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Dakar mosque lit up for Christmas in Senegal

DAKAR, Senegal — It looks a lot like Christmas in Senegal these days, despite the fact that 95 percent of the 12.8 million residents are Muslim. Even the Grande Mosquee, which dominates the city’s skyline, is aglow in holiday lights.

‘‘When they go to school, the children learn about Santa,’’ says resident Ibrahim Lo, wearing a flowing olive green robe known as a boubou. ‘‘We are born into the Senegalese tradition of cohabitation between Muslims and Christians. What is essential is the respect between people.’’

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Senegal, a moderate country along Africa’s western coast, has long been a place where Christians and Muslims have coexisted peacefully. Most Christians here are Catholic and live in the south of the country and in the capital.

Hadim Thiam, 30, normally sells shoes, but during December he has expanded to an elaborate spread of tinsel, cans of spray snow, and fireworks.

‘‘It’s not linked to God. It’s for the children,’’ says Jean Mouss, 55, a Christian out shopping for holiday decorations at Thiam’s stand. ‘‘We wish Muslims a Merry Christmas and invite them into our homes for the holiday.’’

Plastic trees of every size are sold on street corners in the seaside capital, alongside Nescafe carts and vendors splitting coconuts. At lunchtime, a chorus of schoolchildren singing ‘‘Silent Night’’ echoes across a courtyard.

Still, not everyone in Senegal thinks embracing Christmas is all in good cheer. Mouhamed Seck, a Koran teacher and imam, says taking part in the holiday is forbidden by Islam.

Parents who celebrate Christmas, though, say it’s a secular observance, a time to celebrate with their families on a national holiday.

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