Nearly all of the Wolof are practicing Muslims. The Wolof are mostly organized into two Sufi orders also called the brotherhoods; the Muridiyya and the Tijaniyya (Levinson, p.380). Upon circumcision, men become members of an order while women join membership only after marriage and join the same order as their husbands. Although the main doctrine of Islam is generally adhered to, the Wolof version of Islam has an emphasis of social relations rather than just abstract theology. However, along with Islam there are some traditional beliefs and practices (most of which are pre-Islamic). The traditional system emphasizes on malevolent spirits also called jinns and witches from which people need to protect themselves from.
Using my limited knowledge of the Senegal’s Wolof history, I am hoping to use my term paper to answer a line of questions that will help me understand better the religion and religious practices and ceremonies of the Wolof people. On a broad discussion, I will touch on general Islamic religion of the Wolof people but will dwell more on their religious practices, ceremonies and the religious views after death.
Religion for the Wolof people of Senegal is another area where the supremacy of the Wolof people is well established in the Senegalese society. Religion is the established language of the largest Sufi orders in Senegal and especially the vivacious and active orders (that are known as Tidianes and Mourides) that have established their spiritual centers in the Wolof speaking areas. The followers of the Sufi control the religious power of the country and due to the fact that they comprise more than 90% of the Senegalese population, they control the national economy. It is worth noting that the Sufi orders have an unparalleled influence over the country’s political and social systems since Wade became its president. It is also worth noting that religion has openly entered politics in Senegal especially fuelled by the creation and official recognition of faith based political parties. One of the most recognized political parties in Senegal is the one created by a Mouride Sufi order, the charismatic religious leader by the name Serigne Kara Mbacke. Mbacke is said to be close to President Wade. However, this has seen competition among different religious groups and their leaders that has seen heightened competition because each of the Sufi orders relies on devoted followers from each segment of the social and political spectrum (Diallo, p.166-167).
Just as Christians have the Bible, Wolof Islam uses the Quran and believe that the Quran was dictated to Mohammed by God through Angel Gabriel. The Wolof are known to be hospitable people which goes further to every barrier of race or religion (The unreached Wolof, n.p.)
The most complementary religious roles among the Muslims in the Wolof culture are those of a marabout (serin) a religious leader and a disciple known as taliibe. For the marabouts, there is a hierarchy that ranges from the powerful heads of the Sufi orders to those with only little knowledge of the Quran and with little influence. There is also the mnqaddam who has influence over inducting new inductees into the order and the Imam (also called yelimaan) (Religion and expressive culture, n.p.). In mosques and any major religious gatherings, discourses are delivered mainly in the Wolof language while in Friday sermons are also done in the Wolof language (Diallo, p.167).
All the major Muslim festivals are observed by the Wolof with the Korite (the feast at the end of Ramadan) and Tabaski. Other major ceremonies include the nggentée (the naming ceremonies) and the circumcision ceremony for boys. Circumcision was a pre-Islamic Wolof custom because some of the rituals and practices are non-Islamic (The unreached Wolof, n.p.).
Death and Afterlife
After death of a person, the usual Muslim funeral ceremonies are followed. Burial is done within a few hours after death unless death occurs at night. Members of praise singer group were buried in baobab trees such that they did not contaminate the earth. Among the Wolof, suicide is rare because they belief that the soul of such a person goes straight to hell (Janga Wolof).