DAKAR: Huge crowds of worshippers converged on Senegal's holy city of Touba on Sunday, as part of the traditional annual celebration of the Mouride brotherhood, a Sufi Islamic order.
AFP journalists saw pilgrims head en masse for the lavish Great Mosque of Touba in the central city, undeterred by monster traffic jams or the threat of Covid-19.
The "Grand Magal" pilgrimage celebrates the date French colonial authorities exiled Mouride founder Sheikh Amadou Bamba, known as Serigne Touba.
It is one of the most important dates on the calendar in the West African country, and usually attracts hundreds of thousands of worshippers who celebrate Bamba by reciting his poems and praying by his tomb.
More than 90 percent of Senegalese are Muslim and most of the faithful follow Sufi brotherhoods, which retain considerable economic and political clout.
"Covid doesn't stop us from doing Magal because we see Serigne Touba in everything we do," said Pape Amadou Latyr Faye, a Mouride worshipper.
Senegal's Sufi brotherhoods initially cancelled gatherings in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic reached the nation of 16 million people.
Despite fears of mass infections, the Mouride brotherhood went ahead with the Magal in October last year, but obliged worshippers to wear masks and observe social distancing.
Pape Ndiaye, a member of the pilgrimage's organising committee, told AFP that many worshippers appeared to have a more relaxed attitude this year.
"People are telling themselves that the pandemic is over," he said.
"We pray that this will be the case, but we must continue to keep our masks," Ndiaye added. Worshippers cannot enter the mosque without one, he said.
Sheikh Amadou Bamba founded the holy city of Touba in 1888. It has since grown to be Senegal's second largest after the capital Dakar, with some 1.5 million inhabitants.
As well as being a religious festival, the Magal has a political dimension too, with senior politicians often making an appearance.
Senegalese authorities have recorded over 73,000 coronavirus cases to date, with 1,855 fatalities.
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