The Great Mosque of Touba: Spiritual Home of the Mouride Brotherhood
Islam has a long and impressive history in Africa. The nation of Senegal, for example, has been decisively influenced by Islam and it is the location of one of the greatest mosques in the entire continent of Africa, the Great Mosque of Touba. This mosque is remarkable in size and is celebrated for its architecture. It is the center of an influential Sufi order that is prominent in Senegal and beyond.
The History of the Great Mosque of Touba
The mosque was founded in the late 19th century by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who wanted to create a unique place of worship in the city of Touba in central Senegal. Bamba was one of the most remarkable men in Senegal’s history. He was a member of a conservative Sufi order but quickly grew dissatisfied with it.
As a result, in 1883, not long after he established the town of Touba, he founded the Mouride brotherhood (the Muridiyya). The city was designed to be a place where the spiritual and the worldly could be reconciled and where people could live in accordance with the teachings of the Quran.
Bamba was an influential Islamic theologian who stressed the need for hard work and self-control among his followers. His message appealed to many and he is regarded by the members of the Brotherhood as one of the ‘renewers’ or Mujaddids, of Islam. He was also the first Caliph of the Sufi order. Bamba was a pacifist who used non-violent ways to resist the cultural and political policies of the French colonists who had occupied the territory of what is now Senegal.
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The Mouride brotherhood has gone from strength to strength since the death of Bamba in 1927. The mosque is fundamental to thousands of followers mainly in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauretania, and Gambia. It is generally accepted that the house of worship has also been pivotal in the success and development of the city of Touba.
Built by a Man Who Believed in Hard Work
The mosque is in the center of Touba, the holy city of the Mouride brotherhood. It took almost 80 years to build the house of worship and it has been continuously expanded on and embellished ever since.
One of the five minarets with Lamp Fall on the right. (Jbdodane/CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Great Mosque has five minarets and the most famous is 286 feet (87 meters) high and known as the Lamp Fall, named after Sheikh Ibrahima Fall, one of Bamba's most influential disciples. There are three large domes and the location of the mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is beneath the central dome, set in a niche and protected by a gold mesh fence. The mausolea of other Caliphs of the Mouride brotherhood, as well as the sons of the founder, lie within the complex.
The mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. (Photo by Ummahwide)
Adjacent to the place of worship is an official audience hall and a sacred well, though there are also libraries, offices, and other buildings in the complex. The mosque was built in a classical Islamic style with striking blue and green domes. The Mouride order, which because of emigration is now a worldwide movement, considers the mosque their spiritual home. The current Caliph lives in a residence nearby.
Grand Magal and the Great Mosque of Touba
Every year members of the Mouride brotherhood from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the Great Mosque of Touba to celebrate the life and teachings of Sheikh Bamba. The tomb of the Sheikh, which is believed to have spiritual power, is a popular destination.
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Interior of the Great Mosque. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The pilgrimage is one of the largest in Africa and approximately 3 million followers take part every year. There are events day and night, and these include the recitation of sacred poetry and religious processions. The pilgrimage is so popular that it is broadcast live on Senegalese television.
The Physical Journey to the Great Mosque of Touba
Touba has grown rapidly since the late 19th century and is now home to half a million people. The city is largely governed by the Sufi Order and is just over 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Dakar. There is accommodation available near the Great Mosque in Touba and the city is safe.
This beautiful building is open to everyone, irrespective of their religion, but some restrictions may be placed on non-Muslims during certain periods of the year.
Top image: Great Mosque of Touba. Source: Visintainer, F / CC BY 3.0
By Ed Whelan
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