West Africa’s largest and grandest mosque opens in Dakar

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The Massalikoul Djinane mosque

The 10,000 square metre mosque is the largest in West Africa a project of such magnitude that has not been equalled since the construction of the Touba Mosque in Senegal in 1932.

  • With its five minarets, carrara marble, strings of golden columns and woodwork lit by the 2,000 lights of a giant chandelier  the construction is awe-inspiring and everything has been built to dazzle the thousands of faithful who were expected at the opening on Friday, September 27.
  • The project, which spans over 15 years, involves the work of almost 800 construction and trades people.
  • Massalikoul Djinane can accommodate some 30,000 faithful (10,000 inside and 20,000 on the esplanade).

The “fabulous destiny” of the Mourides

Built to the commemorate Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba (father of Mouridism), Massalikoul Djinane reaches 75 metres high, 80 if you count the pinnacle of the great minaret.

“There is first of all a global Islamic tradition of gigantism to mark the space and give places of convergence to Muslims. Then there is the will of the Mouride brotherhood to give itself the image of a fabulous destiny that must be reflected in its mosques,” says Sheikh Gueye, a doctor of geography at the University of Strasbourg and author of “Touba, capital of the Mourides”.

According to the academic, the choice of Dakar for a project of this scale is explained by the Mouride desire “to establish the weight of Islam in a city erected as a capital by the colonist, in a secular country. A way to reclaim Dakar”.

“It is also a kind of revenge on fate,” says Abdou Aziz Mbacke Majalis, a researcher on Mouridism and a descendant of Bamba. “For a long time, the Mourides were frowned upon by the settlers and ostracised. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba remained locked up for three nights in Dakar after being arrested there, before being put on a boat and going into exile to Gabon. Having a monument in the capital was not [taken] for granted by the brotherhood.”

A mosque worthy of “the greatness of Dakar”

The immense mosque was made possible thanks to the donation, in the early 2000s, of a 5.8 hectare plot by former Senegalese  President Abdoulaye Wade, who is also a Mouride.

The project was then launched.

“I had no particular instruction from the Khalifa except to ensure that the mosque reflected the grandeur of the city,” remembers the mosque’s architect Maissa Diodio Touré.

  • The construction was carried out by the Consortium des entreprises du Sénégal (CDE).
  • There are six grand rooms that rise between 12 and 14 metres high; four sculpted wooden domes, with the main one being 28 metres high; and five minarets flanked by marble.
  • The Mourides also turned to foreign know-how for the construction of Massalikoul Djinane. The ceilings and woodwork were made by Moroccan craftsmen, the minaret formwork by the Swiss company, Royam, the marble is from Italy and Spain, while the lighting and light clock of the main minaret, inspired by the one in Mecca, were made in China.

Project at 20 billion CFA francs

As for the cost of the work?

“It was absolutely not a concern when the plans were drawn. I had the firm conviction that when the Mouride brotherhood wants to accomplish something, it gives itself the means to do so,” Touré asserts.

For good reason. The project, estimated to cost 20 billion CFA francs (30 million euros) and which includes the mosque (whose shell cost between 10 and 12 billion CFA francs or 18 million euro), a luxury residence and a future Institute of Islamic studies, was financed exclusively by the Mouride brotherhood.

Since 2013, donations from members of the brotherhood have been flowing in from Senegal and the diaspora, which is very active. However it is difficult to obtain precise details of the amounts raised.

Mouride labour philosophy

“This responds to the autonomist vision of the Mourides whose philosophy advocates autonomy through work. And that says a lot about the brotherhood’s financial capacities,” says Gueye, adding that it is this autonomous philosophy that pushes the community to mobilise its own resources.

To this end, Massalikoul Djinane was able to count on the participation of prestigious donors. Religious dignitaries, Mouride businessmen, but also influential political figures are said to have contributed to its construction to the tune of millions .

Among the donors are former President Wade, Wade’s son Karim, former Mayor of Dakar and President of the National Assembly, Pope Diop, and the former Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals Madické Niang.

“Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was a building intended for the Church and has become a heritage of humanity. There is always a universal dimension to this kind of achievement,” says Majalis.

Bottom line:  The Mourides are convinced that Massalikoul Djinane’s gilded domes will shine beyond just Senegal and Africa.