THE minibuses that ferry Sierra Leoneans around their capital, Freetown, bear a variety of religious slogans. “Trust in Allah,” reads one, while others evoke the power of Christ. But one stands out. Somewhere, plying the potholed streets, is a bus bearing the words “God loves Allah”.
Sierra Leone takes religious tolerance seriously. Not only are relations between the two main religious groups in the west African country cordial, but it is not unusual to be both Christian and Muslim. Hassan Kargbo is one of thousands of Sierra Leoneans who have become known as a “ChrisMus”. He identifies himself as a Muslim, but also believes in Christianity. Before he starts work on Sundays, he goes to church. He visits a mosque every day. “I see it as the same religion,” he says, sporting a Jesus bracelet. “All of us say it’s the same god that we’re worshipping.”
Kelfala Conteh is a caretaker at the oldest mosque in Freetown. “Of course [Christians] come here,” he says with pride. “We have both Christians and Muslims praying side by side. No fighting. Jesus was the messenger to tell the people to worship the one god. I respect him after Muhammad. I believe in the Bible and the Koran.”
Sierra Leone straddles Africa’s religious equator, where the Muslim north meets the Christian south. Other countries in the region are experiencing religious violence, with Islamist militants creating mayhem in the Central African Republic, Mali and Nigeria.
But in Sierra Leone the president, Ernest Bai Koroma, a Christian, was elected by voters who are roughly 70% Muslim. His vice-president is a Muslim. Marriage across sectarian lines is common, as are conversions. Neither religion played a part in the county’s civil war in the 1990s. “We all believe in one God,” says Wurie Bah, a Muslim from Freetown. “If my friends invite me to church, of course I will go.”