Christian and Muslim leaders in Burkina Faso met last week to discuss interreligious dialogue amidst growing concerns about the spread of violent Islamic extremism in the country, reports Fides.
The landlocked West African nation, which borders Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast, is majority-Muslim (around 60%), but also has significant numbers of Christians (over 20%, the vast majority of whom are Catholics) and followers of indigenous beliefs (15%), according to the latest census (2006).
On top of a rise in violent extremism, delegates of the Second General Assembly 2018 of the Episcopal Commission for Islamic-Christian Dialogue noted an increase in radicalisation and the use of religion to drive political agendas.
“We are called to live together,” Muslim leader Iman Boureima Drobo told delegates. “We must learn to do it. It is an obligation, otherwise it will be very difficult to be happy on this earth. It is here that Paradise and eternal life are prepared. If we are not in this state of spirit in this world, it will be very difficult to obtain what God has promised us after death.”
Last month the International Crisis Group warned of an “alarming escalation of jihadist violence”, as reports emerged about a group called ‘Islamic Security’, operating from Pouytenga, 150km east of the capital Ouagadougou. The Fédération des Associations Islamiques du Burkina described the group as “the non-armed service of the local Sunni movement”, whose members were guarding mosques and other religious sites during times of worship. The group is now believed to have been disbanded.
Burkina Faso has been the scene of several Islamist attacks, including one in January 2016 in which 29 people were killed, including a US missionary and six Christians on a humanitarian trip.
On the very same day, an Australian doctor and his wife were kidnapped in the town of Djibo, near the Mali border. Ken and Jocelyn Elliott, who are in their eighties, had worked in Burkina Faso since the 1970s. Jocelyn was released after a month, but her husband, who was declared a citizen of the West African nation by an official decree in November 2016, is still missing.
It is believed that he is being held outside of Burkina Faso. In July 2017, he appeared in a video produced by his kidnappers, along with several other Western kidnap hostages. On it, he said: “This video is to ask various governments, in particular the Australian government and Burkina government, to do what they can to help negotiate my release.” Addressing his family, he added: “I just want to say, again, I love you all and I appreciate all your prayers and all your cares. I look forward to one day being reunited.”