Sufi Brotherhoods in Africa

Knut S. Vikor
“Sufi Brotherhoods in Africa”

The History of Islam in Africa. Levtzion & Pouwels (eds.).
Athens. Ohio University Press.

Chapter 20

Although it is evident that Islam in Africa is closely interwoven with sufism, there has been considerable disagreement over the result of this influence; has it been a political and radical force or a conservative and pious one? Partly, this stems from a lack of clarity over the term sufi brotherhood itself. This is a translation of the Arabic term tariqa, which covers a much broader range of meaning than those normally conveyed by the English terms order or brotherhood. To simplify matters, we may distinguish between two meanings of the word. On the one hand, a tariqa is a method, or Way, that a Muslim may follow to reach a personal religious experience . On the other hand, tariqa is used for the organizational framework that may be set up to transmit and practice this method. Only the second of the two meanings fits with our concept of brotherhood, but this organization is a consequence of, not a prerequisite for, the sufi experience: We may, and do, have tariqa-Ways without tariqa-brotherhoods; but we cannot have tariqa-brotherboods without tariqa-Ways.
These organizational frameworks, the orders or brotherhoods, may then acquire functions beyond those of practicing the sufi Way, which in particular circumstances may make the tarlqa-brotberhoods into political or economic actors that thus become “visible” to the student of political and social history. But it should always be remembered that these are external, and, in essence, haphazard results of the tariqa‘s existence. They are never the result of the contents of the tariqaWay or The religious experience around which the brotherhood was set up. For this reasom it is possible to look past the social and political epiphenomena that make the order seem one day militant and the next otherworldly, and focus instead on bow they see themselves and the relations between them.
The central core of a Way is the wird, the prayer ritual that is specific for the Way and that is transmitted from teacher to student in a chain of transmission (silsila) from the founder, and beyond him to the Prophet or a Companion, down to the present day. With the wird is transmitted not only a mystical knowledge, but also an identity and, Ultimately, an authority that constitute the tariqa as a spiritual entity.
The wird may form part of a ritual, or dhikr, that is performed regularly among a group of adherents of the Way. This dhikr is performed at regular, often weekly, gatherings. Together with the often massive gatherings on the date of birth (mawlid) or death (hawayya) of the founder, it makes the Way externally visible. Once a group of followers has formed around a Way and its shaykh, it may be formally organized, with more advanced initiates (muqaddam) becoming teachers and midlevel leaders. This, then, is the Way as brotherhood, and its structure will normally grow in complexity if the shaykh develops a following beyond the local community and remote groups are formed. However, the shaykh may also remain a local figure, with no partictilar organization required.

The Arrival of Soufism in West Africa

The organization of a brotherhood is thus often a practical and pragmatic response to the growth of a particular shaykh‘s audience. However, it is also possible to see the solidification of a sufi identity and organization as part of a more general historical development. That is the case when we look at the early history of sufism in West Africa, which was closely linked to the Sahara and the history of the “scholarly lineages” there. These lineages were transmitters of knowledge from a Magbrib where stifism had played a dominant role since the thirteenth century , but within a different social context from that of the Maghrib.
Such groups are a typical feature of the Sahara, cutting across ethnic and language barriers from the zawaya of Mauritania, through the Tuareg inesleman, and on to the Libyan mrabit. These were groups that in various ways lost power to “warrior” or “noble” tribes or groups; developing a “spiritual” role could, for them, become a strategy to raise their standing in relation to the other tribes socially—and also economically, in that such a role easily went together with developing trading relations. It could also be transformed into political capital by giving them functions as mediators between conflicting “warrior” tribes. These groups eventually became the carriers of Islamic scholarship and sufi influence in the interface between North and West Africa. Early on, this would take a “magical” form-the provision of amulets, gris-gris, and other supernatural methods of controlling nature. The power would be vested in special people and became known as baraka. It would be linked to the lineage, and the spiritual power of a historical ancestor thus diffused to his extended family. Clearly, the more powerful the ancestor’s baraka, the higher the standing of the group. This would give the group a motivation to enhance the perception of the ancestor’s baraka
With the strengthening of the Islamic model of thought, the power to control nature was linked to a relationship with God. Baraka became wilaya, “friendship with God.” Like baraka, wilaya was proved by the miraculous events attributed to the ancestor, but it was also a way to raise a lineage’s spiritual status compared with that of rivals. Wilaya was also displayed by piety and godfcaringness, which was linked to learning. A wali could thus establish his standing and that of his extended family, not only by his pcrsonal fame as a pious man but by his measurable activities in writing and of reaching. Another way to establish this status was to link the wali to a category of saints and holy men inside or outside the Sahara through a silsila. This would increase the standing of the possessor of wilaya by linking him to a recognized network of saintly men from the Middle Eastern heartlands. For this to help the lineage in general, however, the adoption of the silsila had to be made retroactively. The lineage’s status was focused on the ancestor’s baraka and wilaya, and thus the ancestor or someone close to him must have been the one who hadjoined the silsila, by meeting one of the famous shaykhs from outside and “taking” the line from him.
The development of the status of the lineage, from an isolated baraka to the international silsila, can thus be seen as a way to accumulate a spiritual or “symbolic capital” that could translate into both economic and political capital, either in competition with the nonscholarly (hasam, imajeghan, sa’di) groups or independently from them. As in the economic field, it is competition with other actors that forces the spiral of accumulation-the need to add to the spiritual status already acquired.
The focus of the silsila was the status of the saints mentioned in it, more than the tarlqa identity of the line itself By linking a lineage and its ancestor to a particular silsila, the name of the tariqa would however also be attached to the ancestor, and the awareness of tariqa specificities seems to have grown slowly among Saharan scholars from the seventeenth century. Beyond the lineage itself, there was, however, never any structured following of the brotherhood type before the end of the eighteenth century. Although the history of individual sufi attachments in the Sahara was thus a slow process that probably started in the seventeenth century, we cannot talk of sufi brotherhoods there, nor anywhere south of the desert, much before 1800.

