• Book Title:
 Making And Remaking Mosques In Senegal
  • Book Author:
Cleo Cantone
  • Total Pages
  • Book Views:
  • Click for the  
PDF Direct Download Link
  • Get HardCover  
Click for Hard Copy from Amazon



senegal’s diverse cultural influences straddling atlantic and saharan trade routes make it at once a sahelian and an atlantic country. The former came about through the trans-saharan trade and the latter through its early commercial ties with europe, later giving way to the slave trade. The interconnectedness of the region through commercial exchanges in both directions (North-south and West-east) is crucial to the understanding of religious, cultural and political phenomena spanning over a millennium in West africa.

The present study, based on several fieldtrips, focuses on the upper half of senegambia: from the north-eastern, sahelian region of Futa Toro to the peninsula of Cap Vert on the atlantic coast and as far east as Touba (Map 1) Within this geographical delimitation, I have concentrated on mostly urban centres (Dakar, saint-louis, Touba, Thiès) and zoomed into smaller rural settlements around Podor in Futa Toro and Jenne in Mali.

Senegal is home to different ethnic groups, the largest of which con-sists of Wolof (42,7%) who mostly inhabit the north-west of senegal, serer (14,9%) usually found in the south of sine saloum, Futanke (pl. Futankobe), Peul or Fulbe2 (14,5%) of Futa Toro. These groups are related linguistically as are the group including the soninke, Maninka/Malinka, who were associated with the empires of ghana and Mali.

Finally, there are the Jola/Diola of Casamance who inhabit the south-east of the country and the lebu of Cap Vert (less than 0,8%).3 Reflecting my field trips to central and northern senegal, my study correspondingly focuses on Wolof, sereer and Peul ethnicities although it is worth mentioning that the vast majority of my infor-mants from in and around Dakar are thoroughly Wolofised, Wolof being their default or even main language.4

as the predominant religion of senegal is Islam—it accounts for some 95% of Wolof society—it seems fair to say that in many ways it defines senegalese identity. granted, senegalese Islam tends to be defined and characterised by the turūq or brotherhoods but accord-ing to gellar, “although Islamic and Western influences have done much to shape modern senegal, the senegalese people remain deeply attached to traditional Black african values and world views.”5

What I hope to illustrate in the ensuing chapters is that the attachment to Islam and the consequential rise in conversions to the religion beg to differ with such a view. The entrenchment of Islam, I argue, is so deep that senegalese identity is commensurate with Muslim identity. Indeed in the words of Cheikh Hamidou kane author of L’aventure ambigue, “if Islam is not the only religion in West africa, it comes first in importance . . . it is the religion of its heart.”6

How senegalese Muslim identity is defined depends largely on whether local or extra-local forms of Islam are incorporated into prac-tices and beliefs. Moreover this preoccupation with ‘which Islam’ is not confined to senegal or West africa for here in london, just as much as in senegal, it is not uncommon for ʿĪd ul-Fitr to be cele-brated on three separate days.

This is because there is no consensus on whether Muslims should follow their country of origin (if applicable), or the ‘guardian of the two shrines’ (the kingdom of saudi arabia) or whether to follow a local commission of astrologers. In senegal, too, there are those who follow their own marabout, those who follow saudi arabia and finally those who follow the national moon-sighting commission. some authors have named this phenomenon ‘Islam’ versus ‘Islams,’7 contrasting the ‘high’ Islam of the ʿulema (religious scholars) with the popular Islam of the masses.

 It seems to me that this dichotomised view issues largely from Western scholarship and fails to reveal the unifying element of Islam anchored in the belief in a single divine entity held by an extremely diverse host of believers. expressions of worship may thus sometimes seem conflicting or con-tradictory; yet incontestably, five times a day, all differences are ironed out when Muslims turn towards Mecca to pray. Indeed the holy city of Mecca plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the symbiotic relation-ship between diversity and unity. My study aims to present both wor-shippers and their building output as manifestations of this diversity and that between users and buildings a dialogue—often complex and sometimes contradictory—is created.

Islam came to the region from North africa around the 10th cen-tury and as Clarke emphasises: “Islam in West africa is not peripheral to or a mere appendage to the Muslim world.”8 Indeed, despite the fact of sub-saharan africa’s longstanding contact with Islam, its rich and diverse cultural legacy has seldom, until recently been acknowl-edged as a part of the wider Muslim world. Yet cultural and com-mercial exchange between North africa and West africa has existed since at least the 8th century and in senegal Islam predates the arrival of europeans by five centuries.9 Islam spread mainly by virtue of the migration of Muslim merchants, teachers and settlers. additionally, with the penetration of the sufi brotherhoods (henceforth known as tariqa and turuq) from North africa, multiple tariqa affiliation was acceptable as was the creation of indigenous brotherhoods, such as the layenne and the Muridiyya.

as a result of north-south commercial and cultural exchange, far more continuity and homogeneity existed between saharan and sub-saharan cultures. Derived from the Bilad al-sudan (literally the land of the Blacks), the French sudan (le soudan francais or Nigritie) denoted French dominions in West africa distinguishing it from their North african territories known as Barbarie or les etats Barbaresques. In keeping with this racial division, sub-saharan peoples were considered ‘Black’ and their saharan counterparts were ‘White’ and based on these presumptions, their cultures were held to be entirely different.

