Senegal Muslims show love of work in peanut-picking

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KHELCOM FIELDS, Senegal, Oct 29 (Reuters) Thousands of Senegalese Muslims, from bankers to bus drivers, flocked to the country's dusty peanut fields this week in an annual show of devotion to the powerful Mouride brotherhood.

Bent double under blazing sunshine, ranks of men, women and children harvested the groundnuts by hand from the dry earth after a call to work -- or ''Ndiguel'' -- from the Mourides' spiritual leader, Serigne Saliou Mbacke.

It has become a key fixture for Mourides, a Sufi Islam movement whose doctrine of hard work as a route to paradise has made it a powerful economic and political force in Senegal.

''Pray as if you will die tomorrow and work as if you will live forever'' is one of the oft-quoted teachings of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, the Muslim mystic who founded the movement in 1883.

Many of the devotees stay for days or even weeks, sleeping at night in clusters of tents spread across tens of thousands of hectares of plantations -- known as the ''Khelcom fields'' -- around the holy city of Touba.

''The working and living conditions are very difficult, so you are obliged to show solidarity,'' said Saliou Niang, 25, a student in hotel management, sipping mint tea under the moonlight after a day toiling in the dust.

''It's a spiritual training you receive here. In a world that is becoming more and more individualist, you learn to share, to work together,'' he said, as other Mourides sang religious chants and drummed in the background.

GLOBALISATION Mouride influence runs deep across Senegal.

Brightly painted taxis and buses carry mottos such as ''Djeuredjef Serigne Fallou'' (Thank you Serigne Fallou), a former Mouride leader, or ''Grand Marabout'', revered for his mystical abilities to heal the sick and change the weather.

Hand-painted depictions of the one surviving photograph of Bamba, his face wrapped in a flowing white scarf, adorn shop fronts and businesses in towns around the former French colony.

Mouridism is largely confined to Senegal and neighbouring Gambia, unlike the larger Tidjane brotherhood which has spread more widely across West Africa from Morocco.

But the marabouts' teachings to go out into the world and bring back wealth to build up the movement has led the Mourides to establish a formidable trading network across the globe.

From street sellers in New York, Paris, Rome and Madrid to import/export dealers in Hong Kong and Dubai, many of the Senegalese doing business abroad are members of the brotherhood.

Type ''Khelcom'' into an Internet search engine and one of the first pages to come up is ''Khelcom-Wheels-Dealers'', a used car dealer serving the Senegalese community in South Hackensack, New Jersey.

Known even by fellow Senegalese as wily operators, these jet-setting Mourides have been dubbed ''Modou Modou'' because, when caught selling fake designer goods, they give the ubiquitous name ''Modou'' in the hope of not being identified.

''All Mourides when they travel just need to get money to bring back to Touba,'' said Hamdan Thiam, 45, who lived in the Canary Islands, Barcelona and Paris before returning to Touba to study Bamba's teachings more deeply.

As a result, Touba and neighbouring Mbacke have grown from just a tiny village at the time of Bamba's birth to become Senegal's second-largest conurbation after Dakar, with a population of more than half a million.

''Touba is the middle of paradise,'' said Thiam, grinning in the shadow of the city's vast marble-covered mosque.

REUTERS SKB RK1537

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