Touba & more

The most substantial part of my research in urban and cultural geography has focused on the city of Touba and on Senegal’s other contemporary Sufi settlements. I began studying Touba as a master’s student and first visited the city in 1988. I have been returning regularly ever since. On this page and its offspring I present the core aspects of this research. I have mapped the various Senegalese shrines (Murid, Tijâni, Qadriri and others) using cadaster registries, satellite images and field visits, and I use these maps to introduce short descriptions of each place. I have also prepared a Google Earth file which contains placemarks for all the places I discuss. This kmz file can be downloaded here. As far as possible I also provide references to any publication which deals with these shrines or related issues.

View of the qibla facade of the Great Mosque of Touba (ph. Eric Ross)

Touba is an exceptional city in many regards. First, it is truly a Sufi city. It was founded in 1887 by a Sufi sheikh, Ahmadu Bamba Mbacké (1853-1927), during a mystic “state” (hâl in Arabic). The entire city has been built and continues to be managed by the Sufi order (the Murid tarîqa, or Muridiya) which he established. Consequently, Islamic and Sufi conceptions of life, creation and human destiny under-gird Touba’s urban design. The toponymy of the city in particular reflects its transcendent quality. God’s Names and Attributes, as well as numerous eschatological concepts from the Koran are inscribed in the names of its various wards and neighborhoods.

Secondly, the city of Touba has considerable de jure political and administrative autonomy within Senegal. As a holy city, Touba has to be maintained in a state of purity. For Murids, it is a protected zone, a sacred enclosure from which “Satan and his works” are excluded. Consequently, forbidden in Touba are all illicit and frivolous pursuits, such as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, the playing of games, sports, music and dancing. Touba’s immunity from the corruption of the profane world around it is energetically maintained by the Murid tarîqa. It has always endeavored to maintain absolute control over the holy city, to the exclusion of the types of state-run civil and administrative agencies which commonly manage and administer other cities. Education, health, supply of drinking water, public works, administration of markets, land tenure and real estate development… the tarîqa manages every aspect of the city’s life and growth.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Republic of Senegal is constitutionally a unitary secular state on the French model, the Murid tarîqa has managed to obtain legal recognition of its independent administration of Touba from the state. Since 1976 Touba has had the status of “autonomous rural community,” meaning that local administration and services are under the jurisdiction the Khalif-General of the Murids, not of state officials. Sëriñ Sheikh Maty Lèye Mbacké, the current Khalif-General, is a grandson of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba and is the seventh descendant to hold the position. Let there be no misunderstanding about Touba though, with over half a million inhabitants it is no rural community. It is a full-fledged city–Senegal’s second largest after Dakar–which continues to grow rapidly. All of this makes for a fascinating and unique city, and a great opportunity to learn about urban processes outside of state apparatuses.

In Arabic, tûbâ means “felicity”, “bliss” or “beatitude”, and evokes the sweet pleasures of eternal life in the hereafter. In Islamic tradition, Tûbâ is also the name of the Tree of Paradise. Hadîths cited by Al-Bukhârî and Ibn Hanbal describe it as a great tree of astronomical dimension and many excellent attributes. Sufi poets and theosophists such as Hâfiz, Suhrawardî, and Ibn ‘Arabî invested this symbolic tree with an aspiration for spiritual perfection. In this Sufi imaginary, Touba is a “World Tree,” a representation of creation. It is a “tree of light,” of divine light, rooted in God and illuminating the world below. This is the Tûbâ for which Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba named his city.

Senegal ‘s most famous Sufi was more than a spiritual master. He had a social mission as well, that of rescuing society from colonial alienation and of returning it to the “Straight Path” of Islam. Touba played a major role in both of these endeavors. The holy city is in effect an earthly manifestation of Tûbâ, the celestial Tree of Paradise. The Straight Path, the righteous path, the path of sobriety and virtue, constitutes the link between the two manifestations as access to celestial bliss in the Hereafter depends upon a righteous life on Earth. Touba is thus a qutb, an axis mundi linking earth and heaven. This link is manifest in the horizontal and vertical alignments of the city’s design.

After having “discovered” (kashf in Arabic) the holy site of Touba in 1887, Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba settled there with his family and closest disciples. He was however unable to enjoy its felicity for long. The charismatic sheikh was overwhelmed by a throng of his own followers. Moreover, the French colonial administration became suspicious of his popularity and intentions and had him arrested in 1895. Ahmadu Bamba would spend most of the rest of his life under punitive constraint, either in exile or under house arrest. Only after his death, while still under house arrest in Diourbel, did Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba return to Touba… for burial. And only then did construction of the city really get under way.

