While Muslim-Christian violence often makes headlines, Muslims and Mennonites in Burkina Faso celebrated interfaith cooperation after buying a hearse together.
Muslim leader Ali Traoré and a delegation from his community gathered in the courtyard of the Shalom Mennonite guesthouse in Bobo-Dioulasso on Oct. 13 to dedicate the hearse, which serves both the Muslim and Christian communities.
The event took place during the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission annual partnership council meetings.
In November 2020, Muslim leaders commissioned Alice Tou to request a meeting with her pastor, Mennonite leader Siaka Traoré. Siaka Traoré was guarded in his response, as many Mennonites in Burkina Faso have experienced persecution at the hands of Muslim neighbors and Islamic guerrilla fighters from outside the country. On the day of the hearse dedication, Traoré’s brother-in-law was in the hospital, recovering from an ambush by foreign jihadists.
“In our country, tensions are high between Christians and Muslims,” Siaka Traoré said. “However, trusting in God’s protection, I agreed to a meeting.”
The Muslim community had been trying to procure a hearse for three decades. Muslim leaders proposed Mennonites collaborate with them to buy one.
“This request surprised me, because many Muslim believers don’t want their dead to be defiled by any contact with non-Muslim people,” Siaka Traoré said.
The Mennonites of Bobo Dioulasso discerned that working with their Muslim neighbors in their times of grief wouldn’t compromise their faith in Jesus but would be an opportunity to build connections and show that Christians are people of compassion and peace.
Siaka Traoré issued a request to North American Mennonites last March to join brothers and sisters in Burkina Faso in building understanding with the Muslim community.
Less than two months later, with contributions from Mennonites and Muslims in Burkina Faso and North America, they were able to raise funds to purchase the Corbillard de la Fraternité (Hearse of the Brotherhood).
The October dedication brought together more than 30 people — about 20 Mennonites who had gathered for the partnership council meetings and about a dozen Muslim men.
The hearse is a van modified by residents of Bobo Dioulasso. They installed windows and benches for family members, surrounding the box that holds the deceased. The modification is in accordance with Islamic practice, which prescribes a simple shroud for burial.
The celebration ended with a prayer, thanking God for community unity and dedicating the hearse to be a blessing for grieving families.