17 August 2012

Senegal: Never Ending Prayers Drive Worshippers Out of Mosques

Mosques in Senegal, which were full right at the beginning of this year's Ramadan, lost many of their worshippers during the month-long fast. The turnout was particularly low at night, during the nafilah (additional prayers). Many had had enough of the imams' long sermons.

"I prefer to pray at home," says Papis Sakho, the head of a family in the Medina neighbourhood of Dakar. "Since last week that evening prayers became longer." He says he doesn't know to which school within Islam the long-winded speakers belong. "And I have other obligations for my family's survival," he says.

Coumba Niang, a 22-year-old woman, also finds it hard to cope with the seemingly endless sermons: "I can no longer attend prayers lasting for 50 to 70 minutes. I have a baby at home who needs to be breastfed," she says.

Hamidou Dialla, a graduating student, says he doesn't understand the imams: "Nothing prevents them from reading short verses." According to him, they simply want to show that they master the Qur'an.

Imams see it differently

But Imam Elhadji Mansour N'Diaye doesn't agree. "The Holy Qur'an says long verses should be used for the happiness of the faithful. And when we are getting closer to the end of the blessed month of Ramadan, we should use them."

He says that Ramadan is a matter of belief and a great sacrifice that increases the hope of paradise. But it is difficult to convince 'seasonal Muslims' - who only visit the mosque during the Ramadan - of the benefits of the never ending prayers. "It is very difficult for them to adapt to nafilah," the clergyman laments.

According to islamologist Idrissa Sadio, who is also an imam in one of the mosques in the Tilene neighbourhood in Dakar, "at the beginning of Ramadan everybody wants to be a good Muslim. Towards the end of Ramadan, the faithful are worried about the expenses for the festivities around the end of the fast. They focus on the feast rather than go to the mosque to pray."

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