The Ways: An Overview

Since most silsilas go back to a common set of early authorities, the distinctions between them may sometimes be fluid. The chains form a series of “family trees” that branch out into ever finer distinctions as shaykhs modify the wird or develop separate subidentities. This could happen either earlier or later in the development of the line. A particular Way may thus be named from one of the early founders, such as Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 1166) or Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Shadhili (d. 1258), or by the name of one of the sbaykhs who branched out. Thus it may be useful to group them by family. The most important families for Africa are the Qadiriyya, Khalwatiyya, and Shadhiliyya Ways.

The Qadiriyya

The first development of the Qadiriyya in Africa is linked to the Saharan scholarly and trading lineage of the Kunta. It is not clear when the Kunta scholars started to consider themselves as Qadiri. The internal traditions claim that the connection was made at the time of their ancestor Ahmad al-Bakka’i (d. 1514) —a great source for inherited wilaya—with a line to the equally famous scholar al-Maghili. There is, however, no evidence that al-Maghili ever dispensed the Qadiriyya or any other wird. The realization of a Qadiri identity more probably developed in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It came to prominence only with the scholar and political leader Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti (1729-1811)

The Muhtariyya

Al-Mukhtar belonged to the Awlad al-Wafi branch living in the oasis-town of Wadan. Not being of the dominant family, he went away to Walata to study and acquired a reputation for scholarliness and piety; he also possessed an ability to settle disputes among rival lineages. With an established scholarly status, he returned to Wadan in 1793 and made a partly unsuccessful bid for leadership among his lineage group. Only after he withdrew and established his own center at al-Hilla did he gain acceptance as the major scholarly and political leader of the Wafi branch and the Kunta at large.
Al-Mukhtar was initiated into the Qadiriyya by’Ali b. Najib b. Shu’ayb, who did not belong to the Kunta lineage. The core of the organization was his family and the Kunta lineage . Only Kunta could aspire to the highest levels of the brotherhood—that of being initiated directly by the Mukhtar family—and only that family, the founder and his descendants, constituted the summit. Below these levels of leadership, the brotherhood drew in adherents at two levels: tilmidh and murid. Both words mean “student,” but the level of attachment was quite different. A murid was an individual member who took active part in the rituals and could give the wird to others, second-level teachers who were not necessarily Kunta. The tilmidhs formed groups, made up of zawaya, hasani, Berbers, “blacks,” or any other who had gained the protection of the Kunta by attaching themselves to al-Mukhtar. They could do this either by physically moving to a Kunta community or simply by recognizing al-Mukhtar as their leader.
This level of group attachment seems to have been an innovation of al-Mukhtar’s (it was copied by other Saharan brotherhoods, both Mukhtaris, such as Shaykh Sidiya, and others such as the Fadiliyya). The organization, while built around al-Mukhtar’s Kunta family, extended the lineage’s authority by attaching tilmidh groups on a Qadiri basis—clearly a new development. It seems that the traditional wilaya authority was no longer sufficient; something new had to be added to it. The reasons for this can easily be found in the political situation of the Kunta of Wadan
