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Sufi City

Sufi City: Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba

Eric Ross
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 308
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81g8f
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  • Book Info
    Sufi City
    Book Description:

    Sufi City: Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba is a geographical study of the modern Muslim holy city of Touba in Senegal, capital of the Mouride Sufi order. Touba was founded in 1887 by a Sufi shaykh in a moment of mystic illumination. Since the death of the founder in 1927, the Mouride order has designed and built the entire city. Touba is named for Tûbâ, the "Tree of Paradise" of Islamic tradition. This archetypal tree articulates Islamic conceptions of righteous life on earth, divine judgment, and access to the Hereafter; the city of Touba actualizes this spiritual construct. Important aspects of its configuration, such as the vertical and horizontal alignment of its monumental central shrine complex, its radiating avenues and encircling ring roads, and the actual trees that mark its landscape relate directly to the archetypal tree of Sufi theosophy. The relationship between the spiritual archetype and its earthly actualization as a city is explained by recourse to Sufi methodology. The book employs a semiotic analysis of urban form, cartography, hermeneutics, field investigation and analysis of satellite imagery in order to relate contemporary urban design issues to overarching metaphysical concepts. Sufi City also explores the history of urban networks in Senegal since the emergence of autonomous Muslim towns in the seventeenth century. Finally, the layout of Senegal's modern Sufi cities is related to the monumental palaver trees that marked that country's historic settlements.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-661-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. [Map]
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. List of Appendixes
    (pp. x-x)
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. NOTE ON TRANSLATION, SPELLING, AND TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  8. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    Sufism and cities. There is no obvious relationship between these concepts. Do Sufis have any special interest in cities? Do cities contribute to Sufism in any particular way? The story of Sufism is well-known. Its most common themes include the intellectual speculations of theosophists, the spiritual intoxication of poets, and the diffusion of various institutionalized Sufi orders.¹ Therein, the relationship between Sufis and cities is an ambiguous one. Sufi practice commends detachment from worldly affairs, abstinence, and renunciation (zuhd) of appetites for things other than God. The material world, its physical and social requirements, and its corporal temptations constitute obstacles...

  9. 1 ARCHETYPES: SUFI PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE SEMIOSIS OF LANDSCAPE
    (pp. 11-42)

    The city of Touba is named for Ṯûbâ, the Tree of Paradise of Islamic tradition. The term ṯûbâ, usually translated as “bliss,” felicity,” or “prosperity,” appears once in the Koran, where it describes Divine recompense in the Hereafter for the righteous: “Those who believe and do the right, for them is bliss (ṯûbâ lahum), and an excellent resting place” (13:29). It is also used as a blessing, ṯûbâ!, indicating an invocation of God’s grace. Its use as a designation for the Tree of Paradise is not, however, Koranic; it is based on ẖadîth reports.¹ In Ibn Hanbal’s Al-Musnad, Ṯûbâ is...

  10. 2 URBAN DESIGN: THE SPATIAL CONFIGURATION OF A SPIRITUAL PROJECT
    (pp. 43-116)

    Cities concentrate a multitude of cultural, social, political, economic, and artistic activities and permit these to cross-fertilize each other in dynamic and creative ways. Moreover, cities are both the products and the agents of these processes. This is partly what makes them such attractive phenomena to study; urban geography, urban history, urban sociology, urban planning, and architectural history are among the myriad of disciplines and specializations that focus on some aspect of the city. Among these is the study of urban design, which aims at understanding the physical configuration of cities within broader human and social contexts. Housing, the layout...

  11. 3 MARABOUT REPUBLICS THEN AND NOW: AUTONOMOUS MUSLIM TOWNS IN SENEGAL
    (pp. 117-175)

    Touba has not emerged in the Senegalese landscape alone. It is the largest and most spectacular node in a network of Sufi towns and centers, and it marks the leading edge of a long and dynamic process of Muslim urban practices in that country. Moreover, Senegal has a long-established practice of autonomous Muslim towns. The aim of this third chapter is to situate Touba within this broader context and to argue that Senegal’s modern network of Sufi towns represents an alternative form of urbanization, one based on the initiatives of civil society rather than on those of the state.

    Several...

  12. 4 THE PÉNC: TREES AND URBAN DESIGN IN WEST AFRICA
    (pp. 176-215)

    Touba’s spatial configuration, as described in chapter 2, is clearly well ordered. The layout is neither accidental nor arbitrary and is certainly not “organic” in the sense of having developed incrementally on the ground without overall coordination or planning. On the contrary, the city has develoxped through the consistent and coordinated efforts of a hierarchic and ideologically motivated institution and its design corresponds to a coherent set of planning principals. Foremost among these principles is use of the pénc, or central public square, as a “design idea,” both at the scale of the entire city and of its various wards...

  13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 216-220)

    This study of Touba has revolved around two key questions. How does Sufism relate to urbanization and urban design? How do the contemporary Sufi urban processes in Senegal relate to modern urban processes? Recourse to a Sufi phenomenology was adopted to answer these questions. By looking at the world through Sufi eyes, with a mind equipped with Sufi concepts and methods, the agency of individual Sufi masters and of Sufi institutions can be explained.

    Sufism postulates multiple layers of reality. The material world is not complete in and of itself. Matter is inert and purposeless. It has no intrinsic meaning....

  14. Appendixes 1–7
    (pp. 221-228)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 229-260)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-276)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 277-290)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-295)