The stop in your land is the one stop in my trip for which I did the most due diligence, not for any particular reason except that it may have been the easiest to do so. You catapulted me outside my comfort zone.
Dear Senegal, look after her and keep her smiling.
You have to understand Senegal, this is my first time in West Africa. I speak no French at all, which is, despite your dislike to your French colonizers, spoken by majority of the Senegalese. The welcoming help of Aminata and Dr. Mesut Ates made my time extremely more productive, fruitful and made this a fulfilling experience. Their warm hospitality helped me when I felt homesick. Yes, I did feel homesick especially when I started Ramadan and the rest of Senegal started on a different date.
Dear Senegal, I really tried, this was the best smile I could get out of him.
And then there was the day I witnessed a terrible fatal accident during which you lost four innocent souls. So, excuse me, Senegal if I felt out of my comfort zone. But, I will tell you how I made sense of it all. And, I think reflecting on the accident made me understand.
Dear Senegal, These young men are working. Their conditions are not ideal, but they are, working hard, nonetheless.
Senegal, big faithful hearts call your land a home, many of whom see their faith through a particular school or Tariqa and they feel very strongly about it. Excuse me if I was overly curious about their ways, and yes, maybe I felt a little unease but, I did learn the noble principles behind them.
Dear Senegal, please enforce better safety measures on the streets
Dear Senegal, I am usually really hungry at iftar. And, I enjoy a large meal while sitting with people for a long time eating. Yet here, Senegal, I broke my fast differently. We ate light meals, focusing on dhikr until a later larger meal. It was a difference my stomach may have not loved, but my heart and soul did.
Dear Senegal, I am sorry for your loss
I think your African heritage made it easier for you to adapt some Islamic principles more prominently than other communities. For example, polygamy is allowed, with constraints and restrictions, in Islam. But your culture has taken it to be a symbol for respectable positions or knowledge.
Dear Senegal, Next time you play in the world cup, I will root for you
Senegal, I was surprised to find that you are facing challenges developing a centralized education model to teach Islam and other sciences to your young minds. I assumed it being a majority Muslim country it would be a much easier ordeal. I think it is a noble pursuit, and from what I saw and learned it seems you are on the right track.
Dear Senegal, I really appreciate how this man poured the coffee from one cup to the other to cool it off before I drank it.
This is silly. But, I was going to suggest to you some team building activities we learned at Sloan (MIT’s School of Management). I thought they would’ve been handy to mend the gap between the different schools and Tariqas you host. After reflecting back, though, I don’t think you need it.
Dear Senegal, Why is this dude wearing a Texas Longhorns shirt? Did he go there too?
When the accident happened feet away from me, everyone ran to help. Everyone. You see, despite their Tariqas. I realized that I rarely heard of issues of ethnicity or tribalism. Your Tariqas almost wiped that away. That is beautiful.
Dear Senegal, I love your beaches
Dear Senegal, people grow when they leave their comfort zone. And you helped me grow. You helped me better see the big picture and give the smaller details the attention their size deserve; very little attention.
Oh, Senegal, and I think I was just as different to you as you were to me. I say that because on my last day, Aminata invited me to break my fast with her family. Her cousin was there and asked Aminata, “Is he Muslim? He’s too white to be Muslim?”
Yes, we are different, but I learned, at the core we are all the same.
Until next time,
Ammar is on a journey to explore Islam in different countries around the world. He wants to show that Islam is a faith not exclusive to a single ethnicity. He hopes that these stories become part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance in America.
For more information, visit our page about this journey.