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Lamin Sanneh
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Lamin Sanneh

Slouching through polygamy

Books

In WORLD’s current issue I review Lamin Sanneh’s Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African (Eerdmans, 2012). Sanneh, a Yale history professor born in 1942, moved from childhood Islam in Africa to a faith in Christ. With the United States heading toward legalizing polygamy, here’s what Sanneh remembers about growing up amid Gambian polygamy:

“The man bobbing in and out of his wives’ lives on a rotation dictated by the women’s natural cycles. He will be fence-hopping or bed-swapping in the next nocturnal round, and will be out of sight of most of his children at any time. … We do not generally realize the extent of the secondary social margins to which the system of plural wives confines men, with the children showing up as standard issue of masculine virility. … Fatherhood merely launches children as live specimens, and detaches to leave them to the safe care of the maternal embrace, and otherwise to life’s vagaries.”

Christians speak of God the Father, Muslims think of Allah the Master. I wonder how childhood experiences play into this. Sanneh writes about his dad: “I nuzzled up to him for warmth and assurance every time he returned home, relieved and pleased in equal measure. I am sure he was aware of my feelings, but I had to guess that. He was pretty inscrutable.” He also has a vivid description of his Muslim teacher, who had a “mystical glint in his eyes,” and was “convinced that the world was a snare, and that only vigilant watchfulness could cuts its seductive attachments.”

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Sanneh’s book is unlike the conversion story in which new brethren warmly greet a person crossing over. He write of missionaries in Africa afraid to welcome converts for fear of upsetting local Muslims. God’s call is hard to resist but also hard to accept, given the social consequences. Sanneh writes of a Muslim friend who “emerged fresh from a secret reading of John’s Gospel. It’s an unforgiving choice, he said, whether to take the high risks of conversion or to shut your mind to the truth. He had a miserable time of it, with a feeling of moral paralysis, and he died unfulfilled.”

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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