Touba’s central shrine complex

Touba center 2011 color

Map of central Touba

At the heart of Touba lies a unique spiritual sanctuary. This sanctuary consists of two distinct spaces: the solid and very formal space of the Great Mosque and adjoining mausolea, and the open and rather ethereal space of the cemetery. This configuration was created by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba himself, in the early days following the sanctuary’s foundation, and it is here that the physical and metaphysical dimensions of the city are most closely related.

The Great Mosque rises from a plinth at the center of a large public square (pénc in Wolof). This mosque is purported to be one of the largest in Africa. Construction began in the 1930s but was interrupted by WWII. The Mosque was completed in 1963. Since that time it has been continually enlarged and embellished, most notably by the construction of a string of prayer halls along the plinth’s perimeter in the late 1980s and by being completely resurfaced in imported marble in the late 1990s.

The Mosque has five minarets and three large domes. The larger central dome rises over the main prayer hall in front of the mihrâb. Beneath the north-east dome, to the left of the mihrâb, lies the richly adorned and sweetly scented tomb of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba Mbacké. There is a continuous flow of pious visitors to this part of the building.

View of the qibla facade of the, Great Mosque of Touba. Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba is buried under the green dome. The mosque’s towering central minaret is called Lamp Fall. (ph. Eric Ross)

The most important architectural attribute of the Great Mosque is its central minaret, known popularly as “Lamp Fall” (after Sheikh Ibra Fall, Ahmadu Bamba’s most fiercely devoted disciple). Lamp Fall rises 87 meters. It dominates both the mosque and the surrounding cityscape. By day it can be seen clearly from fifteen km away while by night the beacon at its summit shines out even further. Derived from the French word “lampe”, Lamp Fall’s illuminative associations are clear. It marks the site of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s mystic vision, his transcendent experience. Lamp Fall is one of the tallest structures in Senegal and its main function is representational. It marks Touba as a qutb, an axis mundi linking life in the material world to eternal recompense in the Hereafter, represented by Tûbâ, the Tree of Paradise. This unique minaret both symbolizes and actualizes Touba. Its ubiquitous form is immediately recognizable and figures prominently in Murid iconography.

Touba 2012 shrine centerTouba 2012 shrine legendThe immediate vicinity of the Great Mosque houses a number of important mausolea, namely those of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s sons and successors. To the right of the mihrâb, built against the exterior of the Mosque’s qibla wall, is the mausoleum of Sëriñ Mamadou Moustafa Mbacké, first Khalif of the Murids (1927-1945). Other mausolea stand freely on the qibla side of the Mosque. These include those of Sëriñ Falilou (second Khalif-General, 1945-1968), Sëriñ Abdou Khadre (fourth Khalif-General, 1989-1990), Sëriñ Saliou (fifth Khalif-General, 1990-2007) and of their brother Sëriñ Mourtada (d. 2004). The tomb of the third Khalif-General, Sëriñ Abdoul Ahad (1968-1989), lies in the inner court of the library which he built across from the Mosque. Usually, when a son of one of these khalifs dies he is laid to rest in his father’s mausoleum.

Satellite image of Touba’s central cemetery. The most important mausolea are clustered in the west, next to the main entrance from the square. The largest mausoleum in the cemetery, rectangular in shape, houses the tombs of Sheikh Ibra Fall and his descendants. The Guy Texe (Baobab of Bliss) was still standing in the center of the cemetery when this image was taken. (source: Google Earth, image dated 26 January 2003)

Directly on the qibla axis of the Great Mosque is Touba’s cemetery. The cemetery is an essential element of the holy city’s spiritual topography. It is crowded with a great number of tombs and mausolea as Murids, wherever they may live, desire above all else to be buried there, in proximity to Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba so that they may be resurrected with him at the end of days. The first to be buried there, under a baobab tree, was Soxna Aminata Lo, Ahmadu Bamba’s first wife. In effect, until it died in 2003 the cemetery harbored a material representation of the paradisaical Tûbâ in the form of this tree called “Guy Texe”, the “Baobab of Bliss”, or “Tree of Beatitude.” In popular conception, Murid disciples desired burial beneath this earthly tree so that they might accede to eternal bliss in the shade of Tûbâ in paradise. Some people would even carve their names into the bark of its trunk to “register” themselves for paradise. While the Guy Texe no longer stands, other similarly inscribed baobas, called guy mbind in Wolof, still flourish in other Murid shrines.

