Warm Welcome in Touba (and a call to prayer)
People give multiple names to the seasons in Senegal. The most common are “the dry season” and “the wet season.” The dry season begins in November, and, as the name implies, most parts of the country will see no rain during those months. The advantage of that season, especially the early portion, is that temperatures are considered moderate.
Starting from February, the dry season temperature rises and reaches its highest levels from April to early June, before the arrival of the monsoon. In the interior, highs are generally around 38 °C (100 °F) in the south and 43/44 °C (109/111 °F) in the north, while the coast is more temperate.
Our trip to Africa took us into the interior in early April.
Our destination, after the conference south of Dakar, was Thiés (pronounced chess). Thiés is a city of over 350,000. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim. Most of the people are Wolof. The Wolof people are one of the largest tribal groups in the country (nearly 6 million) but one of the least impacted by the gospel. The Joshua Project lists only 0.01% of the Wolof as embracing any form of Christianity. The number of evangelical Christians they place at 0.00%.
We journeyed to Thiés to spend time with Brad and Deb, Converge Global workers who have been working among the Wolof for over a decade. Conversations with these folks are an education. Their perspectives on missions, Islam, and life overseas are always insightful. And they are genuinely nice people.
The highlight of our time together was a trip to Touba. The city of Touba is considered a sacred city of Islam. It is the home of the Great Mosque, where Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke is entombed. Bàmba founded the Mouride Brotherhood, a sect of Islam that follows a set of principles taught by Mbakké that he received after a vision of enlightenment. While in one sense, Islam is Islam. In another, Islam varies from place to place, and the Mouride has a unique history and unique traditions, stories, and teachings that set them apart.
Before we left for the trip, we dressed in clothing appropriate for our visit. It was – warm. The temperatures had been 112°F in Touba the day before. After an hour and a half, we arrived in the center of the city. We connected with a guide and he took us through the various areas of the Great Mosque. He explained (in bits of English, French, and occasional Wolof) the history of the Mouride Brotherhood, the mosque’s design, and construction details. Making that visit in the middle of Ramadan was an education in itself.
More than a half million people are living in Touba. As far as anyone knows, there are no believers there. As in the rest of Muslim West Africa, the vast majority living there have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. Most have never met a Christian.
During our trip back to Thiés, I asked lots of questions. Brad answered all of my questions about Senegalese Islam and all things Wolof. But that evening, I was still sitting with a head full of things that I needed to work through. They were not questions about Touba or Senegal, or the Wolof. They were questions that are more like the ones you find in the Psalms of lament.
The darkness there is so deep. The need there seems so great. There are so few there who are trying to do anything about it. And so many of God’s people don’t seem to be bothered by it at all.
What’s with that?
I’m still working through those questions.