Friday, August 12, 2011



Senegal's Mourides:

Islam's mystical entrepreneurs

Youssou N'Dour

Mouridism is, for me, two paths: one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don't work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity"

       Youssou N'Dour Musician
A street vendor in Senegal

Many of the street vendors commonly seen in Italy, France and Spain selling sunglasses, bags and souvenirs are members of a highly industrious, entrepreneurial branch of Sufi Islam, which has its roots in Senegal.

At the entrance to Touba, Senegal's second-largest city, is a gateway arching over the road under which a sign urges visitors to respect the orders of the local Islamic leader and to not smoke.

Touba, a four-hour drive east of the Senegalese capital Dakar, is the spiritual home of the Mouride Brotherhood, a branch of Islam which holds the sanctity of work as one of its core beliefs. Perhaps this explains why the city is covered in adverts for international banks and money transfer services.

Who is Amadou Bamba?

Amadou Bamba

Amadou Bamba was born in Baol, in central Senegal, in 1853. A renowned poet, mystic, and prayer leader, he founded the Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. He was renowned for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are famous for their industriousness. Bamba led a peaceful struggle against French colonialism.

As his popularity grew, the French government sentenced Bamba to exile in Gabon and later in Mauritania. By 1910, the French recognised he was not a threat, and he was released. In 1918, he won the French Legion of Honour for enlisting his followers in World War I. He died in 1927.

Today, followers donate earnings to the Mouride Brotherhood, who in turn provide social services and business loans. This is the only surviving photo of Amadou Bamba. His image adorns buildings, buses and taxis all over Senegal.

I am taken on a tour of Touba's great mosque by Cheikh Sene, a Mouride scholar from nearby Bambey University.

In a quiet corner of the mosque men sit chatting, while in a nearby room younger men are busy, hunched over computers working on the mosque's website.

A constant stream of people come to the mosque to pay homage at the tomb of Amadou Bamba - a Sufi mystic and founder of the Mouride Brotherhood.

For true believers, says Mr Sene, the path laid down by Bamba is nothing short of "the real practice of Islam". It is also a path of which many other Muslims in the world strongly disapprove.

Famous followers

They include the humblest of peasants to Senegal's now somewhat beleaguered president, Abdoulaye Wade, who has recently faced intense criticism amid recent protests against proposed changes to the constitution.

Great Mosque in Touba, Senegal More than a million Mourides make the pilgrimage to Touba each year

Perhaps the best-known follower of Mouridism is the musician Youssou N'Dour.

When I met him in the television station he owns in Dakar, he talked about his 2004 Grammy award-winning album Egypt, which celebrated Amadou Bamba and Mouridism.

He argues Mouridism is a counter to the post-9/11 stereotype of Muslims. "In the West, you read all about terrorism... we're all lumped together. But those of us who understand that it's a religion of peace, love and sharing mustn't give up.

"Mouridism is for me two paths - one is the way to God, the other path is the doctrine of work and dignity. Because if you don't work, you hold your hand out and lose your dignity." 

August, 2011


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