Touba is a relatively young metropolis, having grown up around the tomb of its locally revered Sufi saint over the last hundred years. Founded during the early 20th century, Touba has become the spiritual center of Senegal and arguably the most popular Islamic pilgrimage destination in West Africa. The city was established by Sheik Ahmadou Bamba, who is highly revered as the founder of Senegal’s particular sect of Islam. His tomb is located within the Masjid Touba, one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in West Africa. Touba is now home to of one of the largest annual pilgrimage festivals on the African continent.
Senegal has long marked the extreme southwestern fringe of the civilized world. For the last thousand years it has roughly demarked the westernmost frontier between Islamic North Africa and tribal Sub-Saharan Africa. Although it had lain within the Muslim sphere of influence for much of this period, it was not until the late 19th century that Senegalese Islam really began to achieve its own identity under the guidance of a local Sufi mystic, Ahmadou Bamba. Ahmadou Bamba, a member of the Xaadir Brotherhood, became a prominent local religious leader in the 1870s. He founded a ministry of sorts that focused on Islamic study, mysticism and pacifism. His lifestyle and teachings became known, and he acquired a significant following. His followers would later become the Mouride Brotherhood, the dominant Islamic institution in Senegal.
Despite his pacifistic teachings and nominal acquiescence to foreign colonial rule, Ahmadou Bamba was considered a potential political and military threat by the French authorities in Senegal. In 1895 he was sent into exile for twelve years, but this only increased his popularity. Furthermore, despite his ill-treatment by the French, Ahmadou remained supportive of the colonial government. Upon his return to Senegal, he worked hard to improve French-Senegalese relations. His popularity grew both among the Senegalese Muslims and the French government. He strongly supported the French during the First World War, and was awarded the French Legion of honor.
In the 1920’s he returned to central Senegal and founded the city of Touba where he began construction on a new mosque. He died in 1927 as both a highly revered religious leader and a national hero. He was later buried with great honor in the mosque he founded. At the time of his death, Ahmadou Bamba was the most influential Islamic leader in West Africa. Through his efforts he instituted a Muslim theology in Senegal that is unique in Islam, emphasizing personal values over an Islamic nationalist state. Some of the traditions of his followers are considered borderline heretical by other Muslims, notably their belief that Touba is as important a city as Mecca, and holding Ahmadou Bamba in regard just a tiny bit below Mohammed.
Touba is now the largest Islamic pilgrimage destination in Africa south of the Maghreb states and east of the African Horn. Many Muslims from Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania flock here annually to visit the Tomb of Ahmadou whom they consider to be one of modern Islam’s greatest spiritual leaders. The high point of the year is the Grand Pilgrimage which takes place seven weeks after the Muslim New Year, when hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on Touba en masse to celebrate Ahmadou Bamba’s return from exile.
The Great Mosque of Touba dominates the skyline of the city which has grown at a spectacular pace over the last century. Despite its modernity, it was not finally completed until 1963, the mosque’s architecture and construction are more reflective of earlier, classical styles. Its most distinctive feature is the primary minaret, which towers over the smaller minarets and multiple blue and green domes of the structure.
The mosque interior is also of a traditional construction. Its main feature is, of course, the spectacular Tomb of Ahmadou Bamba. The mausoleum resides in an alcove guarded by an intricate gold-plated barrier fence. His descendents are entombed in another mausoleum next door to the Great Mosque.
The entire city of Touba, approximately 100 miles east of the capital of Dakar, grew up around the Great Mosque, which remains its raison d’etre. It is open to everyone, although there may be some restrictions to non-Muslims at certain times. No other visitor information was available at the time of this writing. Web: No website available.
The largest and best known mosque in Senegal is the Grand Mosque in Dakar. Islam in Senegal is dominated by three brotherhoods: the Mourides, the Xaadir and the Tijaan. The Brotherhood of Mourides is the one founded by Ahmadou Bamba is universally respected. Each brotherhood has a primary sacred mosque. That of the Xaadir is in Mauritania. The Mosque of the Tijaan Brotherhood is located in Tivaouane to the west of Touba.