Generally, al-Tuggaba is a place where firewood is burned to give light.
But the al-Tuggaba has other definitions. It is a huge bonfire that travelers can see from a distance at night and realize that "well, here is a place for shelter and food."
The al-Tiggaba has been associated with Koran khalwas (schools or seminaries) where children can live and master the Koran and its sciences. When one hears the word tuggaba, he will instantly draw the mental picture of a huge fire surrounded with Koran learners and where the smell of hot porridge engulfs the place.
The Tuggaba tradition dates back to the days of the Sinnar Sultanate, Sudan's first Islamic state that came into being in the year 1504 in the vicinity of today's city of Sinnar. The Islamic Cooperation Organization (ICO) this year named Sinnar as the Capital of Islamic Culture, an annual festival organized by the ICO, each time in a different country.
The Kings of Sinnar State were known for their care of knowledge and scholars. They encouraged scholars to come to Sudan and disseminate Islam and the memorization of the Holy Koran. The history books tell that King Badi al-Ahmar had set a building in the al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo for Sudanese students to live in and learn the Koran and other Islamic disciplines. Remains of this building can still be seen at al-Azhar University. That King had also set a similar housing facility for his Kingdom's pilgrims visiting the Mosque of Prophet Mohanmad in al-Madian al-Munawwara (in today's Saudi Arabia).
This concern with the dissemination of Islam, has prompted the kings of Sinnar to launch multitudes of khalwas where students can memorize the Korana and learn Islamic jurisprudence. The students also learned contemporary science and mathematics. Here was the first fire to be lit for students to gather around and learn about Islam and the Koran. Very soon that fire acquired another function: To tell travelers and the needy that here is a place where one can find lodging, food and warmth in cold nights.
The khalwas then morphed into bigger housing facilities each with the name of 'maseed'. One of the most famous such maseeds is the one built by the late Sheikh Abdulraheem al-Bure'e in the State of North Korofan, that houses multitudes of Koran students from around Sudan and abroad. We also have the Maseed of Sheikh Sayim Deema in Omduraman, the Maseed of Sheikh Idris Wad al-Arbab at al-Ailafoon East of Khartoum and Maseed al-sheikh al-Ebaid Wad Badur (Eastern Khartoum also) that houses students from inside and outside Sudan.
Former Sudanese Ambassador Hashim Abdelraziq tells Sudanow that Sheikh al-Ebaid Wad Badur was a pious man travelling around the country and visiting mosques and khalwas. One day and on his way to Maseed Sheikh Idris Wad al-Arbab heavy rain stopped him from going ahead to where he wanted to. He and his companions were served with sorghum bread and milk by a herder in the area who also hosted them for the night. Then Sheikh al-Ebaid had a vision: In his sleep he saw that it was the Day of Judgment and looking at his deeds he found that a piece of bread he once gave to a hungry person had tilted his balance of virtues. Up from his sleep the Sheikh decided to grow crops and feed the needy. He used to grow sorghum, harvest his crop, grind the grains, cook the flour and bake porridge for the hungry. This porridge, usually dehydrated, later on came to be known as al-dibilibba. The Sheikh lit a big fire at a high place where travelers can see it from a long distance and come forth.
People flocked towards the place to eat from the Sheikh's food. On their way back home they were keen to take some diblibba with them. Around that fire Sheikh al-Ebaid started to teach the Koran and lead the students and guests in prayer. The place gradually grew bigger and attracted more and more learners and also persons on the run from the Turkish authorities. Sheikh al-Ebaid then built a takiyya (also called massed) where people can rest and receive food.
The tuggaba of Sheikh al-Ebaid's maseed has grown higher with the accumulating ashes over the years. Its fire still continues to glow ever since it was first lit in 1847. Even during the rainy season when the flames subside because of rain water, ember continues to glow beneath the thick ashes of the heavy logs of wood. Up to now Koran students continue to collect timber, light this tuggaba and encircle it to read their lessons, nevertheless the electric lights that flood the place. They keep this tradition in memory of the noble Sheikh.
Serving the diblibba is still in full swing. It is not unusual to see a group of five men cooking it. They bake it in a big bowl sitting on three big stones called the ladayat (supports). The dough is ploughed with long spades each called al-maload. One bowl can bake two sacks (200 kilograms) of sorghum in one go. After the sorghum is baked it is sliced into circular equal pieces. Milk or cooked okra is then poured on the diblibba. Sometimes the diblibba is dissolved in water and sweetened with sugar.This is called the ukara, and is believed to quench thirst.
The cooks (usually the students themselves) work in shifts. Another group of students takes care of the tuggaba to make sure the fire would not get low.
The maseed dwellers work in harmony and solidarity in keeping with what they have learned from the Koran. The maseed receives donations of money, sorghum and other food substances from well-wishers countrywide, and the diblibba remains as the primary menu due to its religious worth.
Teaching in the maseed is shouldered by well versed sheikhs who divide the pupils in groups in order of merit and in accordance with a strict administrative system. Learners first begin with the alphabet both in sound and form. The pupil writes on a wooden plate (called loah), using a special ink obtained by burning sorghum stalks into ashes. The ashes are then mixed with gum and water. The sheikh writes and the pupils imitate him. Each pupil is assigned a number of Koran verses to memorize, according to his mental readiness. The pupil starts with reading (called ramya) and then dictation. He then starts to memorize the verses he had written. When the pupil finishes with his assigned verses, he can wash what he had written with water. The plates are washed in a basin built for this purpose. Pupils are forbidden from washing their plates on the ground, in respect to the words of the Almighty.
Sheikh al-Ebaid Wad Badur died in 1884, but his maseed continues to host hoards of pupils, travelers and the needy, to date. The maseed's tuggaba is still ablaze, taken care of by Sheikh al-Ebaid's successors for more than one and a half century.