A place called Sierra Leone

Where is Sierra Leone? In the country where more than the half of the population consists of Muslims, Why are these people living in such a great poverty despite the wealthy resources they have?

A place called Sierra Leone

Interviewer: Seyhmus Nayýr / World Bulletin


Sierra Leone is a country that most of us can not find on the map in West Africa. The country was suffered greatly under British colonial administration for years. The richness of the country was taken away from its people during the history. There is a large quantity of gold and diamond mine deposit. But Sierra Leone remains in a heavy poverty despite such wealthy resources.


According to UN records, it is one of the poorest countries in the world and the average life span is 40. In 2002, the civil war caused thousands of people to be handicapped. RUF militans, who gave rise to the civil war, used the poverty as the main excuse. However the civil war did not bring anything but making the living conditions worse in Sierra Leone. Approximately half of the population is Muslim and trying to practise their faith under rather difficult circumstances. Even the children working in the field in the daytime are trying to learn the Holy Qur'an around a fire at night because there is electricity for one hour a day and not public utility service that provides electricity everywhere.




With the slogan "To the World Brotherhood through Sacrifice Festival", Humanitarian Aid Organization (IHH) sought to share the sour of the people by sending the sacrifice teams for slaugthering in order to help 100 countries like Sierra Leone, including those in the regions of Africa, Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus. We interviewed with Bayram Þahin attended the Sierra Leone team about the interesting experience he lived in the meat distribution organization for Sacrifice Festival.


What are your first impressions for Sierra Leone?


IHH has one slogan. The word is "to everywhere on the map from Istanbul". As a result of this slogan, the sacrificial animals were slaugthered in 100 countries and we were the Sierra Leone team. Before going there, I read about it a lot. I knew it was poor but I had not guessed I faced such a poverty.



In fact I was shocked, you know you went to a poor country but you can say Corum, a city of Turkey, is poor compared to a district of Istanbul. The first thing that shocked me was this poverty and it was the capital city that we went to. This can give you an opinion. There is not electricity except given hours of the day in the capital city. Even there is not public utility service in many streets. For example, there are places that people come to charge the mobile phones. The people using mobile phones come to those shops since there is not electricity. Those shops provide electricity with generators.



They pay for charging them. In the capital city is not asphalt-paved road except main streets. There is not water and sewerage system, either. Sewerage is flowing on the corners or in the middle of streets. In Freetown, capital city, most of the people live in the houses they made from tin. We were driving in an intercity traffic but everywhere was dust and dirt and even our faces and eyes.





For example, we were going to visit a village at night. I saw a big fire lit on the road. I told my friends to stop. I faced that situation. They were trying to teach children and youngs the Quran around a fire since there was not electricity. When I asked why they did not teach them in the daytime, I found out that the children worked on fields. Barefooted, they all were writing what they learned on the board in their hand. After memorising them, they used special water to delete it. And they did not pour that water randomly, on the contrary they poured it under a tree.





What is Islamic understanding and living of the people?



Although most of the population is Muslims, they have lesser Islamic conscious than we understand, especially about hicab. I think African traditions have effects on this matter. But what delighted me most is that people, who studied Islamic studies in Medina, Syria and Eygpt even if the number is few, do serious work under difficult conditions.


They showed us a school building. Its existance was impossible. You imagine there are two wide rooms but half wall divides the two rooms. On one side boys get education, on the other side girls. The name of the school is Islamic Creed Madrasah. They teach the children the Quran memorizing, reading, Islamic law, mathematics. This core team was working day and night without stopping.




In addition Muslims did everything they could to build an orphanage both to protect the parentless children and establish Islamic conscious. I can say that there are a lot of orphan children and either they are fallen into the hands of criminal organizations or christian missionaries. I can give you an example that indicates how their Islamic conscious is.Women are going to the mosques on prayer times a lot. Although they do not follow the principles of dress given by Islam outside, they wear in the way Islam demands during prayers. For example, do we see women coming to any street mosques on prayer times in Turkey, except Eyup Sultan Mosque? There we saw a lot of women came to mosques even on morning prayers in a village. Since even the mosques are poor, there may not be a separate room for women in mosques. So leaving an empty rank between women and men on the same place, men pray in the front and women in the back. It is very important for them to pray in mosques.




