Grand mosque of Touba : Largest mosque in Sub-Saharan Africa
The grand mosque of Touba , Senegal is the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a fascinating architectural representation of Islam’s deep influence on the African nation. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the mosque at the end of the 19th century. It is home to the Mouride Brotherhood, a Sufi order. And it is also the centre of the Grand Magal of Touba, an annual religious festival of the Mouride Brotherhood.
Construction-history and Architecture
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba (1853 – 1927) is one of the most remarkable characters in Sengalese history. Known in Senegal as Khadimu ‘al Rasul, or ‘the servant of the Messenger’, Bamba was the founder of the Muridiya or Mouride Brotherhood in 1883. And four years later he founded the city of Touba. In one of his treatises, Sheikh Bamba wrote that he founded the city to reconcile the spiritual to the temporal. Sheikh Bamba laid the foundation of the grand mosque of Touba in the same year, i.e. 1887. However, the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa was completed after 75 years.
Initial funds collected for it was misappropriated, which halted the work. After Bamba’s death, his son Mamadu Mustafa Mbacke took over his father’s cherished dream. However, work proceeded at a snail’s pace. Construction of grand mosque of Touba stopped again during the 2nd World War between 1939 and 1947. Finally, the task was completed in 1963. By that time Mustafa Mbacke had also died. Both father and son have been laid to rest in the compound of the mosque.
The built area of the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa is 8000 sq. Mts. It has 14 domes, out of which three are huge, and five minarets. The central minaret is 315 feet in height.
Religious importance of the grand mosque of Touba
The grand mosque of Touba holds huge religious importance to the Mouride Brotherhood. Besides Sheikh Bamba, his other sons, caliphs of the Mouride order also rest in peace in a mausoleum, just beside the mosque. It also has a huge library with a collection of over 160,000 books.
The mosque is the centre of the annual Grand Magal festival. On the 18th Safar, the second month of the Islamic calendar pilgrims of the order from all over the world pay a visit to the mosque. The festival celebrates the teachings of Sheikh Bamba. The festival is one of the largest religious festivals in the world. Over three million people participated in the festival in 2011. I began in 1928, a year after the Sheikh’s death. The festival also commemorates the exile of patriot Bamba by the then colonial French government in 1895.
The rites of the pilgrimage are quite similar to the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In Touba pilgrims partially circumambulate the Touba mosque, as well as the tomb of Sheikh Bamba. They also visit other holy sites, such as the mausoleum of other Mouride Brotherhood caliphs and the Well of Mercy.
On the whole, the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa, the grand mosque of Touba holds a central place in the religious lives of millions of Mouride Brotherhood believers not only in Senegal but spread across several neighbouring countries including Ivory Coast, Mauretania, and Gambia.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)