Archbishop Lefebvre and the Muslims in Senegal
Archbishop Lefebvre arrived in Dakar as Apostolic Vicar in 1947. Even with his experience in Gabon, where he had tripled Christianity’s numbers, he found himself faced with an entirely new situation: 50,000 Christians (Roman and Maronite), but also 1.5 million hundred Muslims! How to convert them?
The Situation in Dakar
Yes, the situation of the Church in Dakar was much better than it is in the Middle East, where the Christians are “dhimmis,” second-class citizens, held to special taxes and the object of general disdain, and even periodically persecuted and massacred by Muslims.
In the 1950s, Senegal was ruled by Catholics (alas, sometimes by Freemasons), and the future held the promise of a Catholic government in a Muslim country that was soon to acquire its independence.
The relations of the future archbishop of Dakar with the Muslims followed three bywords: cordial relations, warnings against the Marxism conveyed by Islam, and protection of Catholic life against Muslim influence.
First of all, Archbishop Lefebvre’s wisdom led him to cultivate the most cordial relations with the Muslim religious leaders. He even spoke of what unites Catholics and Muslims: “Belief in one God.” He realized, thanks to the universities and the study circles organized by the Catholics, that “the Muslim elite looks towards the Church.” Ababacar Sadikhe Thiam was a dear friend to him, and considered him as “more than a friend, a brother, a true spiritual guide, a man of God and of faith.” God alone knows if such a Muslim was able in this way to receive the grace of an “implicit baptism of desire.” Archbishop Lefebvre acted gently, careful never to be rough with souls. For Archbishop Lefebvre, evangelization had to go hand in hand with a Catholic political influence. Catholicism had to maintain its power, at a time when Islam was starting to make worrisome progress.
“We must reread the letters that Pope St. Pius V addressed to the king of Spain. The pontiff judges Islam, and he, the victor of Lepanto, knows what he is talking about! He denounces the dangers it presents for Catholicism. The pope asks Philip II to act strongly and courageously against Islam, to keep the immorality it spreads from contaminating Catholic society. Everyone knows that at the time, many Catholics in the south of Spain were seduced by Islam and apostatized. It was a very difficult time.” “Remember that according to Koranic law, the children born of a mixed marriage between a Muslim man and a Catholic woman are necessarily Muslim.”1
“In Senegal and Mali, black women go about freely. They are not locked up, there are no harems. But the most frightful immorality reigns: constant divorces, sharing wives is a common practice, as is open prostitution. In Dakar, there were neighborhoods where this sort of prostitution was essentially run by the Muslims. There were no Christian women—thank God—and no pagan women. It was a ‘commerce’ publicly run by the Muslims.”2
“I once had to impose an interdict on the island of Fadiouth, because the Christians had contracted debts towards Muslim traders, who demanded as reimbursement young boys who would serve as slaves… The interdict (suspension of the cult) served its purpose: the Muslim merchants were expelled from the island.”3
“Islamization is accomplished through the Arabian language. So it was important not to favor the teaching of this language! In Koranic schools, the children are directed by a young man who has them repeat the surahs of the Koran all day long even though they don’t understand a word of them. It is the Arabian myth: anyone who is “Arabian” is Muslim; anyone who is Muslim speaks Arabian. It is also the religious language and that is a strength for Islam—we who have abandoned the Latin language that united us, we can no longer go from one church to another because we no longer understand anything: our rites have become no more than dust in the wind.”4
Is it possible to convert the Muslims? In his mind, Archbishop Lefebvre thinks that “we can scarcely hope for more than the conversion of the intellectual elite, those who are in our universities. They earn diplomas that make it possible for them to practice a profession and earn a livelihood for themselves and their families, and no longer depend on their fathers, their uncles… When held by their families, if they make the ‘mistake’ of converting, especially the women, they risk retributions and even being poisoned.”
The Young Muslims in the Catholic Schools
“We could scarcely hope to convert the Muslim children in our schools, either, although there were many of them; but we did not want to go over a proportion of 15% of our overall number. Because as soon as Muslims feel that they are the majority, strong and important, they impose their will. As long as they are a minority, they are willing to submit to the discipline and the studies. ‘The hand they cannot cut off, they leave in peace’, as one of their proverbs goes.”
