There’s a lot of talk these days about how peoples of all faiths can live and work together under the same government, especially when the government clearly favors a rule of law more closely aligned with one faith than another. In Benin, Christians (Catholics and Protestants alike, although it’s a primarily Catholic country), Animists, and Muslims live side by side. Nobody blinks an eye (or complains!) when the sidewalk is blocked by Muslims taking part in afternoon prayer, and the blatantly Christian slant of many names (The Virgin’s Hairdresser, Jesus Mechanic, etc) doesn’t elicit comment either.
This week, the Beninese are blessed with two days off. The first was yesterday, for All Saints Day (Catholic). Ramadan (Muslim) ends tonight, and the entire country is taking off to celebrate tomorrow. If you’re not Catholic, chances are you have friends who are, and thus, were invited to participate in some of yesterday’s events. If you’re not Muslim, the chances are equally likely that your friends are, and that you will be invited to participate in tomorrow’s festivities.
There’s a tolerance and patience here that’s hard to describe. It’s not the self-conscious, publicly tolerant face of the West. “Yes, you’re different, but that’s okay, we’re all unique snowflakes, and if your snowflakeness happens to be a little bizarre, well, you’re entitled to it, and we’ll accept you anyway.” It’s an idea that we’re all people, and it doesn’t matter at all what you worship or who you worship with, as long as you respect your fellow man.
In some ways, it’s like having blue or green eyes. It’s not really a big deal what color they are, so long as they exist.