Besides the difficulties al-Mukhtar had in asserting his authority among the Kunta, there were also external problems. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the dominant tribe of the oasis was the zawaya group Idaw al-Hajj—allies of the Kunta. The Idaw al-Hajj being weakened by a war with a rival group, the Kunta had gained supremacy over the oasis. This led a group of the Idaw al-Hajj to move away and establish a new center under the leadership of Sidi Mahmud (d. 1786), a scholar widely acclaimed for his piety, learning, and charisma; even the Kunta had to recognize his position. Thus, at the time al-Mukhtar returned to Wadan, the Kunta were about to be embroiled in a conflict with a rival scholarly group, and new resources of legitimacy were needed. It is not difficult to see how this situation might have precipitated al-Mukhtar’s introduction of a new type of spiritual authority beyond the wilaya, since that was something the rival group might match.
At al-Mukhtar’s death, the Way was continued by his son Muhammad. Muhammad died in 1826. The most widely recognized shaykh of the brotherhood thereafter was Muhammad’s student Shaykh Sidiya (d. 1856), of the Awlad Ibiri zawaya lineage, farther west in the Sahara, with a center in Boutilmit 10. His career largely mirrored that of al-Mukhtar. Coming from a minor lineage, he established his position first as a mediator and later as a scholar and shaykh of the Mukhtariyya Qadiriyya. He had his own tilmidh-groups-so many they almost doubled the size of his “lineage”—and gained economic and political power in the southwestern Sahara. His intellectual influence reached even farther. Sidiya was followed by his grandson, Sidiya “Baba,” who maintained the position well into the twentieth century. He died in 1924.
The Mukhtariyya’s political role was most important in the Sahara. Outside that region, both the Kunta and Shaykh Sidiya preferred to function as mediators. An exception was al-Mukhtar’s great-grandson Ahmad al-Bakka’i, who became an archenemy of the later Tijani, al-Hajj ‘Umar (discussed below).

The Fadiliyya

Another Saharan Way that gained influence was the Fadiliyya 11. They did this both peacefully—to the south, in Senegal—and militarily-to the north, in Morocco. This branch of the Qadiriyya takes its name from Muhammad Fadil Mamin (C. 1795-1868), of the Ahl Jih al-Mukhtar zawaya lineage. Its center was in the western part of Mauritania, the Hawd region. Muhammad Fadil seems, like Mukhtar, to have developed an autochthonous branch of the Qadiriyya. Coming from a minor scholarly family, he never left the Sahara but studied with various local teachers s12
The “tariqa identity” of the family seems indeed to have been inclusive, Muhammad Fadil’s father Mamin is said to have dispensed both the Nasiriyya Shadhiliyya, the new Tijaniyya, and the Qadiriyya wirds. When Fadil came to be identified primarily with the Qadiriyya, it may have been through the influence of al-Mukhtar’s example further east: the two Ways were never linked (and later became rivals) 13, but the Fadiliyya took many organizational features from the model of al-Mukhtar and Shaykh Sidiya—for example, the tilmidh adherence and collection of hadaya gifts.
Although the Fadiliyya reached a wide influence in the region during the founder’s lifetime, it was the next generation that spread it farther afield. Fadil’s nephew Muhammad w. Muhammad Fadil took it to the Adrar, to the east, and his son Sa’d Buh (d. 1917) established a strong center in the Gibla region to the west, close to the coast 14. Sa’d Buh’s influence spread south of the Senegal River, where it grew to dominate his branch, butalthough his influence on West African sufism was far greater-Sad Buh sometimes came under the shadow of his brother Sidi al-Mustafa. This brother, more commonly known under the nickname Ma’al-Aynayn (1831-1910) 15, went northward, where he established centers, first in Tinduf then in Smara, in the Saqiyat al-Hamra’ region. Continuing his father’s work of sufi scholarship—and being a much more prolific author—Ma’ al-Aynayn developed close contacts with the Moroccan sultan, who supported him economically and was in turn initiated into the Saharan brotherhood. Ma’ al-Aynayn became involved in Moroccan politics, and with the sultan, started a military campaign against the French, first in Mauritania and later in Morocco. His political action led to a celebrated disagreement with his brother Sa’d Buh, who under quite different circumstances had accepted the French presence and issued a fatwa against an “unrealistic” and disruptive jihad against France 16


