Islam throughout the world: Senegal

World Contributor
Photo 94128590 © Sergey Mayorov |

The Republic of Senegal is a state on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, at the western tip of the African continent. The Senegal River flows in the north of the country, which is the natural border with Mauritania. Senegal borders Mali in the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in the south.

Religion in Senegal

Senegal is a secular state, but Muslims make up the absolute majority of the population (96%), so Senegal can be safely called a Muslim country. Muslims of Senegal are Sunni Muslims of the Maliki madhhab. In addition, the Sufi tariqas are very influential, which during the years of colonial dependence on France were perceived as a way to assert the national identity of the Senegalese. The country has the tariqas of Tijaniyya, Muridiyya, Qadiriyya and the authentic Senegalese tariqa Laye (its founder, Seydina Limamou Laye, declared himself a mahdi (incarnation of the Prophet) in 1884).

Spread of Islam

Islam came to West and Central Africa in the most peaceful way, through trade. Within the northern belt of Africa (in Egypt, Tunisia, on the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea and among the Berbers of Morocco) the armies of the Caliphate asserted the true faith through armed struggle against idolaters. Under the Umayyad caliphs, by 715, all of North Africa was Islamized. But further south, along the entire length of the continent, from the Atlantic Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, lay the great Sahara Desert. No army could cross it.

But where an army cannot pass, the camels of trade caravans will. Arab merchants, and with them Islamic preachers and Sufi dervishes, crossed the Sahara and saw beyond its southern edge states inhabited by African black-skinned nations: Hausa, Fulani, Sonnike, Yoruba. So, starting from the 10th century CE, Islam began to gradually spread in West and Central Africa, when the rulers of African states and the leaders of African nations began to convert to it.

Ethnic background and territories

After the end of the colonial period in the middle of the 20th century CE, modern African states were created on the territories of the former colonies. However, their boundaries differed from those of ancient tribal unions and states. So, the Fulani people turned out to be dispersed over several countries, namely, Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea. The Sonnike people ended up on the territory of Burkina Faso and again in Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal. The Hausa people now live in Cameroon, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, and so on. The leaders of all these peoples adopted Islam in the 10th-11th centuries CE, therefore all Hausa, all Fulani, all Sonnike from then to the present are Muslims. Accordingly, all modern states in which they live also became Muslim.

In addition, Islam was accepted by the rulers of ancient states that were located in the territories of these nations (West and Central Africa). These are the empires of Ghana (6th-13th centuries CE) (does not correspond to modern Ghana), Mali (neither corresponds to the modern state) (1240-1645), Kanem (900-1390), Bornu (1390-1808) and the Islamic Sultanate of Sokoto (the core of modern Nigeria) which replaced it in 1808, Songhai (1460-1591). Islam has become the ubiquitous religion of West Africa.

Adoption of Islam

All the states formed in the territory of this region in the modern period inherited Islam from these ancient empires and sultanates. By embracing Islam, the rulers pursued not only spiritual goals. Islam contributed to the strengthening of trade with the Muslim countries of the East, from which a vast amount of goods came to Africa. One can probably say that this way of spreading Islam in the world is the ideal model of its propagation, when it presents itself as a combination of the highest human values to follow and an offer of mutually beneficial cooperation.

The adoption of Islam by the people of Senegal took place in 1040, when the king of the Takrur state, which was inhabited by the Tukuler people, War Jabi, converted to Islam under the influence of the merchants from North Africa. Since then, Islam has become firmly established in Senegal. Throughout history, up to French colonization in the 19th century, Muslims played a dominant role in all states that arose in this territory. Initially, after French Africa gained independence in 1960, Senegal was part of a federation with Mali (French Sudan), which existed for a month and split into two independent states.


Despite the fact that Muslim rules are universally observed in Senegal (public call to prayer, conservative dress, etc.), Senegalese Islam is distinguished by a certain mixture of customs and rules of the Maliki madhhab, the French colonial administration and pre-Islamic beliefs. Sufi tariqas and practices play an important role in the life of the country. Sufi sheikhs are an important source of knowledge about the faith for Senegalese Muslims.

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