Muslim faction a powerful economic force

UNITY: Senegalese of all backgrounds join hands to work the land. Pic. Nick Tattersall. 28/10/07. © Reuters.
UNITY: Senegalese of all backgrounds join hands to work the land. Pic. Nick Tattersall. 28/10/07. © Reuters.

KHELCOM FIELDS, Senegal - Thousands of Senegalese Muslims, from bankers to bus drivers, flocked to the country's dusty peanut fields this week in a yearly show of devotion to the powerful Mouride brotherhood.

KHELCOM FIELDS, Senegal - Thousands of Senegalese Muslims, from bankers to bus drivers, flocked to the country's dusty peanut fields this week in a yearly show of devotion to the powerful Mouride brotherhood.

Bent double under blazing sunshine, ranks of men, women and children harvested the groundnuts by hand from the dry earth after a call to work - or Ndiguel - from the Mourides' spiritual leader, Serigne Saliou Mbacke.

It has become a key fixture for Mourides, a Sis Sufi Islam movement whose doctrine of hard work as a route to paradise has made it a powerful economic and political force in Senegal.

"Pray as if you will die tomorrow and work as if you will live forever," is one of the oft-quoted teachings of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, the Muslim mystic who founded the movement in 1883.

Many of the devotees stay for days or even weeks, sleeping at night in clusters of tents spread across tens of thousands of hectares of plantations - known as the Khelcom fields - around the holy city of Touba.

"The working and living conditions are very difficult, so you are obliged to show solidarity," said Saliou Niang, 25, a student in hotel management, sipping mint tea under the moonlight after a day toiling in the dust.

"It's a spiritual training you receive here. In a world that is becoming more and more individualist, you learn to share, to work together," he said, as other Mourides sang religious chants and drummed in the background.

Mouride influence runs deep throughout Senegal.

Brightly painted taxis and buses carry mottos such as Djeuredjef Serigne Fallou - Thank you, Serigne Fallou - a former Mouride leader, or Grand Marabout, revered for his mystical abilities to heal the sick and change the weather.

Hand-painted depictions of the one surviving photograph of Bamba, his face wrapped in a flowing white scarf, adorn shop fronts and businesses in towns within the former French colony.

Mouridism is largely confined to Senegal and Gambia, unlike the larger Tidjane brotherhood which has spread more widely across West Africa from Morocco. - Reuters

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