Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Compound of Serigne Omar Sy in post-conflagration style, Senegal, 2006. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.


Serigne Sy’s compound is called Yaminulla, “Trust in God,” a name all the more poignant because the glorious creation has twice burned to the ground since 1995 (Roberts and Roberts 2003: 212-229). Thankfully there were no fatalities and the hardy men began reconstruction immediately after both conflagrations. The layout and design changed radically as seen in this 2006 photo, however, for rather than domes and other rounded forms, triangles dominated so that roof lines resonated with bas-relief ornamentation and minaret-like towers. Even as they constituted an architecture of the Word, the triangles pointed upward as “the fire of faith ascending toward God” (Bourdier and Trinh 1996: 55). In the face of fear and loss, tangible form was given to prayers for divine protection and promotion. By 2011 the aesthetic had shifted back to rounded forms, reflecting the holy man’s increased financial and physical security even as he approached his 100th birthday.