“We were able,” adds Archbishop Lefebvre, “to convert the Animists, at least the children, the small, the weak, and those subjects to the chiefs. But the chiefs were powerful and polygamous and rarely converted to Catholicism, for they would have had to give up their wives. It was very difficult for them to give up their arrogance, the totalitarianism that even the small village chiefs practiced.”
“Islam made headway in the non-Arabian populations because unlike Catholic morality, the Muslim religion encourages their vices: ‘If you come over to Islam, you will become an even greater chief, you will be even richer, you can have even more wives, you can have even more slaves.’ These incentives were accompanied by flattery, gifts, cloths, fetishes[.]”5
“So, as I have said before, either Africa will become Muslim, with the development of slavery, immorality, and polygamy, or Africa will become Catholic and will acquire the order willed by God and preserve her natural virtues of simplicity, joy, and hospitality.”
In 1956, when speaking of the French Seminary in Rome, Archbishop Lefebvre revealed the antagonism that exists in West-African Islam between the traditional brotherhoods and the reformist, purist, pan-Arabian movement propagated by Cairo. The black students who return home from the university of El-Azhar “preach hatred for the Western world and the missionaries in their mosques.” The Archbishop explained that this pan-Arabianism favors Communism:
“Did not the Congress of Addis-Abela, that African capital where the Marxist influence tends towards anarchism, conclude with: ‘We must spread Islam in order to spread Communism.’?” As Cardinal Tisserant said: “Those who believe that Islam is a rampart against Communism are entirely mistaken.”6
Did not the Senegalese Muslim Mamadou Dia, future head of the Mali Federation of Senegal and French Sudan, consider in 1957 that Senghor’s dream of a federation of French-speaking Africans was “only valid if it rallied to the teachings of Marx and Lenin”?7
At the request of a writer from the newspaper Le Devoir, Archbishop Lefebvre penned on November 2, 1957, an article entitled “Are the Christian States going to hand Black Africa over to the Star?” in which he wrote:
“The countries that break off the most quickly from the West and turn to Communist methods are the countries that have a majority of Muslims…; fanaticism, collectivism, enslavement to families.” The Islamic customs are particularly open to these methods. Guinea and Sudan (soon to be Mali) were already internally organized “according to the Marxist methods.”
Trouble and Peace
The article was republished on December 18, 1959, by La France catholique and distributed in Senegal. Mamadou Dia, then head of State, who had just been received by John XXIII, had “an unbelievable fit of rage.”8 Bishop Georges Guibert, Archbishop Lefebvre’s auxiliary, had to go out that very night—like Nicodemus—and bring an explanation from the Archbishop to the Grand Mufti Seydou Norou Tall in order to appease the Muslim wrath.
But fortunately the rupture between Senegal and Mali that occurred on August 20, 1957 reassured the Archbishop of Dakar: Senegal would become neither an Islamic republic nor a popular democracy. Although he was a socialist (the African version of socialism), Catholic Leopold Sedar Senghor remained for many years the prudent and respected head of the independent state of Senegal. Although he did not convert many Muslims, Archbishop Lefebvre did succeed in giving the young West-African state a Christian direction for many years to follow. In so doing, he perfectly realized the entire goal of his mission: a State that would respect the law of Christ.
1 Fideliter, September-October 1987, #59, “Archbishop Lefebvre Mes quarante ans d’épiscopat” (“My Forty Years as Bishop”), p. 29.
3 Fadiouth is an island situated where a river joins the ocean; it was entirely Catholic.
4 Fideliter, ibid. p. 30.
5 Ibid., p. 31.
6 Echos de Sta Chiara, January 1957—Conference given on November 19, 1956. For further reading see, Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography, p. 240.
7 International Congress of Regroupment of the African Political Parties, Dakar, January 11-13, 1957. Paul Auphan, Histoire de la décolonisation (History of the Decolonization), France-Empire, Paris 1957, p. 160.
8 “Fr. Louis Carron CSSP, Interview by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais” in Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography, p. 240.