The tree called Guy Texe (Baobab of Bliss) used to stand in the middle of Touba’s cemetery. It stood over the mausolea of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s wives. This baobab died and collapsed in 2003 (ph. Eric Ross)

Touba’s Great Mosque commands the city. It rises in the middle of the central square on which the city’s main avenues converge. This square is also home to some other central institutions of the Murid tarîqa: the library and the Khalif-General’s audience hall (called Kër Sëriñ Touba). The large compounds of many the sons and successors of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba surround the square. It is on this square that Murids congregate on the 18th of Safar each year for the Grand Màggal, a pilgrimage to the heart and font of the Muridiya. Estimates of attendance at the Grand Màggal in recent years have oscillated between one and two million. Murids will travel from all over, and from as far away as Europe and America, to attend the event. Other màggals, smaller in size, are held in several other Murid shrines.

Residential wards have been built around Touba’s central shrine complex. Each ward is under the jurisdiction of a distinct Mbacké-Mbacké lineage and, like other Murid settlements, each is ordered as a Touba in miniature, with a central public square (pénc), often centered on a mosque-mausoleum complex, and an official residence, usually on the pénc‘s west side.

Darou Khoudoss

Situated one block away from Touba’s central square, Dâr al-Quddûs (“Abode of The Holy,” a Divine Name, Koran 62:1) is a very important ancillary shrine. It was one of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s khalwas (spiritual retreats) while living in Touba. It was there, on the site now occupied by the mosque, that the Sufi sheikh experienced a mystic vision which consolidated his elevated spiritual status as well as that of the city he founded. It was in Darou Khoudoss during the holy month of Ramadân 1311 (1894) that he was “immersed in the Prophet Muhammad’s holy light.” In what became known as the “Pact of Exile” the Prophet informed the sheikh had he had reached the station of qutb (pole) and that Touba was firmly under God’s protection, but that the sheikh himself would henceforth have to submit to a life of trials and exile from the hallowed place.

Darou Khoudoss Mosque as it stood in 2001, prior to rebuilding (ph. Eric Ross)

Entirely rebuilt and larger in size, The Darou Khouddos Mosque was very near completion when this picture was taken in July 2011 (ph. Eric Ross)

Domed kiosk within the Baïti compound where some of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s personal effects are preserved (ph. Eric Ross)

In 1912, Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba sent his oldest son, Sëriñ Mamadou Moustapha (1886-1945) to settle the site of Darou Khoudoss. Sëriñ Mamadou Moustapha continued to live there during his caliphate. His large compound, called Baïti, is a revered place as some of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s personal effects are enshrined there.

Satellite image of Darou Khoudoss, showing the Baïti compound and the mosque rebuilding nearing completion (source: Google Earth, image dated 7 April 2009)

Darou Khoudoss is also home to a sacred well called Aïnou Rahmati (the “Well of Mercy”), the only source of drinking water for the settlement in the early years, and to Moubaraka Market, the city’s first.

Water tower in Aïnou Rahmati (ph. Eric Ross)

Sëriñ Mamadou Moustafa’s sons continue to manage Darou Khoudoss ward. The current Khalif is Sëriñ Ahmadou Mokhtar Mbacké. Another of Ahmad Bamba’s sons, Sëriñ Souhaïbou (1921-1991), also settled in Darou Khoudoss, in a very large compound east of Baïti. He is buried in the mosque-mausoleum complex on its pénc.

Souhaibou penc 2012 color

Pénc of Sëriñ Souhaibou Mbacké

Sëriñ Souhaïbou’s mosque-mausoleum in Darou Khouddos, still under construction in 2011 (ph. Eric Ross)

A special màggal is held in Darou Khoudoss each year on the 19th of Muharram, the date of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s death. It is the oldest of the annual màggals.

Darou Minam

Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba established Dâr al-Minam (Abode of Graces) as a khalwa c. 1890. In 1936 his son Sëriñ Bassirou reoccupied the site. Sëriñ Bassirou (1895-1966) is remembered for the comprehensive hagiography he wrote of his father’s life (translated into French by Khadim Mbacké, Les bienfaits de l’Eternel ou la biographie de Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké, Dakar: Edition de l’IFAN-UCAD, 1995). He was also instrumental in developing the site of Porokhane in the Saloum region, where Ahmadu Bamba’s mother Mame Diarra Bousso is buried, into a major shrine (Porokhane is described on the ‘other Murid shrines’ page).

Darou Miname 2012 color

The pénc of Darou Minam

Sëriñ Bassirou Mbacké is buried in the newly rebuilt mosque-mausoleum complex in the center of its pénc and his sons still administer the ward. The current Khalif is Sëriñ Mountaha Bassirou Mbacké.

