previous sub-section
Making Room versus Creating Space
next section

Conclusion

The Mouride brotherhood is an example of a highly centralized body, organized around a hierarchy of saints, with the khalifa-general at its peak and Touba at its conceptual center. It is now also a highly mobile society (taalibes and cheikhs in a state of continuous motion) that places high value on solidarity and collective identity.

Itinerant Mourides reproduce aspects of this structure wherever they are. Touba multiplies and is recreated by a sort of spontaneous generation, which occurs when conditions are right—that is, when Mourides invoke its presence. These replications of Touba can be ephemeral, such as the ambience created at a da’ira or during the visit of a cheikh, or semipermanent, as they are in a hotel room where Mourides live. In creating their space, Mouride traders do not construct buildings or alter the arrangements of their space, but an invisible architecture structures their use of space just as clearly as walls and courtyards.

Three features seem essential to creating Mouride space. First, they bring Touba and everything it connotes—the mosque, Cheikh Amadu Bamba, the home of the saints—into their present space. The frequent visits of their cheikhs—when “Touba comes to town”—reinforce Touba’s presence. The invariable objects in their living places—posters, tapes of the qasa’ids, the highly spiced “Touba” coffee—refer to the sacred town like a series of mnemonic notes.

Mourides carry Touba in their hearts. At the da’ira meetings, their chants and songs make the “inside outside.” They claim that singing the poems of Amadu Bamba transforms the space where da’iras are held, creating sacred space and unity.

Second, the presence of other Mourides is essential. In creating space that is specifically their own, the group, or, as they say, “being numerous,” is crucial. Mourides claim that everything is better when it is shared—eating, praying, and singing. Singing the zikrs and the qasidas brings Mourides together, physically and spiritually, binding them into a collectivity, the very foundation of their invisible house.

Finally, Mouride choreography, observing separations between sacred and polluting categories, is necessary. Divisions between these categories are maintained through specific strategies in the use of space and time.

Mourides claim and appropriate space as their own by recreating Touba, observing their specific choreography and simply being in a space—a Mouride surrounded by other Mourides. Minimal is the only word to describe their living conditions, and the transformation of space into specifically Mouride territory depends on its occupation by Mourides.

Singing the zikrs, the foremost example of how Mourides transform space, can be done anywhere, in a train station, a hotel lobby, an airport. By this activity, they mark space and make it theirs. They do not need to possess space to make it their own. The paradox is that despite their patent lack of it, they constantly create space through their presence.


previous sub-section
Making Room versus Creating Space
next section