Sierra Leone – religious tolerance and understanding in practice

Large crowd of people sitting on bleachers

January 2021

When asked what Sierra Leone can export to the world, Father Peter Konteh, Executive Director of Caritas Freetown, always responds, “Religious tolerance and understanding. During times of great crisis like the civil war and Ebola, our faith leaders – Muslim, Catholic and Protestants – have pulled our communities together.”

So, this World Religion Day we highlight Sierra Leone as Muslims and Christians exemplify religious tolerance by embracing their shared values of love, charity and peace to achieve common goals.

Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s Inter-Religious Council meets frequently to discuss how to “promote interfaith dialogue and promote peaceful coexistence in communities.” According to the most recent U.S. State Department Interreligious Freedom Report, Muslims represent 77% and Christians 22% of the population. The 2019 report further noted, “Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims remained common, and many families had both Christian and Muslim members living in the same household. Many individuals celebrated religious holidays of other religious groups, regardless of denomination, both at home and in houses of worship.”

Interfaith Rice Distribution
Woman bowing and giving a bag of rice to another woman
The distribution is held at Jesus is Lord Ministries. Apostle Dora Dumbuya gives rice to a beneficiary.

For the past four years, Partnering to Serve Humanity has held an Interfaith Rice Distribution in Freetown. Leaders from the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist faiths attend and speak to the over 3,000 beneficiaries on the importance of religious tolerance.

Project Coordinator of the Sierra Leone Muslim Mission Union Sheik Fomba Abubakar Swaray explained, “If somebody wants to identify Sierra Leone by culture and tradition in terms of religious tolerance we are culturally integrated in our tolerance.”

Mohamed Pabai, Soka Gakkai Buddhist, further noted, “We welcome religious tolerance. I go to church, I go to mosque, if called upon by family members I will go. We get the religious council together to talk to each religion. To continue to share the good things that are among us.”

His Grace Dr. Edward Tamba Charles, Archbishop of Freetown, added, “We work together in the interest of the development of our country. It has come about naturally by our common cultural heritage that people of different religions live together, they work together. If there is a crisis, they work together to resolve that crisis.”

Strength from religious tolerance

Attending the distribution, was the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare. He expressed appreciation for the rice being provided to those in need and the message of religious tolerance. Telling those in attendance that Sierra Leone should be proud that there is little religious division in the country. He concluded, “We are a unique country known for our religious tolerance. This is where we draw our strength from.”

So, this World Religion Day we honor Sierra Leone and one of their greatest natural resources: the strength of their religious tolerance.

(Partnering to Serve Humanity consists of HealeyIRF, Caritas Freetown, Tzu Chi Foundation and Lanyi Foundation.)