Friday, April 12, 2013

Niger: a country of religious contrast

By Taylor Pool

While the Islamic call to prayer sounds from each Niger mosque, hundreds of Christians gather together to worship God at one of the country’s many churches.  

A mosque in Niamey, the capital of Niger
Although Niger is considered an Islamic nation by the CIA World Factbook, which states that the country is 80 percent Muslim, other religions, including indigenous ones, are practiced in the country. Christianity is even spreading among the people of Niger. That growth comes as a result of the expatriate Christian presence in the country combined with the expansion of the flourishing local Church.

Unlike several north African countries, Niger is considered religiously free, meaning Christians are not generally persecuted for sharing their faith nor is the country governed by religious principles. Even so, religion still has a hold on daily life in the arid, land-locked nation that stretches from the Sahara Desert to the Sahel region of West Africa.

Worshipers at a Nigerien church
As the religion in the cultural majority, Islam has its influence on the country. Every city and village is home to at least one mosque. At the sound of the call to prayer, many Muslims pray to Mecca five times a day in a designated prayer area or even at work or outside on prayer rugs. Work ceases and markets slow down on Friday afternoons while many Nigeriens observe the Islamic Sabbath, even though Sunday is officially recognized as the Sabbath due to Niger’s history as a colony of France, where Catholocism is the most widely-observed religion. Christianity doesn’t stop at effecting school and business closures, however. As one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger is a target nation for evangelical missionaries. Many Nigeriens show their love for Christ in church, through passionate prayer, resounding musical worship and animate sermons.  

Regardless of the religious contrast in the country, the people of Niger do share one thing: the drive to perpetuate their country’s values - brotherhood, work and progress. While it is possible that two neighbors may not share the same religious values, it is likely their identity as Nigeriens would unite them in a way that is entirely unparalleled, unchangeable and even misunderstood to anyone other than those who are a part of the unique Nigerien culture.