In one of the villages I visited, I found a chance to witness an interesting case. Before giving the call to prayer, the imam of the village called "prayer" in the front of each house. Then he went to the mosque to give the call to prayer. After that, everyone, women and men, were flowing into the mosques to pray. Although the village is of 10 houses, the number of those going to mosques is over 100. It was pretty a satisfactory situation for me.




What is the distribution of population in Sierra Leone?


There are several tribes. The most of the population is of  Mendes. The rate is 34,5%. Of this rate, 30% is Muslim. The second majority is of Temnes with the rate of 31%. And of them, about 40% is Muslim. Then there are Limbas, 70% of whcih are Muslim. But their rate of the overall population is just 8%. And also there are Fulanis and Kurankos. According to our estimate, Muslims are just over 50 % and belong to Maliki sect. Christianity is on the rise and also there are missionary activities of every kind of Christian group you can think.





Even we have found out from the first Islamic communities we met that they make people Christian in exchange of a plate of meal. Christians have much influence over commercial and business field. Muslims rule the country since there are elections. So there are Christian ministers in the cabinet. Therefore the administrators do not have any religious motive. There is not a state religion. In some countries, parliaments are opened by the name of Allah, but here is not so. Another interesting point is that Christians pay much attention to education and open schools. The quality of the education is very low and the annual fee of Christian schools is 20 dollars at lowest price and 300 dollars at highest price. This means that they tell all the people to come and get education from them.




In Christian schools, the bible is a mandatory lesson and also you can not go there wearing Islamic dress. They told us that there were cases that some people went to these schools in the way they wore Islamic dress but got fired. Regarding to the missionary activities, I can say to you that, I faced clergymen whose names are Ebu Bekir. Their families are Muslims but they are inevitably fallen into the hands of missionaries because of need and poverty. In these cases, the main factors are poverty and to have little Islamic conscious.


There was a civil war in Sierra Leone and ended in 2002. I wonder if the effects of the civil war still continue?


Before answering your question, I would like to say that some show us Africa as a pitiful continent but in fact Africa is a place left poor. Whereas it is very rich in terms of reserves and resources. According to UN records, Sierra Leone has the lowest living standards and is the poorest country. Then come Nigeria, Chad and Burkina Faso.




Sierra Leone has the most precious diamond deposits. Wheras we knew the most precious diamond and gold mines were in South Africa. But not like that. Maximum diamond is there in Sierra Leone, also gold and titanium, too. They all are high priced or used in high technology. A Belgium company, in fact jewish company, takes a carat diamond by paying for one million in a year. And these people are made to work there for 30 cents.



During the civil war, a group called RUF militans appears and they get arms aid from Liberia (Liberia and Guinea are the neighbors of Sierra Leone). In fact they say positive words that we have such a wealth but why we are such poor. Because according to UN figures, the average life span is 40. Even in the video that UN prepared for aid campaigns in Sierra Leone, they use a slogan "Sierra Leone is always young" to refer the poverty there. One of 3 children dies without reaching 5 years. 3% of the population is AIDS and this rate is just under the  African average. So Ruf militans started a serious civil war by thinking and questioning why they were so poor despite the richness of the country.




In a country that has a population of 6 million, 100 to 200 thousands people died and there are tens of thousands of physically handicapped people. Well, how did they become handicapped? For example, you see the photos of African children soldiers in some magazines. The majority of these pictures were taken in Sierra Leone and Liberia. To get back to the point,  RUF militans came to villages, collected the children between 9 and 18 and told them "you would become our soldiers". They cut their two hands of those who refused to go or resisted and left them there. That is why you can face thousands of people without hands or legs. This riot continued between 1992 and 2002 and of course increased the poverty, too. Now there are remains of riot, you can realize the devastation of the war, but there is not a climate of fight or tension.




