The majority of Senegalese emigrants living in Bed-Stuy are practicing Muslims. Their religious experience here in Brooklyn is different than in Africa in a few important ways:
First, the Muslim community in Bed-Stuy bears a more universal character than it does in Senegal. While in Senegal, most Muslims consider their Sufi identity to be distinct from other forms of Islam, the Muslim population in Brooklyn generally consists of followers of the Sunni branch of Islam.
Secondly, Senegalese Muslims here are not connected to sheiks, spiritual leaders on an everyday basis. In Senegal, Muslims are members of Sufi orders known as brotherhoods which follow sheiks (also known as marabout).
Here, disciples still support their sheiks in Senegal by sending remittances to support the religious community back home. The main brotherhoods in Senegal are the Mourides, the Tijaniyyah, the Layene, and the Qadiriyya. In New York, most Senegalese emigrants are Mourides.
There are not many Senegalese sheiks living here in the diaspora, however. But there are some very charismatic Muslim leaders in Bed-Stuy who have attracted emigrants into their communities.
For example, Senegalese living in Bed-Stuy join Muslims from many other countries to pray at the well-known Masjid at Taqwa mosque, on Fulton St. at Bedford Ave. The mosque was founded in 1981 by its current Imam, Siraj Wahhaj, an American who was raised Christian and joined the Nation of Islam after converting in the late 1960s.
Siraj Wahhaj is an important leader in the Muslim community and nationally-known, said the receptionist for Masjid al Taqwa, Maajeida Adurrahman. Imam Wahhaj has given invocation at the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Muslim to do so.
Another meeting place for West African Muslims, including Senegalese and Guineans living in Bed-Stuy, is the Pulaar-Speaking Association Headquarters on Fulton Street. This non-profit social and cultural center has satellite locations throughout the country. Like Bed-Stuy's mosques, the Pular-Speaking Association brings together Africans from various countries who share the Pulaar language and Fulani culture. Most Fulani Muslims are from the Tijaniyyah brotherhood.
People meet at the Association to pray, celebrate the end of the fast during Ramadan, and learn news from Africa, said one shopowner on Fulton Street whose customers often visit the Association. The Association has hosted a radio station in the Pulaar language since 1999 which updates Africans in the diaspora about politics back home.
Other mosques that Senegalese attend include the Jame Masjid Islamic Center at the intersection of Gates Avenue and Ralph Street, and Masjid Zawiyat on Franklin Avenue with Madison Street.
The Muslim community in Bed-Stuy is diverse, and Muslims living here hail from not only Senegal but also Guinea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe and the United States.