World News

FACTBOX: Senegal's powerful Mourides have global reach

(Reuters) - Serigne Saliou Mbacke, caliph of Senegal’s Mouride Muslim brotherhood died on Friday aged 92, throwing one of West Africa’s most powerful religious movements into mourning.

Saliou was the last surviving son of the Mourides’ 19th century founder Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, and had been caliph since 1990. Here are some facts about Islam and Mouridism in Senegal.

-- Over 90 percent of Senegalese are Muslims. Most claim allegiance to one of four Sufi brotherhoods: half are Tidianes, a third Mourides and most others Qadriyya and Layennes.

-- Although not the largest brotherhood, the Mourides wield most political, economic and religious influence.

-- President Abdoulaye Wade, a member, regularly visits the Mouride holy city Touba, including after elections to thank the movement’s religious teachers, or marabouts, for their support.

-- Since Bamba’s death in 1927, Mourides have followed his call for an annual pilgrimage to Touba, known as the Grand Magal, which marks Bamba’s exile to Gabon in 1895 by French colonial authorities who feared his growing influence.

-- The Mourides’ vast contributions have paid to build an enormous marble-clad mosque whose 87-metre (287-foot) tower dominates the city’s skyline.

-- As a holy city controlled by religious authorities where drinking and smoking are forbidden, Touba has special status as a semi-autonomous city within Senegal. Along with neighboring Mbacke it has grown into Senegal’s second biggest conurbation with a population of over 500,000.

-- Bamba and El Hajj Malick Sy, leader of the Tidiane brotherhood, introduced today’s Sufism to Senegal in the late 19th century. It is a form of mystical Islam that hinges on the relationship between a disciple, or talibe, and his marabout.

-- Bamba’s teachings promoting hard work as a route to paradise are summed up in the saying “Pray as if you will die tomorrow and work as if you will live forever”.

-- Despite open observance by both Muslims and Christians, Senegal is generally free from the sectarian conflict seen in some other West African countries such as Nigeria.

-- The Baye Fall, recognizable by their dreadlocks and patchwork clothing, follow Bamba’s most famous disciple, Ibra Fall. Fall, a devoted Muslim but a poor Koranic scholar, was excused Islam’s five daily prayers by Bamba in return for hard work and strict devotion to the marabout.

-- Originally a rural movement which controlled Senegal’s main cash-crop, peanuts, Mouridism changed forever when a prolonged drought afflicted West Africa in the 1970s, forcing its devotees to the cities. Many marabouts encouraged their followers to head overseas to seek their fortune from trade.

-- In New York, the Mourides established their own community, Little Senegal, and July 28 has officially been designated Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba day. Their long robes and tasseled hats have become a familiar sight in Harlem.

Compiled by Alistair Thomson