Saturday, July 03, 2004

Mali as an Example of Peaceful Islam?

I''ve never heard of this Chiesa website before, so I really can't vouch for the accuracy of this story, but it does seem to me to have the ring of truth to it, especially when one considers that one of its neighbors, Guinea, also is reported to have very good inter-religious relations.

ROMA – Is Islam compatible with democracy? Yes and no, replies the Vatican. “La Civiltà Cattolica” – the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with authorization from the secretariat of state for each issue – is the “No” voice. In an editorial last February 7, they wrote that because democracy “takes the sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the people,” this “for a faithful Muslim is an act of disbelief.”

But one country in sub-Saharan Africa is a living contradiction of the skeptics. Islam has been present there for almost a thousand years; 82 percent of its inhabitants are Muslim. They belong to the Sunni tradition, with a contingent that follows Wahhabi rigorism. They are extremely poor, with an average annual per capita income of 230 dollars, and poverty and freedom almost never go together. They belong to various tribes, which in many African countries is the root of incurable conflicts. And yet, democracy flourishes there. The country is Mali, between the Niger river and the Sahara desert.

Among the 47 countries in the world with a majority Muslim population, there are only two that the New York think tank Freedom House classifies as fully “free”: Mali, and neighboring Senegal.

Mali’s behavior is also impeccable in terms of religious liberty. The Italian section of Aid to the Church in Need, which publishes every year a report on religious liberty in the world, has never noted any abuses there. In Mali, they wrote, “there are no legal obstacles to conversion from one religion to another, and missionaries may work freely; the Muslim majority is tolerant toward the other confessions.”
There's also a more personal reason why I find this story credible: one of my very best childhood friends happened to be from Mali, and his was a family that was about as open-minded and tolerant of others as one could find, the sort of family others actually looked up to in admiration. To associate the faith of my friend and his family with the sort of barbarism being pushed by so many - all the way from Algeria to Nigeria to the Sudan right on to Thailand - is something I find impossible to do even today, except on a purely intellectual level. What a shame it is that the brand of Islam practiced by my old friend is not the sort that is making the most headway in our day, and the blame for this lies heavily with one "ally" of the United States ... Saudi Arabia.