Touba

Touba is an Islamic holy city in Senegal. It was founded in 1887 by a Sufi master, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké (1853-1927), to serve as the spiritual metropolis of the Mouride tarîqa which he established. Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded Touba under a large mbéb tree ( Sterculia setigera or gum-plane) where, in a moment of mystic transcendence, he experienced a cosmic vision of light.

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. Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba aspired to such perfection and, according to Mouride faithful, achieved it in Touba.

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. His city of 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 virtues, 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 which links Heaven and earth.

Click on these thumbnail maps to find out more about Touba.

Shrine Complex
Plan of the city
Touba Encircled by the Rocade
The Touba-Mbacké Conurbation
Touba and the Mouride Heartland

 

You can also read these publications:

•  Ross, Eric (2006). Sufi City: Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. (Most of the Sufi shrines discussed in this book can be viewed in high-resolution satellite images by downloading this Google Earth file)

•  Mbacké, Khadim (2005). Sufism and Religious Brotherhoods in Senegal. Translated by Eric Ross and edited by John Hunwick. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers (originally published in French as Soufisme et Confréries Religieuses au Sénégal, Dakar : IFAN-CAD collection études islamiques, Dakar, 1995).

•  Ross, Eric (2005). Villes soufies du Sénégal : réseaux urbains religieux dans la longue durée (série conférences #20). Rabat : Institut des Etudes Africaines, Université Mohammed V.

•  Ross, Eric (2005). From ‘marabout republics' to ‘autonomous rural communities': autonomous Muslim towns in Senegambia. in African Urban Spaces in Historical Perspective, edited by Steven J. Salm & Toyin Falola. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

•  Ross, Eric (2002). Marabout republics then and now: configuring Muslim towns in Senegal. in Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara, #16.

•  Ross, Eric (1995). Touba: a spiritual metropolis in the modern world. in Canadian Journal of African Studies, vol. 29, # 2.

•  Guèye, Cheikh (2002). Touba : la capitale des mourides. Dakar & Paris: ENDA-Karthala-IRD.

 

In the course of my research on Touba, I have also had the pleasure of contributing, in an unofficial capacity, to an exhibit of Mouride art and artifacts at UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The exhibit, called Passport to Paradise, was curated by Polly Nooter Roberts and Allen Roberts. It ran in the spring and summer of 2003 and has toured other US cities since then.

Finally, Touba always features prominently in the numerous websites run by Mourides. Probably the best site is the one run by the Hizbut Tarqiyyah association.

 

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