Front view of the Darou Minam mosque-mausoleum complex in Darou Minam prior to reconstruction.  Sëriñ Bassirou’s mausoleum stands behind it (ph. Eric Ross)

Lateral view of the rebuilt Darou Minam mosque, now open. The mausolea behind it were still under construction in July 2011 (ph. Eric Ross)

Touba’s other central wards consist of the following:

  • Touba Bagdad ward, also known as Sourah, was founded by Sëriñ Abdou Khadre Mbacké (1914-1990) long before he acceded to the Murid caliphate. Abou Khadre was named after ‘Abd al-Qâdir al-Jaylânî (1077-1166, see the “Qâdirî shrines” page), founder of the Qâdiriya order who is buried in Baghdad, hence the choice of name for this ward. He also established a rural daara just north of Touba which he also named “Bagdad” (see below).
  • Gouye Mbind ward was founded by Sëriñ Abdoul Aziz(d. 1989) son of Sëriñ Lamine Bara Mbacké (1888-1936) in the 1940s. The ward gets its name from a guy mbind, a “baobab of writing.” People would write their names on the trunk of this tree on order to register themselves for entrance to paradise. After this tree died in 1983 a new tree in the neighborhood was selected for the purpose. The current Khalif-General of the Murids, Sëriñ Maty Lèye (aka Sheikh Sidi Moukhtar Mbacké, b. 1924) is a son Sëriñ Lamine Bara and thus also has jurisdiction over Gouye Mbind ward, where he resides.
  • Contrary to other wards, Touba-Mosquée ward is administered directly by the Khalif-General of the Murids, whoever he may be, rather than by any individual Mbacké lineages. The ward was established during Sëriñ Falilou’s caliphate. The khalif-general resided on Touba’s central square, supervising the construction of the Mosque. He allotted Touba-Mosquée behind his compound. It is not centered on a public square but rather on Touba’s main market, called Ocass (after ‘Ukâz, a market in Arabia mentioned in hadîth). Ocass is one of Senegal ‘s most important markets as Murid businesses based there also operate in markets elsewhere, including the all-important Sandaga market in downtown Dakar. While Touba’s thoroughfares converge on the Great Mosque, its public transit network (consisting of minibuses, buggies and donkey carts) converges on Ocass Market. It is the city’s central business district and houses its oldest banking establishment. It is also the first part of the city to have undergone higher density “second-generation” urbanization, where single-family compounds are replaced by multi-story, multipurpose revenue-generating buildings.

Touba within the Rocade

The city of Touba is configured as a khâtim. A khâtim, literally “seal” in Arabic (xaatim in Wolof), combines geometrical elements of the circle and the square. The design device is used by Sufis to link realities in the microcosm to their essential, macrocosmic or archetypal Reality. It is also used to mark a qutb or the presence of an archetype. In Touba’s case the khâtim actualizes the link between the earthly city and its paradisiacal namesake, the tree called Tûbâ. It does so by under-girding the overall urban design. Right-angle grids of straight streets, mostly aligned on the qiblah axis to Mecca, represent the horizontal warp and woof of quotidian life on earth (a life lived along the Straight Path). Superimposed upon these grids is a wheel-and-spoke plan of converging avenues and ring roads which distinguishes Touba as a transcendent place, a vertical axis to the Hereafter, a qutb. The entire scheme is centered on the Great Mosque and is reinforced by its towering minaret, Lamp Fall.

Touba Rocade 2011 color

Map of Touba within the Rocade

Touba’s khâtim design is most clearly marked on the ground by a circular boulevard, called the Rocade, which confines the holy city and defines it. The Rocade was laid out in the late 1970s. Beyond the needs of traffic circulation, it functions at a symbolic level; it sets the holy city apart from the world around it which is perceived to be profane. It signifies a qualitative break in space, establishing definite precincts for the sanctuary. It is a threshold one must cross when arriving in Touba. Though the city continues to sprawl for many kilometers beyond it, the Rocade serves as a liminal structure, expressing both the holy city’s spiritual purity and its political and administrative independence.

On the khâtim

  • Prussin, Labelle (1986), Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa, University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Dilley, Roy M. (2004), Islamic and Caste Knowledge Practices among Haalpulaar’en in Senegal: Between Mosque and Termite Mound, Edinburg University Press.

Guédé Bousso

When the Rocade was laid out several formerly independent settlements: Guédé Bousso and Keur Niang among them, were enclosed within Touba’s holy precinct.

Map of Guédé Bousso neighborhood

Guede Bousso 2012 colorGuédé Bousso is home to the Bousso lineage, the lineage of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s mother, Mame Diarra (see the description of Porokhane on the “other Murid shrines” page). The Boussobé constitute an important ancillary lineage to the Mbacké. There have been marital ties between the two families for centuries and the imams of Touba’s Great Mosque are usually chosen from among the Boussobé.