as the authors of African History convincingly demonstrate, however, there were several ‘homogenising’ factors that united these seemingly differ-ent peoples. Jolof—reputedly the oldest senegambian state—constituted a heterogeneous society comprising its original inhabitants (sereres), Wolof, Tukulor and Moorish populations who migrated to the area in successive waves and who inhabit the region to the present day.10

Many desert nomads are ethnically mixed and it is the common language that unites them. kinship relationships and religion are also determining factors in cultural similarity or homogeneity. as Oloruntimehin demonstrates in his history of the Tukulor empire, the special relationship between the latter and Futa Toro resulted from “their ethnic, cultural, common historical experience and religious identity with the rulers of the empire.”11

 The region of the senegalese Futa was no less known for the establishment of various peoples in search of fertile land: Fulani, Tukulor, Wolof, Moors, Bambara and sarakole. It is reasonable to assume that just as the Tukulor became the dominant group in the area, so too did their language and culture come to predominate.

While Hausa—with its connections to arabic, Berber and Hebrew rather than to ‘Black’ african languages—is one of the most widely spoken sub-saharan languages whose speakers are mostly black and sedentary, Fula, is spoken by the Fulbe, Fulani and Tukulor12 and is related to Wolof and sereer as well as to other senegalese ‘Black’ languages. similarly, ‘negroid’ people of Mauritania speak a language related to arabic (Hasaniya). as local cultures became increasingly imbibed with Islam, so too did arabic words become incorporated into local languages.

 The scholars and preachers of Islam became con-versant and literate in arabic in addition to possessing fluency in more than one local language. languages like Hausa, Malinke, songrai and Wolof all became linguae francae of the regions where their speak-ers became dominant. In addition, the Islamicised traders and ʿulama would have been able to communicate cross-nationally by means of the common language to all, namely arabic.

It becomes increasingly apparent that according to the logic of cul-tural homogeneity put forward by the authors of African History, that the transmission of goods, language and religion might easily explain the stylistic commonalities in built form that have led to the appella-tion ‘sudanese style’ discussed in Chapter One.

lam applied Durand’s method of ‘rule of linguistic compatriotism’ to the Negro-african lan-guages with a common root—sereer, Wolof and Peul—leading him to the conclusion based on prior studies by pioneering africanists such as Cheikh anta Diop that they ultimately derive from ancient egyptian. The notion of genetic kinship13 is one I have found useful to explain the stylistic similarities between the architecture of Futa Toro mosques and their cousins further east in present day Mali and will henceforth refer to their architectural kinship.

On the Centrality of the Mosque

In an academic study of this nature it is easy to loose sight of the spiritual significance of the mosque which is after all a place to prostrate oneself (masjid) and/or to congregate with others ( jamaʿa). I have therefore endeavoured to include wherever possible the human aspect vis-à-vis the building. In other words, it is not the architectural side per se that merits investigation rather the process of change that has affected both the buildings themselves and the identity of those who use them.

such changes have determined the ‘remaking’ of mosques in response to the political and social circumstances of the times.

each mosque tells a story—itself a product of historical, political and cultural factors, which have led to the formation of a Senegalese Muslim architectural identity. In this context, the importance of reli-gious discourse cannot be underestimated: each ‘renewal’—whether by means of jihad or charismatic preaching—has left a trace on reli-gious architecture.

Indeed in contemporary senegal often conflicting interpretations of Islam mould identities and leave an imprint on architecture, leading to the phenomenon of making and remaking. The constant renewal of mosques reflects the changes that have taken place in the history of senegal—from being ruled by superficially isla-mised kings and nobles to its subjugation to French colonial admin-istration and finally through to Independence. at the same time, this same notion sheds some light on transmutations of Islamic identity through time and space.

architecture, like fashion, tends to mirror historical trends or dominant ideologies: in some cases extra-local historical traditions have been borrowed and cemented in the collective imaginary as representations of authentic, orthodox Islam (such is the case of the great Mosque of Dakar). Others, like the Mourids, have preferred to implement their own interpretations of these traditions creating per-haps the most identifiably senegalese Islamic monuments. still others have opted for an international format with its generically Islamic lines deliberately omitting any specific cultural reference (the Ibadou mosques are a case in point).

One aspect of the diversity of Islamic practice in senegal that is not investigated in any depth here is a small minority of senegalese shīʾa. This is not because they merit less atten-tion, but because their relative marginality means that their material culture is somewhat ‘hidden.’14 In addition, since I did not meet any shīʾa women, the study would have been unbalanced with respect to the interviews with sunni women.

 Thus, although the premise of the book is that senegalese Muslim identity is polarised between sufis and Ibadous, I acknowledge that this is only part of the picture and suggest others pursue further research in this domain.15

as the history of mosques in senegal16 is still in its infancy, I have given myself more or less free reign in categorising and analysing the

To read more about the Making And Remaking Mosques In Senegal book Click the download button below to get it for free

Report broken link
Support this Website

for websites