Black Muslims Look to West Africa for a Moderate Islam

June 19, 2008

Author: Omar Sacirbey

Source: Religion News Service/The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks put American Islam in an often uncomfortable and unwelcome spotlight, a visit by an overseas Islamic cleric isn't exactly cause for excitement.

Those who are granted entry into the U.S. -- and not all of them are -- are closely scrutinized for any incitements to violence, anti-American sermons or ties to militant groups abroad.

Then there's Sheikh Mamadou Taibou Ba.

Ba, a well-known cleric in his native Guinea, was warmly greeted on a recent Sunday afternoon by a crowd of about 300 Muslims in colorful African dress in this city's hard-scrabble Dorchester neighborhood. When he rose to speak, Ba, 34, praised America's freedom of religion and opportunity, and urged his audience of mostly immigrants from Senegal and Guinea to integrate into American life and culture.

"Boston is a great city. There are great places to live, to work, to be educated," said Ba, speaking in French and Fulani, during a stop on a two-month tour that will take him to New York, Philadelphia and other U.S. cities.

While many West African Muslims remain critical of U.S. foreign policy, they also tend to view America, and Islam, through a more moderate lens [than] their co-religionists in many Arab and South Asian countries.

To be sure, West African Muslims account for a small percentage of U.S. Muslims. But, thanks in part to a burgeoning interest among African-American Muslims in their roots, the West African brand of Islam is gaining newfound visibility and influence.

See also: Islam, Civic, Peace/War