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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
The annual trek to Touba

Hundreds of thousands flock to Touba
By Chris Simpson in Touba, western Senegal

Touba is Senegal's most sacred city.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims make the journey to Touba, worshipping at the mosque and honouring the memory of Sheikh Amadou Bamba, founder and spiritual leader of the Mourides brotherhood.


The money is nothing compared to the importance of the ceremony. If I had to do it 10 times a year I'd do it

Sadia Diarisso
Born around 1850, Amadou Bamba immersed himself in the study of the Koran, building up a reputation as a formidable Islamic scholar.

Although he explicitly renounced violence, Amadou Bamba came to be viewed as a highly dangerous influence by the French colonial authorities.

He was accused of sedition and expelled from Senegal.

Departure

The annual pilgrimage, or 'Magal', marks the anniversary of Amadou Bamba's departure for Gabon, where he was to spend seven years in exile.

Market trader
Commerce thrives in Touba
Vendors in Touba sell visitors volumes of Amadou Bamba's poems and teachings, along with pictures portraying the main events of his life.

Pilgrims recount stories, highlighting Amadou Bamba's courage and spiritual prowess.

Sadia Diarisso, an English teacher from Dakar, recalls Amadou Bamba's difficult sea passage to Gabon.

"When it came to the time for prayer, the owner of the ship approached Amadou Bamba and asked him not to pray on board the vessel.

"So Amadou Bamba took a sheepskin and laid it on the water and he prayed on that. The sheepskin stayed on the water's surface. It's something all Mourides are proud of."

Full stretch

Sadia Diarisso has made over 20 pilgrimages to Touba. This time he brought his wife, Marieme, and two children, Makha and Ousmane.

"We are from Dakar. It costs us to come, but the money is nothing compared to the importance of the ceremony. If I had to do it 10 times a year I'd do it."

With up to three million visitors pouring into Touba, the local authorities are at full stretch, trying to provide accommodation and clean water.

Special trains are laid on from the capital, Dakar. Other pilgrims squeeze into taxis and minibuses.

While pilgrims come to pray and consult with their marabouts, or spiritual leaders, the Magal is also about commerce.

Hundreds of traders line the streets up towards the mosque.

They sell everything from gold and jewelry to sheepskins and mobile phones. There is tea and soft drinks for the thirsty.

Cattle and sheep are slaughtered in the backstreets to ensure there is enough food for the visitors.

The main host in Touba is the Khalif, Serigne Diallo Mbacke, now recognised as the head of the Mourides brotherhood.

President Abdoulaye Wade, himself a Mouride, recently visited the khalif, thanking him for his prayers. Wade's party had just won a huge election victory and the blessing of the khalif was seen as a vital contribution

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See also:

14 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Senegal
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