These Saharan orders were not the only Qadiri influences in West Africa. Several communities in the central Bilad al-Sudan may have had connections with the Qadiriyya as early as the seventeenth century, for example, that of Abd Allah al-Barnawi al-Himyari, the Kalumbardo community, in Bornu 17. This community was visited by the scholar Ahmad al-Yamani (d. 1701), who traversed the region on his way from the Nile Valley to Morocco, teaching the Kalumbardos and others. A local Qadiri silsila includes his name.

Uthman dan Fodio

Our knowledge about the Kalumbardo is scanty, but we know much more about another scholarly community that grew in Hausaland in the late 1700s—that of the Fulani teacher Uthman dan Fodio, the jihadist and founder of the Sokoto state (1754-1817) 18. Uthman collected a number of wirds from various Ways, but his main identification was with the Oadiriyya—not, however, through the Kunta line. He accepted the wird of the Mukhtariyya Qadiris only late in his life, in 1812.
It is not clear whether Uthman first received the Qadiri wird during his early years of learning with his family. His main silsila goes through the Saharan teacher Jibril b. ‘Umar, with whom he studied for about a year while in his early twenties. jibril, who had visited Egypt and the Hijaz, gave ‘Uthman initiations in both the Khalwati and Qadiri Ways.
The Qadiriyya gave ‘Uthman the impetus for his political movement. When he was ready to start his reform activity in 1794, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, the original founder the Way, appeared to him in a vision and authorized the movement. In celebration of the moment, Uthman wrote a poem in Fulfulde entitled al-Qadiriyya, and the community he founded in the town of Degel were known as the Kadirawa 19. The Qadiriyya, while thus connected to the jihad, did not exist as a corporate group in Sokoto during its early years. It was only after the emergence of a competing, organized, tradition—that of the Tijaniyya order—from the second half of the century, that the Qadiriyya started to develop into a structured order in this region.

