The Magal honours the founder of the Mouride Brotherhood, Senegal's most influential religious order. In previous years, as many as 3 million people travelled to the city of Touba for the event, with many coming from neighbouring Gambia.

Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood pray outside the Grand Mosque of Touba in Senegal, October 6, 2020.
Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood pray outside the Grand Mosque of Touba in Senegal, October 6, 2020. (AP)

Tens of thousands of Muslims have descended upon Senegal's holy city for the annual Grand Magal pilgrimage being held this week, usually the largest Muslim gathering in West Africa that some fear could become a super-spreader event for Covid-19.

The Magal honours the founder of the Mouride Brotherhood, Senegal's most influential religious order. In previous years, as many as 3 million people travelled to the city of Touba during Magal, with many coming from neighbouring Gambia.

With Senegal's land borders still closed, fewer pilgrims attended the main events on Tuesday. Closely packed lines queued up to enter the Grand Mosque of Touba, though hand sanitiser and masks were required to enter.

Celebrations of the Grand Magal of Touba, in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Celebrations of the Grand Magal of Touba, in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020. (AP)

Mam Thierno, 41, has lived in Italy for nearly a decade but chose to travel home to Senegal for Magal even amid the pandemic, calling it a deeply moving experience for him and his family.

“To go a year without Magal would be too much for me,” he said. “With the pandemic, there are people who say we shouldn’t hold the Magal in Touba ... I know the disease is here, Covid-19 exists, but I still came.”

Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood stand in line in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood stand in line in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020. (AP)

Battle with coronavirus pandemic 

Senegal was among the first African countries to report a confirmed Covid-19 case but has avoided the high death tolls seen elsewhere, in large part due to widespread mask-wearing and restrictions on travel.

The country has had more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 312 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus.

Even with the precautions taken, some are fearful that Touba, once an early virus hotspot, could now see a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the weeks after Magal. 

Many people crowded into homes due to limited accommodations in town during the pilgrimage.

Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood queue to enter the Grand Mosque of Touba in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Pilgrims from the Mouride Brotherhood queue to enter the Grand Mosque of Touba in Senegal, Tuesday, October 6, 2020. (AP)

The virus also could potentially spread to communities far from Touba via people returning home on public transport. Buses only leave for their destination once completely full.

Sokhna Bousso Diop couldn’t help notice many of the pilgrims were not following the face-covering rules outside the perimeter of the mosque. Still, she turned to her faith for assurance.

“We are confident that Serigne Touba has not forgotten us,” she said, referring to the founder of the Mouride Brotherhood. “Let’s keep on praying. Everything will go smoothly.”

Source: AP