“Welcome Back Home”: Lessons From My Recent Rihlah to Senegal

Dawud Walid on 04 January 2017

I returned recently from a journey embarked upon with a group of beautiful souls to the West African Muslim country of Senegal. There were so many aspects of the journey that were spiritually and intellectually enriching that I could literally write a small book about my rihlah1; however, I will give three brief highlights of it.

After reaching Dakar, Senegal’s capital, on December 10, a group of us including Dr. Rudolph Bilal Ware and Ustadha Iesha Prime traveled to one of the three spiritual centers of Senegal, the city of Kaolack.

The heart of Kaolack is a section called Medina Baye, meaning city of the father, which contains the grand masjid and grave of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (may Allah sanctify his spirit), the most well-known West African scholar of the 20th century. We made it to Medina Baye on the evening of Gamou, the word that Wolof speakers use for al-Mawlid an-Nabawi. Some 400,000 people — from Mauritania and Sudan to America and Britain — flooded the streets for dhikr (remembrance) of Allah (Mighty & Sublime) and to listen to lectures about the life of Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him & his family).

Given that so many visitors came from different countries and hotel accommodations were miniscule, many locals slept on the sides of streets to make room for visitors from other lands to sleep in their homes. Our group, in fact, slept in the home of the mu’addhin of the Grand Masjid who not only calls the adhan (call to prayer) but whose beautiful Qur’an recitations can be heard over the loudspeakers between every adhan and iqamah.

From Kaolack, we returned to Dakar to participate in a conference at the Islamic Institute of Senegal in which I was honored to be a presenter with American and Senegalese scholars including Shaykh Muhammad Mendes and Dr. Ousame Kane. The most profound part of my experience in this leg of the trip, however, was our visit to Goree Island, a small parcel of land off of the coast of Dakar, which was one of the most prolific ports of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The House of Slaves, which is now a museum, and its infamous Door of No Return were the last sight that many of the ancestors of Black Americans had of Africa before being shackled in slave ships. Our group was in tears listening to its history from the museum curator; we proceeded to make du’a (supplication) and dhikr at the Door. A Senegalese brother guiding us told me after dhikr, “Alhamdulillah, they didn’t expect for you to make it back, but you all made it back home to Africa, the children of Islam are back!” I’m brought to tears thinking about his statement as I write this.

Upon leaving Dakar, we traveled to Touba, the home of Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba (may Allah sanctity his spirit) who was a descendent of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family). While in Touba, we visited Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba University as well as an institute which taught boys and girls the Qur’an, Arabic, French, geography, mathematics and martial arts. The director of the institute was not only a hafiz of the Qur’an, and had mastered the disciplines of Arabic grammar and rhetoric but was also a 3rd degree black belt in karate. It was heartwarming to see so many children who memorized the Qur’an and fluently speaking Arabic in such modest accommodations and without having traveled to any Arab country before.

There is much more that I could say about my recent blessed trip to Senegal. I will end with saying that the old tradition of visiting scholars in other lands and interacting with Muslims in faraway places is a practice that needs more attention among Muslims in the West. For the children of enslaved Africans in particular, traveling back to Africa, hearing our people such as the Senegalese say “Welcome back home” and breathing the air of Islamic tradition from there is a type of medicine for our wounded souls. Senegal is a land unknown to many Muslims in the West in which secrets reside for those with open hearts who make effort to journey there. I suggest all of you one day visit the blessed land of Senegal.


Dawud Walid is currently the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), which is a chapter of America's largest advocacy and civil liberties organization for American Muslims and is a member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) Imams Committee. Walid has been interviewed and quoted in approximately 150 media outlets ranging from the New York Times, Wall St Journal, National Public Radio, CNN, BBC, FOX News and Al-Jazeera. Furthermore, Walid was a political blogger for the Detroit News from January 2014 to January 2016, has had essays published in the 2012 book All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim, the 2014 book Qur'an in Conversation and was quoted as an expert in 13 additional books and academic dissertations. He was also a featured character in the 2013 HBO documentary "The Education of Mohammad Hussein." Walid has lectured at over 50 institutions of higher learning about Islam, interfaith dialogue and social justice including at Harvard University, DePaul University and the University of the Virgin Islands - St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses as well as spoken at the 2008 and 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Conventions alongside prominent speakers such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Keith Ellison. In 2008, Walid delivered the closing benediction at the historic 52nd Michigan Electoral College in the Michigan State Senate chambers and gave the Baccalaureate speech for graduates of the prestigious Cranbrook-Kingswood Academy located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Walid was also a featured speaker at the 2009 and 2010 Malian Peace and Tolerance Conferences at the University of Bamako in Mali, West Africa. He has also given testimony at hearings and briefings in front of Michigan state legislators and U.S. congressional representatives, including speaking before members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington, D.C. Walid has studied under qualified scholars the disciplines of Arabic grammar and morphology, foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, sciences of the exegesis of the Qur’an, and Islamic history during the era of Prophet Muhammad through the governments of the first 5 caliphs. He previously served as an imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit and the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck, Michigan, and continues to deliver sermons and lectures at Islamic centers across the United States and Canada. Walid was a 2011 - 2012 fellow of the University of Southern California (USC) American Muslim Civil Leadership Institute (AMCLI) and a 2014 - 2015 fellow of the Wayne State Law School Detroit Action Equity Lab (DEAL). Walid served in the United States Navy under honorable conditions earning two United States Navy & Marine Corp Achievement medals while deployed abroad. He has also received awards of recognition from the city councils of Detroit and Hamtramck and from the Mayor of Lansing as well as a number of other religious and community organizations.

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