The Qadiriya in the East

In the Sudan, several holy families attach themselves to a Qadiri lineage. This dates back to the first period of Islam in the Sudan 20. The region’s direct contact with Egypt and the Hijaz may indeed have resulted in early influences from sufi learning. If so, however, sufi thought remained linked to the established holy families as a “family heirloom” until the nineteenth century, and any sufi identity became part of the general history of the lineages and their relations to each other.
Sufism in Somalia also developed via scholarly groups establishing themselves among more powerful and rival tribes 21. In the more fertile regions of southern Somalia, these groups seem to have taken the form of settled agricultural communities, living in the physical space between the nomadic tribes. Although they have been called “tariqa communities,” their identification with particular tariqas was weak 22. The genealogical attachments these scholarly groups claimed to the Arabs of the Hijaz seems to have been more important for them.
It is only in the nineteenth century that we see the arrival of a clear, named tariqa in this region. Some settlements with a Qadiri identity arose from the 1820s, but the order’s main impetus is linked to Shaykh Uways b. Muhammad al-Barawi (1847-1909). Centered on his native town Brava, his branch, sometimes called the Uwaysiyya, spread throughout East Africa, reaching Mozambique and Madagascar 23. Uways’s family was already linked to the Qadiriyya, but he went to Baghdad to receive reinitiation there. Returning to Brava in 1881, his leadership helped in spreading the Way through a series of settled communities, in particular in the southern parts of Somalia, where it became dominant.
We know, however, that the region’s more marked Qadiri identity was not only the result of Uways’s personality: another branch of the order was set up by Abd al-Rahman al-Zayla’i (d. 1882), in Kolonkol, in the Ogaden region, further north 24
Uways, for his part, traveled widely in East Africa, and was invited to Zanzibar by Sultan Barghash in 1884 25. He made the city the second center for his branch and initiated a number of local followers. Sufi Ways were already present in Zanzibar, but they were mostly confined to the Arab inhabitants; thus in particular, the Aydarusiyya/Alawiyya branches of the Qadiriyya 26 which were family Ways closed to outsiders. Uways’s branch and other new brotherhoods of the Mos changed this situation by being independent of family and ethnic identites, eventually opening up to the African majority.
The first of Uways’s students were Somalis like himself, but when recruits like Abd Allah Mjana Khayri and Mzee b. Fereji started spreading into the mainland, a powerful organization was soon formed. It spread from Tanganyika into eastern Congo and Rwanda, with centers in Tabora, Ujiji, and Rufiji 27. The Maji-Maji rebellion in 1905-7 had an interesting effect: while sufi brotherhoods played little or no role in the movement itself, they spread very quickly in its wake. It seems they were filling an ideological or spiritual need left open after the defeat of the rebellion 28
The Uwaysijyya was not the only Qadiri branch in Tanganyika; in fact, the branch formed by Shaykh Ramiyya in Bagamoyo in 1905 may have surpassed it and become the largest Qadiri branch in the region 29. This was a purely “African”-based branch. Ramiyya (d. 1931), a former slave from the Congo, grew to prominence in Bagamoyo because of his scholarliness. He had already set up a school teaching Islamic sciences when he was initiated into the Qadiriyya by a traveler from the Middle East—independently of the Somali/Uwaysi line. Ramiyya quickly developed a hierarchical structure around his brotherhood; and his success in business was no doubt another factor in the success of the branch. Both he and his son and successor Muhammad were active in nationalist politics, which among Muslims in Tanganyika was closely linked to the stifi brotherhoods.
This development was in clear contrast to that of Kenya, to the north, where the “traditional” model of sufi Ways-closely linked to the Arab traders and closed to the African majority-prevailed. There was therefore little sufi development there outside the Somali borderlands. However, the invigorated Qadiriyya did spread southward, into Malawi and Mozambique 30. The major agent in this seems not to have been travelers going from Tanzania southward, but young students coming up from Malawi seeking learning in Zanzibar and other learning centers, then being influenced by and initiated into the Qadiriyya or the Shadhillyya there; in other words, a first generation of local Muslim scholars based in exoteric sciences sent out a second generation for ijazas from respected scholars abroad, and the students only then learned of and joined the new brotherhoods. Major names here were Tbabit b. Muhammad Ngawnje (d. 1959), Abd al-Qahir Kapalase, and Mas’ud b. Muhammad Mtawla. There is also the well-known case of a woman shaykh, the former slave Mtumwa bt. Ali (d. 1958), who, living in Zanzibar in her youth, there took the Qadiriyya and carried it to the Nkhotakhota region of Malawi, where she became the dominant scholar. She initiated both men and women into the order 31
Except in Kenya, the sufi brotherhoods clearly played a major part in spreading Islam in East Africa. The majority of Muslims there adhere to one or another brotherbood, the Qadiriyya, overall, being the dominant one. The social basis for the orders in African society was varied: both the slave trader Rumaliza and the slave Ramiyya were shaykhs of the Qadiriyya order. The admission of former slaves into high office in the orders was undoubtedly important, both as a way to garner support, in particular among African communities on the coast, and as a way for these individuals to gain leadership of their communities; often, as in the case of Ramiyya, this would place them over their former masters. The social crisis and economic upheavals in the region after the onset of colonialism allowed the order of walis to provide a new framework for stability. This facilitated the opening of lines of contact and identity stretching beyond the political and social borders that events had made obsolete 32

