Encounter Folk Islam event informs students about African religion
- Global Focus Week event teaches students about African version of Islam that syncretizes Islam and traditional African beliefs.
- Liberty students have the opportunity to eat traditional African food and hear stories from missionaries who served in Africa.
LU Serve Global Training Coordinator Daniel Smith sat on a faded but colorful woven mat, and looked around at the audience sitting on the floor with him in the Montview Center4ME Event Space.
“Those little pointy things you’re eating with aren’t supposed to be on the table,” Smith said. He jokingly referred to the plastic forks people used to eat the traditional African sadza — a cake of a root-based African porridge — with stewed greens served at the event. These foods, he explained, were traditionally eaten by hand. Smith would go on to narrate to the audience about the culture he experienced first-hand in Mozambique, Africa.
“You’ve been walking all afternoon through the plains, meeting people, experiencing African hospitality,” Smith said. “As the sun sets, you start walking back through the pass to find the hut of your host that night. You’re greeted by a ton of people who want to meet the foreigner.”
His narrative described a meal in a musty, candle-lit African hut, along with the African folk manners and customs adhered to in a typical native African community. From there, Smith led into the title purpose of the event—“Encounter Folk Islam.”
Smith introduced the audience to his invited guest, Tony Weedor with Advancing Native Missions. Born and raised in Liberia, Weedor described his experience of converting from folk Islam to Christianity. But first, he described what folk Islam was.
“You become a Muslim, but blend it with traditional African religion,” Weedor said. “(The African people) don’t see any inconsistency in going to the mosque to pray, then going to their mother’s grave to pray. They are less orthodox. It’s lower Islam.”
The rest of Weedor’s family is still in Liberia, but Weedor lives in America and works to raise awareness about folk Islam.
“Because they don’t know the unknown, because they fear the unknown, the people there go through soothsayers,” Weedor said. “They put on the protection of charms, rosaries, you name it. But if you can prove to them that Christ is more powerful than all the things they are wearing, it’s a breakthrough.”
As an extension to raising awareness and teaching about folk Islam in the U.S., Weedor is involved in a unique kind of missions work: going overseas to train native missionaries to lead and teach in their home countries with their own people.
Smith, who had been acquainted to Weedor through a colleague after serving in Turkey, described the overarching relevance and goals of these awareness and missions efforts.
“These leaders he’s helping raise up can know theologically what they need to do, but they also understand how they can work in their own context,” Smith said. “In reality, this could be so much bigger because folk religion is something that doesn’t just happen in Africa. You can find it in America. You can find it in Europe. Anyone who has superstitions in their religion, that’s folk religion.”
LU Serve has been coordinating with child-sponsorship ministry Compassion International to try organizing a Rwanda trip in spring. The trip itself has not been confirmed, but Smith described a goal of sending 170-180 students in ministry to folk culture.
“As westerners, we can’t relate very well with that (syncretism of religion with superstition),” Smith said. “We as westerners have a very mechanical understanding of life—cause and effect, control. (The people we’re ministering to) have a whole lot of preconceived ideas we need to get past in order to understand the Bible.”