Guédé Bousso ward gets its name from Guédé, the historic capital of Futa Toro where the Bousso originated. The settlement was established c. 1918 by Sheikh Mbacké Bousso (1861-1946), Ahmadu Bamba’s cousin and brother-in-law. Sheikh Mbacké Bousso was one of the leading scholars and intellectuals of the early Murid movement. Among other pursuits, Sheikh Mbacké Bousso conducted research on the calculation of solar time, necessary to determine prayer times, and on the direction of the qibla. In 1931 it is he who determined the qibla of Touba’s Great Mosque, and both the Great Mosque and the Guédé Bousso mosque are still equipped with the sundials he designed. By the 1930s Sheikh Mbacké Bousso’s school in Guédé Bousso had gained a reputation for excellence in advanced religious sciences.

View of Guédé Bousso Mosque (ph Eric Ross)

View of the qibla side of Guédé Bousso Mosque, showing the mausoleum of Cheikh Mbacké Bousso embedded in the new structure (ph Eric Ross)

When he died, Sheikh Mbacké Bousso was buried in a mausoleum on the settlement’s central square. A large mosque-mausoleum complex has recently been erected on the spot. The mosque’s twin pencil-thin minarets can be seen across the entire northern part of the city and it thus constitutes an important landmark. The current khalif of Guédé Bousso is Sëriñ Ibrahim Bakhé Bousso, a grandson of Sheikh Mbacké Bousso. The neighboring ward of Touba Guédé (established by Sheikh Mbacké Bousso’s brother, El-Hadj Sheikh Bousso) is also managed by the Boussobé.

Keur Niang

Map of Keur Niang neighborhood

Keur Niang 2012 colorKeur Niang was established sometime before 1895 by Ahmadou Fadiama Niang, a disciple of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba, and it continues to be managed by his descendants. Its pénc harbors the founder’s mosque-mausoleum. A larger mosque is currently under construction next to it These structures are dwarfed however by the mature kapoc trees and boababs which antedate the settlement.

Satellite image of Keur Niang’s central square, showing how religious structures have been built among the mature trees (source: Google Earth, image dated 7 April 2009)

View of Keur Niang’s central public square, dominated by baobabs and kapoc trees (ph. Eric Ross)

Other neighborhoods within the Rocade include:

  • Palène, home to the Baye Fall, a sub-order within the tarîqa. The Baye Fall are the legacy of Sheikh Ibra Fall (1858-1930), who gave his name to Touba’s monumental minaret as well. Like Sheikh Ibra, the Baye Fall serve Touba and the Mbacké. They have their own neighborhoods, often called Palène, in nearly every Murid city and in several others as well. The current khalif of the Baye Fall is Sheikh Ibra Fall’s grandson, Sëriñ Dieumbe Fall.
  • Khaïra (from al-Qâhira), home to Sëriñ Falilou Mbacké’s descendants. Sëriñ Falilou had never established his own neighborhood in Touba. When he died in 1968 Touba-Mosquée ward, where he and his entourage had lived, passed to the new khalif-general. Sëriñ Falilou’s son and khalif, Sëriñ Modou Bousso Dieng was assigned this place at the main entrance to Touba to set up a new ward.
  • Touba Madiana, assigned to Sëriñ Souhaïbou (1921-1991) around the same time.

Beyond the Rocade, Touba’s urbanization has required the setting up of numerous new wards ex nihilo. The Khalif-General and other Mbacké khalifs and sheikhs are the key decision-makers in this urbanization process. All the land around Touba is in one way or another under Murid jurisdiction. Specific sheikhs are given tracks to develop; allotments are laid out, water is piped in. Usually, a pénc (public square) with a mosque and the compound of the founding sheikh will also be created.

Embedded amidst this expanding urban mesh are older settlements from the heroic age of Touba’s foundation. The most important of these: Darou Marnane, Ndame and Darou Salam, are aligned along the route from Touba to Mbacké which constitutes the spine of the entire urban agglomeration.  These historic settlements, now urban neighborhoods, have strong local identities and they constitute subsidiary spiritual centers.

Darou Marnane

Dâr al-Mannân (“Abode of the Benefactor,” a divine attribute), located midway between the centers of Mbacké and Touba, was founded as a khalwa by Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba sometime between 1886 and 1892. During his exiles it was in Darou Marnane that many of his personal effects, books mostly, were kept. These are still preserved there today, in the Kër Sëriñ Touba compound. It is also where schooling of disciples continued in his absence and its fields produced quantities of millet and vegetables. When Ahmadu Bamba returned from exile in Gabon in 1902, it is in Darou Marnane, not Touba, that he settled. He was arrested and sent to Mauritania less than a year later. Eventually, Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba gave the settlement to his brother, Mame Tierno Birahim Mbacké (1866-1943), whose lineage still has jurisdiction over the ward.

Darou Marnane 2009 color

Map of Darou Marnane neighborhood

Darou Marnane lies just outside of the Rocade and, consequently, has attracted a number of institutions and services which cannot be located within Touba’s sacred precinct. These including the “special” brigade of the gendarmerie, the fire department, public schools and the administrative office of the sub-prefecture of arrondissement of Ndame. It also harbors a major bus and taxi depot as this is the principal point of entry to Touba.

