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  • Shi’i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese migration and religious conversion in Senegal by Mara A. Leichtman
  • Issouf Binaté
Mara A. Leichtman, Shi’i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese migration and religious conversion in Senegal. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press (hb US$80 – 978 0 253 01599 0; pb US$30 – 978 0 253 01601 0). 2015, 294pp.

For a long time, scientific work on the phenomenon of migrations within sub-Saharan Africa has focused on population movements towards more prosperous [End Page 187] or less conflictual areas. These include migrations from the Sudanese and Voltaic populations to low-lying lands (Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana) and the massive displacement of Hausa from the Sahel to southern Nigeria. Although these studies are abundant, they largely analyse such migrations from a socio-economic perspective, addressing religious issues only in a marginal way.

This study, Shi’i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa, Mara A. Leichtman’s contribution to the understanding of a Lebanese Shiite community established abroad for several generations, has the merit of paying renewed attention to religious concerns. This work is the result of ethnographic research carried out in the field and in archives in Beirut, Paris, London and several localities in Senegal. It is organized around seven chapters and analyses the presence of the Lebanese in Senegal in terms of world migratory trends, Islam, French colonization and conflicts in the Middle East.

In fact, Muslim Lebanese as well as Christian Maronites in Senegal were welcomed into the trade community before spreading to other professional sectors (medicine, hotel management, etc.). The first migrants served as intermediaries between the French and growers in peanut production areas. But Leichtman shows that these Franco-Lebanese relations have not always been cordial, due to subversive movements in the 1910s in the Arab world and later as a result of the 1929 economic crisis. The colonial power developed a propaganda policy against the Lebanese, aimed at separating them from Senegalese populations practising moderate Islam (through traditional Islam/Sufi orders (mainly Tijaniyya and Muridiyya) and Islamic reformist movements) (p. 54). However, this policy was counterproductive insofar as it strengthened links between the Lebanese themselves and the Senegalese population of which these migrants were now an integral part (p. 59).

At independence in 1960, the author shows that this feeling of belonging to a dual culture (Lebanese and Senegalese) was reinforced by the cosmopolitan vision of Africanity developed by President Léopold S. Senghor, including African and Arab-Berber people (p. 68), and the promulgation of the 1967 law granting citizenship to the spouses of the Senegalese. Moreover, she summarizes this model of integration through this scheme as ‘Lebanese by origin, French by decree, and Senegalese by adoption’ (p. 89), and supports it with instructive illustrations: the Bourgi family was a support to Presidents Léopold S. Senghor and Abdou Diouf, and Dakar streets bear their names as a sign of gratitude; Said Fakhry assumed the presidency of the Senegalese Football Federation after his election in 2003; Zeïna Sahelí was a champion swimmer representing Senegal.

The cosmopolitanism of the Lebanese has also extended to the religious domain, with the personal enterprise of Abdul Munʿam al-Zayn (known as Shaykh al-Zayn), a Shiite who came from Lebanon in the 1960s and was well known in the Senegalese religious and diplomatic spheres (p. 94). According to Leichtman, the mutations carried out in the social and religious practices of Lebanese Muslims for nearly half a century are attributable to his mission. This was the basis of the construction of educational institutes, including mosques, in Dakar and Kaolack, where less educated women and men – mostly Lebanese – were taught about Islam, including canonical prayers, Ramadan fasting, receiving alms and participating in community service through formal charitable associations. He also encouraged Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, organized along a route (from Dakar via Beirut) that led generations of Lebanese born in Senegal to discover their country of origin (p. 102).

Shaykh al-Zayn’s style of proselytizing has contributed to the development of a nascent patriotism in the Lebanese community by situating it within a global [End Page 188] universe where the feeling of belonging to Lebanon and Shiite...


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