafa in Dakar gets a hundred and fifty students a year and offers them free tuition, a stipend and breakfast, its director of reports Chiekh Adrame Wane told Reuters. Graduates repay the generosity by marketing Iran on the internet or in guides, stated a professor primarily based in Qom. In nations like Somalia, Iran pays for weddings and residence home furniture, like a Television set and a fridge, if equally partners are Shi’ite or newly converted to Shi’ism.
Al-Mustafa is now Iran’s principal device for marketing Shi’ism, stated the professor, who also declined to be named. Its aim is “to train folks to be faithful to the Islamic Republic and the Supreme Chief.”
A leading formal at Al-Mustafa in Qom, also declining to be named, gave a diverse check out. “Our aim is purely cultural and instructional. We want to encourage higher education in Africa,” he stated.
“Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and lots of other nations have designed their religious universities in Africa. Alongside them, there are lots of American and British Christian universities, and even Hindu universities. So there is a rivalry in Africa and if we do not create our existence there, we would tumble powering.”
Two senior Al-Mustafa officials stated students and academics at Al-Mustafa are routinely vetted by the Ministry of Intelligence or the potent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Reuters was unable to independently validate this.
Motaghedi, the Al-Mustafa director in Dakar, stated the college had no involvement with the intelligence services or Iranian politics. “We’re a private college … Our only mission is to educate, practically nothing else,” he stated, adding that Khameni was just a patron and adopting Shi’ism was not a requirement for review.
In the 2016 Iranian spending budget, Al-Mustafa obtained two,390 billion rials ($seventy four million). But the college gets far more funding from the place of work of the Supreme Chief and other conglomerates underneath his command, one particular formal stated. Neither Motaghedi nor Wane would comment on fiscal flows to the Dakar branch.
“Very simple Concept”
At the APIJ in Dakar, Imam Niang extolled the virtues of Sunni Islam. “Salafism … has a very simple concept,” he stated as he scanned an ornate Koran through looking at glasses. “To be a excellent Muslim, you must observe the techniques of the Prophet Mohammed.”
Niang went to Koranic universities from age six until finally 27 and afterwards researched in Saudi Arabia. Instantly just after he returned in 1989, he and fellow conservatives set up the APIJ in Senegal. Considering the fact that then, hundreds of modest mint-eco-friendly and sky-blue mosques financed by the APIJ have sprung up in suburbs of Dakar and fishing villages throughout the region.
A achievements for the Salafists was when they gradually took more than worship at the principal mosque at Dakar’s Anta Diop University in the nineties.
Imam Ismaila Ndiaye, coodinator of Senegal’s Salafist actions and preacher at the college, stated his strand of Sunni Islam presented an choice to Sufism, asserting that Senegal’s secular condition and liberal values ended up imposed on it by French colonizers. But he stated Salafist mosques ended up not turning Senegalese youth in direction of jihad.
“If the Catholics can finance assignments in Senegal aimed at evangelizing at folks, then why should not Saudi Arabia do the same point?” he stated.
He stated Gulf businessmen had dedicated only compact sums to Sunni actions in Senegal – $20 million in complete more than a number of decades – but a continual stream of cash proceeds to what he discovered as a few principal pillars of Salafism: the APIJ, al Falah, which was founded in 1975, and a motion on outskirts of Dakar led by firebrand cleric Ahmed Lo, who spent seventeen a long time in Saudi Arabia.
“THE Ideal Path”
Judging who is winning the contest for affect is tough. Imam Sherif Mballo, secretary standard of the League of AhlulBayt, a pan-African Shi’ite motion founded last August, suggests there are amongst thirty,000 and fifty,000 Shi’ites in Senegal, in which the inhabitants is 15 million.
Mballo converted to Shi’ism just after viewing the Iranian revolution on Television set, then worked with the Iranian embassy for twenty five a long time, generating a number of visits to Iran. But when it came to developing his individual professional-Iran Shi’ite group, just after an original injection from an Iranian businessman – he declined to say how considerably – he stated he obtained practically nothing far more.
There are no trusted figures on the numbers of Salafists in Senegal, stated the Timbuktu Institute’s Sambe. Having said that, he stated Salafists regulate a number of vastly well known mosques.
Peter Pham, Africa director of the Atlantic Council in Washington, stated traditional Senegalese Sufi brotherhoods have far more in popular with the conservative Sunni strand common in Saudi Arabia than they do with Shi’ites, for the reason that Sufism is now element of the Sunni faith.
Some Senegalese come across the Sufi traditions of their ancestors old hat and stifling. The possibility to undertake other versions of Islam is liberating.
Maths trainer Souleymane Sall, 38, converted to Salafism although at university. He liked the pure concentration on the prophet’s acts, and he was weary with what he saw as the absence of intellectual rigour in the Sufi faith he grew up with.
But just after college, a close friend lent him a reserve on Shi’ism and, just after undertaking far more analysis, he begun to suspect a good deal of terrible factors the Salafists ended up saying about it ended up untrue.
“Ultimately, I concluded that Shi’ism was the right route for me,” he told Reuters. “At least for the minute.”
(Cocks reported from Dakar, Sharafedin from Dubai Edited by Sara Ledwith and Richard Woods)