Satellite image of the Kër Sëriñ Touba and mosque in Darou Marnane. The kiosks in the compound house some of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s personal effects. The large baobab tree outside the gate is  a guy mbind.  (Source: Google Earth, date of image: 7 April 2009)

The Kër Sëriñ Touba on Darou Marnane’s pénc contains many of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s personal effects. At its main gate stands a guy mbind. A brand new Kër Sëriñ Touba, with a large concrete mosque, has been built on the divided highway at the entrance to Touba.

Darou Marnane’s guy mbind (baobab of writing) stands on its central public square, in front of the Kër Sëriñ Touba (ph. Eric Ross)

Darou Marnane’s guy mbind in January 2012. Some of its outer limbs have been trimed for utility lines. (ph. Eric Ross)

The foot of Darou Marnane’s guy mbind. (ph. Eric Ross)


Ndame 2009 color

Map of Ndame neighborhood

Further south along the road to Mbacké is Ndame. Originally called Dâr al-‘Alim al-Khabîr (“Abode of the Knowing Well-Informed,” a combination of Divine Names from Koran 2:29 and 6:18), Ndame was one of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s khalwas. It grew in importance during his years in exile as it is where he entrusted his sons to his in-law and disciple Sëriñ Abdourahmane Lo (d. 1942) for instruction. Vestiges of those early days have been preserved in the Kër Sëriñ Touba.

A recently built kiosk within Ndame’s Kër Sëriñ Touba memorializes the education of Ahmadu Bamba’s sons which occured there (ph Eric ross)

In 1978 one of Ahmadu Bamba’s sons, Sëriñ Mourtada Mbacké (1925-2004) returned to Ndame and opened an Islamic college, the Al-Azhar Institute. This institute, named for Cairo’s famous university-mosque, now has branches across Senegal and the endeavor is being supported through the activities of an international NGO, Foundation Khadim Rassoul North America, headquartered in Lanham, Maryland.

Darou Salam

Map of Darou Salam neighborhood in the town of Mbacké

Darou Salam 2012 colorDâr al-Salâm (“Abode of the Peace,” a Divine Name and also the name of one of the gardens of paradise) was Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s first khalwa. He settle on this secluded spot outside of Mbacké in 1884 in order to isolate himself from the throng of followers and disciples seeking his assistance. Though he soon left Darou Salam for more isolated retreats in the surrounding wilderness, it has been argued that Darou Salam was as dear to him as Touba itself. He mentions the two places, together, often in his writings. Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba eventually gave Darou Salam to his brother, Sheikh Anta Mbacké,

Sheikh Anta Mbacké (1861-1941) is remembered as the financier (l’argentier) of the early Murid movement. It is he who took care of business during his brother’s exiles. When Bamba died in 1927 Sheikh Anta made an unsuccessful bid for the caliphate of the Murids and suffered a stint in exile. Sheikh Anta Mbacké is buried in a large mausoleum on Darou Salam’s pénc.

Satellite image of Darou Salam showing Sheikh Anta Mbacké’s mausoleum, the mosque, and part of the cemetery with other mausolea (source: Google Earth, image dated 10 February 2005)

Darou Salam is now part of the municipality of Mbacké. The ward continues to be administered by Sheikh Anta’s lineage. The current Khalif is one of his grandsons, is Sëriñ Ass Guédé Mbacké. Major Murid màggals (pilgrimages, commemorations) are held in Darou Salam each year on the 20th of Dhû-l-Qa’da (commemorating the reception Sheikh Anta organized to celebrate Ahmadu Bamba’s return from exile in 1902) and on the 27th of Rajab.

Darou Salam Mosque as it stood in January 2002, before reconstruction. (ph. Eric Ross)

Front facade of the Darou Salam Mosque in January 2012 (ph. Eric Ross)

The Touba-Mbacké agglomeration

Along with its “mother city” of Mbacké, Touba forms an urban conurbation whose population currently stands at about 600,000 (official estimate, 2007).

Touba agglom 2011

Map of the Touba-Mbacké agglomeration

Touba’s low-density sprawl of allotments has now reached, and in some places crossed, the so-called “2nd Rocade,” a 120 meter-wide non-aedificandi zone established at the outer limits of the 1999 master development plan for the city.


