Muslim Christmas in Senegal
Hundreds of young men decked with tinsel wander outside Senegal's mosques, hawking plastic Christmas trees. Women pray to Allah on a sidewalk where an inflatable Santa Claus happens to be hanging.
Senegal may be 95 percent Muslim, but it certainly knows it's Christmas. In fact, for this nation of 12 million it's a national holiday.
Blame it on globalization, which has turned the West's yuletide icons into a worldwide commodity. Or the Internet, or Hollywood, or the availability of travel that allows new generations of Senegalese to sample Christmas at close quarters. But mainly, Senegalese revel in the trappings of Christmas because they can and want to.
Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as a prophet, but don't generally celebrate the date of his birth. Many Muslim societies discourage Christmas hoopla. But Senegalese say they have a long history of tolerance and coexistence with Christians, so why not share Christmas?
"Officially, we Muslims don't celebrate Christmas. But the Catholics are our neighbors. So, we all celebrate all the religious holidays," said El Hadj Diop, 60, sitting in front of his African antique store.
"We share the same houses, even graveyards," Diop said. "It has been the same for years."
Islam arrived at this western tip of Africa hundreds of years ago, borne across the Sahara by slave and spice traders from the north. French colonialists with Bibles came afterward. Now, many practitioners of both faiths have adapted their religions to local mores.
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