Friday, January 05, 2007

Europe's Senegal connection | Faith in the market | Economist.com

[Sharing some early morning jet-lag induced reading :)] Anyone who's been to Italy will recall the Senegalese street vendors hawking leather goods, and disappearing fast when the cops arrive. (The Bangladeshis proliferate as well, and their cries of "ombrelli, ombrelli!" fill the air as soon it starts raining.) This fascinating piece in the Economist gives a glimpse into the world of the Senegalese immigrants -- a well-organized network of workers, almost all practising a non-mainstream form of Islam. Europe's Senegal connection | Faith in the market | Economist.com
If they think about it at all, tourists and locals alike probably assume these traders are just a disorganised, random sample of Europe's vast army of human flotsam and jetsam, desperate migrants from poor places who arrive in leaky boats. In reality, the traders on the streets leading to the Vatican are anything but disorganised. They are members of a highly disciplined international community, at once religious and economic, with headquarters in another holy city—Touba, in the heart of Senegal, three hours' drive from Dakar, the capital.

Like so many Senegalese migrants (some of whom drive taxis in New York or pick lemons in Spain), those Roman peddlers belong to a dynamic Sufi Muslim movement called the Mourides. They are followers of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a religious leader who died in 1927. Inspired by his teaching, they have made an ingenious response to the advent of global markets in goods and labour.

Most of Senegal's 11m people are Muslims, and they usually belong to one or other of two big movements, the Mourides or the older Tidjanes. Bamba described the teaching now known as Mouridism as a return to Islam's roots. But his Islam has little in common with the more austere variety propagated from Saudi Arabia. For one thing, Mouridism has a cult of saints and shrines—including the tomb of its founder—which devout Saudis would reject. But the self-sufficient Mourides don't care; they raise money for their favourite causes and build their own mosques with no need of Saudi cash.

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