The town of Mbacké is older than Touba. It was founded in the sparsely populated wilderness of Eastern Baol in the late 18th century by Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s great-great-grandfather, Mame Maram (d. 1802), for whom the town was named. Throughout the 19th century the town of Mbacké was a well-known center of Islamic learning. This “first” Mbacké (Mbacké Bené) was located just to the west of the present town, an area now occupied by cemeteries. ossibly, it was there that Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba was born c. 1853. This scholarly settlement was destroyed by Maba Diakhou’s forces during his jihad against Baol in the early 1860s and the Mbacké family forced to move to Maba’s court in the Rip (Southern Saloum region).  Twenty years later, when Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba embarked upon his spiritual career, he returned to Mbacké.

Mbacké 2011 color

Map of the town of Mbacké

Mbacké is the seat of an administrative département, or province. During the colonial period it was a bigger place than Touba. In the 1930s, when the Murids built the railroad spur to Touba, the colonial authorities had an “escale” neighborhood laid out west of the old town. As elsewhere in Senegal, Mbacké’s Escale housed the town’s train station, central market, principal commercial establishments and administrative agencies. Today, Mbacké is overshadowed by Touba, which has become the uncontested business center for the entire region. However, as it lies beyond the sacred precinct of the holy city, it fulfills certain auxiliary functions, such as public administration and secular entertainment, forbidden in Touba.

Bas relief murals at the gate to the compound of Sëriñ Modou Aminata Niang Fall (khalif of the Baye Fall 1984-2006) in Palène neighborhood, Mbacké.

The main gate to a Baye Fall compound in Touba’s Palène neighborhood displays a repertoir of Baye Fall images, including Lampe Fall (ph. Eric Ross)

North and east of Touba an arc of old Murid villages mark the current edge of the urbanized area. These settlements were set up by Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s sons and sheikhs of their generation. They have thus been very close to the Touba “project” since the beginning. Urbanization has now caught up with them.

Ndindi Abdou

Ndindi Abdou was established in 1915 by Sëriñ Falilou Mbacké (1887-1968), who was instructed to set up a village and school on this spot by his father. He lived there prior to becoming khalif-general in 1945 and continued to reside there afterward as it was near his agricultural lands.

Ndindi Abdou color

Map of Ndame neighborhood

Major transformation came to Ndind Abdou in 1993 with a new mosque, piped-in drinking water to replace the village pump, and new housing allotments.


It was also under instructions from his father that Sëriñ Mamadou Moustapha (1886-1945) established Tindody in 1915. The village was originally called Housnoul Mahabine (from husn mâab, “excellent resting place,” the line which immediately follows the single occurrence of the word tûbâ in Koran 13:29).

Tindody 2011 color

Map of Tindody

Apart from Sëriñ Mamadou Moustapha’s compound, Tindody’s pénc harbors a clinic and a primary school. The construction of a large new mosque to replace the existing one (built c. 1985) has just begun (2010). Construction on allotments around the original nucleus got underway in 1998.

Touba Bagdad

The village of Touba Bagdad was established in 1969 by Sërign Abdou Khadre Mbacké (1914-1990). It shares the same name as Abdou Khadre’s ward in Touba but the two entities are administratively distinct.

Touba Bagdad 2009 color

Map of Touba Bagdad

During the years he resided there Sërign Abdou Khadre maintained an orchard behind his compound but there is little trace of it now. Housing lots beyond the nucleus were created in 1989, the year he acceded to the califate. A second set of lots were created in 1996.

Darou Karim

Darou Karim was established by Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s youngest brother, Sëriñ Massamba Mbacké (1881-1942) around 1913. Sëriñ Massamba was about the same age as Ahmadu Bamba’s eldest sons. He grew up and was educated among them. He established Darou Karim (“Abode of the Magnanimous,” a Divine name, Koran 27:40) on the command of his brother. Sëriñ Massamba is remembered as his brother’s “scribe”  and calligrapher. He put great effort into copying Ahmadu Bamba’s religious poems and missives. There is a ngigis tree (Piliostigma reticulatum), carefully preserved on Darou Karim’s central square, beneath which he is reported to have sat while doing this.

Map of Darou Karim

Urbanization of Darou Karim got underway in 2002, when water was first piped in. Electricity followed a year later and new allotments were created in 2004.

