The story goes: “A ruler was appalled by people begging so he decided to evict beggars from the city. After awhile the ruler visited an Imam to ask for blessings and was told that he had to first give alms. But he couldn’t find anyone to give charity to, so, he went looking for the beggars. He found them and asked them to return to the city so that he could fulfill his obligation. The beggars told him “We are on strike” and refused to return to the city.”
The academic program at the West African Research Center (WARC) has been outstanding. Typically we begin the day with lectures that can go until the early afternoon. The lecturers have all been faculty persons from the University Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD). The University bears the name of the Senegalese anthropologist, linguist, and Pan-Africanist – Cheikh Anta Diop. I was first introduced to Diop writings as a graduate student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. His book, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, is a classic in contemporary Afrocentric thought.
If our lecturers are representative of the level of instruction that students receive at the UCAD, then, they are getting a top-notch education. However, for me, the pedagogy is everywhere. The lectures complement the experiential learning that occurs during our site visits. For example, Professor Abdou Aziz Kebe’s lecture on religion covered the rise of Islam in West Africa. We learned about the various Islamic Brotherhoods in Senegal and their role throughout history. However, when asked about the large number of beggars (including small children) we were told that Islam extols the giving of alms to the poor and, therefore, there is little shame in begging.
“The beggars returned to the city only after the ruler agreed to their demands,” continued Professor Kebe, “that is how the story ends.”
Later we visited the Holy City of Tuba and meet Serigne Dame Fall, the grandson of Cheikh Himbra Fall (first disciple of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, the founder of the Mouridisme). Disciples of the Mouridu (the largest Islamic Brotherhood) are called Baye Fall
(men) or Yaye Fall
(women). Following the example of their founder, the Baye Falls
adhere to the twin principles of faith and work. They devote themselves completely to working to support the Mouridu (Holyman) as he spreads the message of Islam. Here, too, children participate in this discipleship through begging.
Professor Kebe teaches that begging is coupled with giving (and giving with blessings) and in Tuba (where it is a crime to smoke cigarettes) we saw child-disciples begging in the streets. But Pope Samba Sow, artists, writer, and human rights activist, sees begging children as a failure of the government to protect its young. Moreover, the word he uses for children begging to fulfill religious obligations is “exploitation.” For Sow, childhood is a period for laughter, play and education – and not supporting the lifestyle of holy men.
Three different lessons about begging, however, for me, the true teachable moment occurs when you look into the eyes of the children themselves and see the future staring back.
In photos: Upper right, Tim at the Mosque in Tuba. At left, Tim with the grandson of Cheikh Himbra Fall,