Under UN surveillance, West Africa Union sent Negerian soldiers and controlled the region.  They caught RUF militants and pardoned those forced to join the militants. That is why there is not an atmosphere of tension but the sour of the war is felt.


What has changed after Sierra Leone gained the independence?


Sierra Leone gained the independence in 1961, but for a while they continued to consider the British king their own one. In the appearance they are nidependent. But let's not forget that they are trying to do something. However you realize that they are intentionally left poor when you saw the poverty they suffered there.





Although they consume rice by peeling themselves, and also there is not petrol or water, this country has economicly potential to develop. As I said before, they are left poor and there is not infrastructure, the people can hardly supply their basic needs. The important question here is that "how many of them develop as a Christian?.


What do they think of Turkey or Ottoman? 


 It is interesting that Islam came here later. As a matter of fact, Islam was expanded into the country through orders in North Africa not by the Ottoman state. As far as I am concerned, Murabits are a significant order in Africa, It grew through Qadiri and Tijaniyyah orders. Islam has a past of 150 to 200 years. As we heard from community leaders, they do not have any knowledge of Turkey. But they know Galatasaray and Hakan Sukur and also Istanbul. Mostly the educated and devout part of the people know about Turkey.





They have some information about theOttoman state through the Conqueror Mehmet II. and Abdulhamit II.The educated ones know this most. Of course local people were aware that Sacrifice teams came from Turkey and brought greetings them from Turkish people. We are unaware but there is an image of that Turkey is a leader of Islam world. Turkey is one of the countries that has a tremendous and striking civilization in Islam world.


How do they approach towards the white but Muslims?        


As a matter of fact, their approach towards the white is not that good until they know you are Muslim. For instance, they do not want their photos to be taken. But if they familiarize with you, they insist you take a photo of them. I want to tell you one of my experiences. As an IHH team, we set off for a 5-hour journey. We gave a break somewhere. There were sellers around. I wanted to take a picture of a place that sells fried fish.






The woman working there was so furious that she said "you would film us, then show how miserable Africans were to people in your country" according to what my translator told me. Even a young said "I would cut your head if you do that again". This reaction lies behind the fact that they lived under the long term colonial administration by the white. The approach towards the white is not good at all but they behave warmly when they find out that you are Muslim.


What else can you tell us about Sierra Leone? 


In the meetings with community leaders, we learned that they first needed help with education and also food aid.... they know well that they get rid of their problems when they get enough education. They said to us that at least we can help them with education even if we can not do all of them. It is very hopeful that they recognize that the sensitive point is education to overcome many issues.This is not a great amount of money.With the money that is little for Turkey a lot of nice education centers can be established there.Of course it is not possible for each single individual to reach there.




This can be done. There are aid organizations like IHH. You can help and fund them to support the aid activities. It is not enough to watch them on TV and feel sorry. Something should be done for them. Believe me that we can do great things for 20 to 30 thousand dollars there, save the orphans on the streets, for example. I tell those around me to assist in aid organizations. IHH is very good at aid organizations, does its work well. Also IHH says everyone can come and see their activities if they like. In terms of being Muslim and belonging to it, I observed that there were a lot of places named renowed footballer Zidane. The people's interest increased since he is from an Algerian family. I wanted to add that 50 to 60 women gathered and sang Islamic songs in the locations we gave aid out.



We welcomed us saying "May Allah's peace be upon you, welcome to our country, Muslim community" in both in Arabic and their native language. This event spontaneously took place. We felt happiness of sharing and Muslims helping Muslims. The other point is that there are excess churches. Even you can not see such churches in any city of western states as many as you can here, but you come across them quite often. 


This interview was translated by Ülkü ESER and M.Hasan UNCULAR for Worldbulletin




















Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16