Macodou Fall draws attention to one of the biggest events in Africa.
On Saturday November 19th, Senegal and the Murid community will celebrate the Grand Magal of Touba. Touba is the holy city of the Senegalese Sufi-Islamic brotherhood Muridiyya. Every year, on the 18th Safar, which is the second month of the Hijri calendar, millions of believers converge in Touba to celebrate the Grand Magal. This event is one of the most important religious gatherings in Africa and it marks the return from exile of Shaykh Amadu Bamba, founder of the Murid order.[i] Born around 1853, Amadu Bamba acquired, from his youth, a strong reputation of learning and piety. Even though he was promised a position of Qadi (Judge) by Lat Joor, the king of precolonial Kajoor, he declined that offer to only devote himself to elevating his soul and religious belief. It is important to note that Amadu Bamba’s piety, charisma and noninterest in mundane affairs widely contributed in his earning of the appreciation, attention, and respect of many Senegalese people who came to identify themselves as Murids.
To articulate a counter model to colonialism and cultural assimilation, Bamba preached Sufi Islam and a return to universalism. His goal, as he argued in Masalik al Jinan (Ways unto Heaven)[iii], was to lead humankind to the level of Islam as practiced by the Prophet Mohammed. For that, he had to give sense to his Sufi-Islamic orientation, apply his message to his daily life as well as inspire people to embrace values of piety, learning, peace, love, hard work (Khidmah) and devotion. For him, according to Babou, these values are strongly related and they would lead to eradicating economic dependency, decolonizing the mind as well as assuring freedom and paradise to all devotees.[iv] Considering the numerous restrictions that went along with colonialism, one could argue that Bamba’s message was, first and foremost, intended to restore the dignity and liberty of all black people. Even though he is genealogically linked to the Sharifian (Arabic) family, Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Habiballah Ibn Al Khair (his birth name) never claimed this belonging and he defended the idea that being a black man does not mean that one is not capable.[v]
Despite his message of peace, he was exiled to Gabon from 1895 to 1902 by the French colonial administration who considered him a threat to their domination. In 1902, Bamba was allowed to re-enter Senegal. However, his popularity worried the French colonial administration so much that they decided to send him into exile for a second time. This time, he was sent to Mauritania for five years, then followed by fifteen years of seclusion in a mandatory residence in Diourbel (Senegal) until his death in 1927. Through his exile years, he managed to also develop his own wird (specific act of worship), because none of the initiations he previously received from Sufi orders, such as the Qadiriyya, the Shaziliyya, and the Tijaniyya, did satisfy him.
Magal (meaning to glorify or celebrate something) is a Wolof word which, as used in this context, gives meaning to Amadu Bamba’s accomplishments and actions in the face of a repressive colonial administration. At the beginning, the Grand Magal was celebrated in different places and Murid disciples did not have to travel to Touba. Over time, the second Caliph of Touba, Shaikh Muhamed al-Fadel had the idea to gather all Murids in that city in order to give another spiritual dimension to this religious event. The fact that all Murids congregate together in the same place gives more significance and importance to this event. To reinforce unity, solidarity, and hence Murid faith, it was very important to set the Magal big (Grand in French) enough to incorporate all Senegalese socioeconomic, cultural, religious, and political aspects. It is noteworthy that gathering all Senegalese people and Murids in Touba, to celebrate and remember Amadu Bamba, has been important an important step toward the promotion of a national unity, Murid faith, peace, solidarity, and respect.
[i] Bousso, S. A. (2012). Grand magal de Touba : Dimension religieuse et sociale. El Maarif Al Jadida, 1-65.
[ii] See Kane, O. (2011). The homeland is the arena: Religion, transnationalism, and the integration of Senegalese immigrants in America. Oxford University Press.
[iii] A book translated by Macke (Macke, A. A. (2010). Ways Unto Heaven. Majalis).
[iv] Babou, C. A. (2007). Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913. Ohio University Press.
[v] Also see Kane above.
Macodou Fall is a Wolof instructor and graduate student in African Studies at Ohio University.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Africa@OHIO or the African Studies Program of Ohio University.