One of the most important elements of the Baye Fall is dedicated work. Many followers have dedicated their lives to the land, often working the fields of their daara, a rural Mouride community. Ndindy, Senegal. 2014 (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

The Grand Mosque of Touba, one of the largest mosques in sub-Saharan Africa, was completed in 1963 and is the final resting place of Amadou Bamba Mbacké, the founder of the Mouride brotherhood and settler of the city itself. Touba, Senegal. 2013. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Fifteen years ago, while on a trip to Senegal, photojournalist Laylah Amatullah Barrayn first encountered the Baye Fall, men and women of the Islamic Sufi order who walked through the capital, Dakar, dressed in brightly colored patchwork clothing, wearing long, distinctly “locked” hair, and often with amulets of their spiritual leader laced around their necks. A brotherhood, as it is known.

“I lived in the capital city of Dakar, right in the heart of the bustling municipal downtown district, Plateau,” Amatullah Barrayn tells In Sight. “Like any city center, Plateau was a dynamic mélange of commerce, traffic and culture. Each day the Baye Fall would greet me. They were men and women (ladies were Yaye Fall) who possessed a distinct aesthetic; they were immediately noticeable. Their clothes were often made of patchwork fabric. Their hair was ‘locked’ in a style similar to that of Rastafarians. They wore thick, black leather amulets stacked around their necks. Some of the younger Baye Fall were panhandlers that would request cash or that I buy them rice or sugar for their Cafe Touba. They were Sufis, or mystics, in West Africa, a fascinating side of Islam that doesn’t receive much attention, except for the Turkish Whirling Dervishes and the renown Sufi poet, Rumi.”

In 1883, Amadou Bamba Mbacké founded the Mouride brotherhood, and his disciple Ibrahima Fall would later become the namesake of the suborder, the Baye Fall, as well as the architect of a system of sustainable economics that continues to benefit Senegal to the present day. Fall stressed the importance of a humble lifestyle and manual labor. The Baye Fall considers physical labor — often expressed by farming and the construction of homes and mosques — to be an act of prayer and devotion.

“In 2013 and 2014 I retraced my footsteps in Dakar,” Amatullah Barrayn says,”and created portraits of the members of this community in their natural environments. I also ventured to Touba, the holy city of the Mourides and the Baye Fall. There in Touba are the final resting places of founder Amadou Bamba and Ibrahima Fall. It is also a major learning center and one of the largest mosques in Africa. Additionally, I traveled to other cities in Senegal. I saw the influence of Bamba and Ibrahima Fall all over the nation: from the countless murals of these two men, to the the fashion that was clearly influenced by this community. I became more acquainted with their customs, such as khassida: a unique repertoire of exquisite religious phrases that are chanted in Baye Fall mosques after evening prayers. I learned the extreme importance of physical labor with regard to their allegiance to their marabout, or spiritual leaders.

Amatullah Barrayn’s series will be on exhibition as part of the exhibit ReSignifications: European Blackamoors, Africana ReStagings at this year’s Black Portraiture[s] II, in Florence this May.


The Baye Fall styled locks called ndiange use a distinct hair-locking technique to achieve its flatness. It is noted that Ibrahima Fall’s hair was matted in a manner similar to today’s dreadlocks. Dnindy, Senegal. 2014

Muhammad poses for a portrait near Avenue Pompidou, one of the main streets that runs through Plateau, Dakar’s downtown commercial center. Dakar, Senegal. 2014. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Thousands of members of the Mouride Brotherhood or tariqa (Sufi order) and tourists alike visit Touba each year. The city sees hundreds of thousands of devotees on this holiday. Here a young man and his son exit the Grand Mosque. Touba, Senegal. 2014. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Sowrou and Mustapha greet each other with a traditional handshake where one taps his forehead with the hand of the other. Dnindy, Senegal. 2014 (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

A Yaye Fall woman wears an image of Serigne Falilou Mbacké as an amulet known as a ‘marabout’ around her neck. It isn’t uncommon for followers of the Mouride Sufi order to wear amulets with pictures of the spiritual leaders of their communities. Dakar, Senegal. 2014. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Sokhna Khady Ba, a prominent Yaye Fall praise singer and community healer, poses for a portrait near her home. She passed away a week after this photo was taken. Guediawaye, Senegal. 2014. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Elements of Baye Fall style: a man wears niahaas patchwork socks and thiaya, loose fitting pants that are popular among Baye Fall farm workers. Dakar, Senegal. 2013. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

A man wears a patchwork-style tunic. The patchwork, or niahaas in Wolof, is inspired by the humble lifestyle that was encouraged by Ibrahima Fall, the most distinguished disciple of Amadou Bamba. Touba, Senegal. 2013. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Seynabou stands in front of an illustration of Amadou Bamba. The image is ubiquitous in Senegal. This drawing is based on one of the only known photographs taken of Bamba in 1913. Thiès, Senegal. 2014. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Photographer and archivist Ibrahima Thiam cools a cup of Cafe Touba. A Senegalese staple named after the holy city, Cafe Touba is coffee blended with spices and is purported to have many health benefits. Dakar, Senegal. 2013. (Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)