On Touba

  • Bava, Sophie & Cheikh Guèye (2001). “Le grand magal de Touba: exil prophétique, migration et pèlerinage au sein du mouridisme”, in Social Compass, vol. 48, #3, pp. 421-438.
  • Centre Al-Tourath pour la Recherche et la Publication (2009), La Ville Sainte de Touba et sa Mosquée: l’histoire et l’évolution, Guédé Bousso: Centre Al-Tourath pour la Recherche et la Publication.
  • Coulon, Christian (1999), “The Grand Magal in Touba: a Religious Festival of the Mouride Brotherhood of Senegal”, in African Affairs, vol. 98, #391, pp. 195-210.
  • Coulon Christian (1996), “Touba, lieu saint de la confrérie mouride”, in Lieux d’islam: cultes et cultures de l’Afrique à Java, Autrement, collection monde, #91-92, pp. 226-238.
  • Dieye, Cheikh Abdoulaye (no date), Touba: Signs and Symboles, self-published, ISBN 99903-51-00-7.
  • Guèye, Cheikh (2002), Touba: la capital des mourides, ENDA-Karthala-IRD, Dakar & Paris.
  • Ross, Eric (2006), Sufi City: Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba, Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
  • Ross, Eric (1995), “Touba: a Spiritual Metropolis in the Modern World”, in Canadian Journal of African Studies, vol. 29, #2, pp. 222-259.
  • Samb, Amar (1969), “Touba et son ‘Magal’”, in Bulletin de l’IFAN, tome 31, série B, #3, pp. 733-753.

On Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba Mbacké

  • Babou, Cheikh Anta (2007), Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853-1913, Ohio University Press, Athens.
  • Copans, Jean (1980), Les marabouts de l’arachide, Le sycomore, Paris.
  • Coulon, Christian (1981), Le marabout et le prince: islam et pouvoir au Sénégal, Pedonne, Paris.
  • Cruise O’Brien, Donal B. (1971), The Mourides of Senegal: the Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Dumont, Fernand (1975), La pensée religieuse d’Amadou Bamba, Nouvelles éditions africaines, Dakar.
  • Mbacké, Sérigne Bachir (1995), Les bienfaits de l’Eternel ou la biographie de Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké, Edition de l’IFAN-UCAD, traduction et annotation de Khadim Mbacké.
  • Roberts, Allen A. and Mary Nooter Roberts (2003), A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History and the University of California Press.
  • Seeseman, Rüdiger (1993), Ahmadu Bamba und die Entstehung der Murîdîya, Klaus Schwartz Verlag, Berlin.
  • Sy, Cheikh Tidiane (1969), La confrérie sénégalaise des mourides: un essai sur l’islam au Sénégal, Présence africaine, Paris.

17 Responses to Touba & more

  1. John Coats says:

    Dear Eric,
    My named is John(Yahya) Coats and I’m a big fan of your work. I even took your book as reference book when I visted Senegal last Year. Please keep up your work. I recommend your book all of the time for people when are interested in the Sufi Centers in West African and particularly Touba of which I have a Sufi affiliation with Shaykh Ahmad Bamba.

    • Dear Yahya,
      I am glad you like this section of the blog. I intend to expand it to include the shrines of the Tijânîs, the Qâdirîs (Khadre in Wolof) and the Layènnes.

  2. Hi dear Professor,
    Well done. I checked your blog and I found it very interesting. There is lots of information about Touba, its shrine. I have made a link on my website and on facebook that brings to your blog. Before that my brother told me that he found so many pictures on Google Earth that you’ve uploaded there. You have done a good work. You deserve really to be decorated by all the murid community. I just want to tell you that we are very proud of what you’ve done. May God bless and protect you.
    bye and sincerely,

  3. Just to thank you very well for your excellent work about our city Touba/Senegal.

  4. shuhaibou says:

    Thanks you so much! You are performing a great job. Good luck!

  5. Mame Bousso says:

    Dear Brother. I really enjoyed your page. My name is Mame Bousso as given by Cheikh Bethio Thioune. I desire to got to Senegal one day because this is where my spiritual teacher lives. I pray you receive many blessing for the works on this project. May God grant you with much success.

  6. kebe says:


  7. mourtada kebe says:

    good work.I really enjoyed your page

  8. Mama Sandra says:

    Thank you for your work. Your scholarship helps to pull the bits on Tuba and this scared space. How do I locate more information on Cheik Bamba’s companions? I’m particularly intrested in Abrihim ibn Niang?

    Thanks much, Mama Sandra
    Living in Senegal for the next several months

    • Hello Mama Sandra,
      I don’t know of any publication that discusses Ibrahim Niang. You will have to go to Touba and ask about him, maybe do interviews with members of his family.

      All the best,

  9. Cheikh says:

    Thank you for your good work, it is very interesting!!

  10. seybatou says:

    Thanks a lot for the great job! I greatly appreciate all the clear and real information given about Touba’s geographical space. May Cheikh Ahmadu Bamba reward you for the good job done and all the time spent on researching him and his history and his family at large.

  11. serigne sam says:

    merci mr eric ross

  12. really good information about the city Touba.

  13. Mario Habesha says:

    Excellent job! Which program do you use to create the maps and plans? Thank you!

    • I use CorelDraw for the maps. I import high resolution satellite images (captured on Google Earth) onto a CorelDraw page and then digitize the elements I want (streets, compounds, buildings). I then remove the imported image and add color, lettering, etc. I’m glad you like the maps.

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