In Africa, increasingly threatened by Boko Haram and Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, imams are asking for the collaboration of Christians to show Islam’s more brotherly face and the possibility of coexistence between different religions. Young Cameroonians are fascinated by the promises of power, money, weapons, and women of Islamic terrorism. PIME missionary talks about his experience.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Father Luca Del Bo, 44, from Preganziol (Treviso, Italy), was ordained priest in the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in 2006. Assigned to the Cameroon mission, he studied French in Belgium and France for a year. On 2 September 2007, he was sent to northern Cameroon to study the local vehicular language, Fulfulde.
He took on the mission in Chad until 2015, undertaken with the Diocese of Treviso, and was later sent to Maroua, northern Cameroon, to continue the work of dialogue with local Muslims and Protestants as well as local authorities.
PIME’s Fr Giuseppe Parietti had started the dialogue with Muslims started years earlier. In addition to continuing his work, there was also an urgent need to strengthen the bonds of friendship between Christians and Muslims, in light of the growing influence of the Boko Haram.
He was recently in Italy on holiday and spoke to AsiaNews about his experience with the Muslims of northern Cameroon, as well as his year of study in Paris, in a university run by the Muslim Brotherhood, who are increasingly powerful in Europe. Part one.
In northern Cameroon, where I live, Muslims are 80-90 per cent of the population according to statistics. In reality, that is not true. In Maroua, Muslims are 50 per cent in the city; the rest are Christians (30 per cent) and animists. Outside the city, the percentage changes. The number of Muslims drops and that of Christians and animists goes up.
This is due to the fact that Muslims are concentrated mainly where there is trade. There are mosques all around, but they are empty and abandoned. I am told that they are financed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Or they are the result of the devotion of local Muslims, who build mosques because a hadith says that if you build a mosque you go to heaven. Usually, it is the big merchants who build a mosque along trade routes, as a good deed. But they do not last long and are soon abandoned and fall into ruins.
Islam in Cameroon
At the beginning, when I arrived, Islam was very moderate. Muslims, Christians, members of traditional religions could be part of the same family. There were beautiful stories of friendship, exchange and help with imams. After a few years the situation changed.
According to the older imams, the cause is that young people who study in Madinah and Makkah are educated in the Wahhabi ideology. When they come back, they preach harshly, aggressively. Religiously mixed families are now disappearing. If one half of the family is non-Muslim, they tend to convert to Islam.
The influence of Boko Haram began in 2009. In 2010 their influence got stronger when local authorities began to distance themselves from warlike Islam. Even the imams asked for help, greater collaboration, from Christians to make Muslims understand that Islam is different, explaining to Muslim communities, Christian communities and the authorities that Islam is not Wahhabi.
Some Catholic priests, along with some Protestants and Orthodox, set up "La maison de la rencontre" (Meeting house). One of its greatest accomplishment is a library to teach Muslims about Islam; however, although it is well supplied, it is not almost never used.
On the other hand, meetings are held with young people because the Muslim community needs to teach them to live a moderate Islam, one of brotherhood and peace, not the one proposed by Boko Haram. The latter have great power, offering money, weapons and women. But war leads to death and therefore there is a constant turnover. For us and the imams, it is urgent to stop the recruitment. That is where we work, to convince young people not to adhere to Wahhabi Islam (picture 3).
(End of the first of three parts)