The Muridiyya

Of the orders derived from the Qadiri silsila, the best-known is without doubt the Muridiyya of Senegal. This was founded around 1905 by Ahmad Bamba Mbacké (d. 1927), a Wolof teacher 33. He came from a scholarly family at the court of the king, damel, of Kayor; his father also had relations with the Gambian resistance leader Ma Ba.
His sufisilsila went to the Mukhtariyya Qadiriyya through Shaykh Sidiya, as well as to the Fadiliyya. Having been initiated by Shaykh Sidiya Baba in person, he started to dispense the Qadiriyya from his center in the Baol region. The number of supporters he recruited caused alarm among the French colonial authorities, although Bamba neither then nor later ever showed any interest in politics. Still, the French exiled him, first to Gabon in 1895, then, on his return in 1902, to Mauritania, where he rejoined Shaykh Sidiya. His absence did not stop his support from growing; rather, the contrary occurred. While he was in Mauritania, Bamba also established his own wird, despite his continued good contact with Shaykh Sidiya and the Qadiriyya. Only in 1912 was Bamba allowed to return. He settled in Diourbel, in Baol, where he stayed until his death in 1927. The French moved his tomb to the town of Touba, which became and remains the center of the order.
After Bamba’s death, a crisis of leadership occurred. Two of Bamba’s brothers disputed with his son over who should become successor, khalifa-général. In the end, and with colonial patronage, the son, Mustafa Mbacké, prevailed; but the brothers retained wide support, and on their own deaths were each succeeded by a khalifa. The unity of the order was preserved, not least by celebrating the wilaya of the founder in the annual pilgrimage to his tomb in Touba, the “grand magal.” On Mustaffa’s death in 1945, the succession was again in dispute among the family, but again unity was preserved. The Muridiyya today is one single order.
The ethos of labor and organization of the students into communities (da’ira), in which they engage in agricultural or other labor for a fixed period of time, has become the hallmark of the order; it has also made the order an important economic actor in Senegal. The production of groundnuts was its preserve, but as this has declined, the order has moved into new areas of international trade. The students are sent to France, Italy, and the United States, where they are economically active but internally organized in traditional data fashion 34

The Khalwatiyya

The second of the three major “families” that have marked the history of the Ways in Africa is the Khalwatiyya. It derives its name from the importance it lays on the brethren going into seclusion (khalwa) for contemplation and purification; this, it is said, should be done at least once in a lifetime, and preferably at regular intervals 35
As was the case with the slow arrival of the Qadiriyya tariqa in West Africa, the details of the Khalwatiyya’s local beginnings are shrouded in mystery. This mystery is linked to Sidi Mahmud al-Baghdadi (d. c. 1550), who is said to have brought the Way in an Ottoman form to Aïr in the Niger Sahara 36. It seems to be established that there was such a Way in Aïr in the late seventeenth century, although it may be prudent to hesitate on its identification with the presumed founder a century earlier. The Mahmudiyya seems to have survived in Aïr, or possibly among the closed sufi communities in Hausaland, down to the late eighteenth century, for Uthman dan Fodio lists it among his own Ways, but separate from the Khalwati Way that he took from his Aïr teacher, Jibril 37. Thus, two different Khalwati Ways were being disseminated from the Air region at this time. None reached an organizational form, however, and the Mahmudiyya Way seems to have died out in ensuing decades, only to be revived in the twentieth century by a local mallam, Musa Abatul (d. 1959), who in fact claimed that the Khalwatiyya was native to Air 38

The Sammaniyya

Another branch of the Khalwatiyya, which had significant impacts on the Nilotic Sudan, was sthat of Muhammad b. al-Karim al-Samman, a student of the Egyptian Khalwati Shaykh Mustafa al-Bakri 39. The Sammaniyya was spread into the Sudan by Ahmad al-Tayyib b. al-Bashir (1742-1824). He was initiated into the Way on several visits to Mecca and traveled widely in the Sudan to form the basis for the new tariqa. This, then, was a clear manifestation of tariqa-Way as a more active principle than had prevailed in the Sudan earlier. It is not clear, however, to what degree an organization beyond that of a series of initiations existed at this time 40. Yet its influence remained strong; the Sudanese Mahdi started his career as a shaykh of the Sammaniyya, and—notwithstanding the difference in content—the movement he built was clearly influenced by the tariqa model 41

The Tijaniyya

It is, however, another derivative—one with its own name—that is the most famous representative of the Khalwati Way in Africa: the order of Ahmad al-Tijani 42. In fact, the history of sufi orders in West Africa is in many ways the history of the spread and diversification of the Tijaniyya order.
It may be incorrect to classify the Tijaniyya as a member of the Khalwati family, because the founder, Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815 in Fez) did not accept the prevailing silsila system. Instead, he claimed that the Way had been revealed to him in a vision from the Prophet, and that the silsila thus went directly from himself to the Prophet, making his previous Khalwati initiation void and wrong. He was in fact the “seal of wilaya,” in the same way that the Prophet Muhammad was the seal of prophethood; for this reason, his Way was the ultimate one, and no other Way was acceptable. However, in practical terms it seems useful to distinguish between joining the order and taking the wird. Most members of sufi brotherhoods will have only one as “their order”—the one with which they identify—although the scholarly among them may acquire any number of wirds from other orders. In the case of the Tijani, if one joined the order and maintained this as one’s primary affiliation, then, generally, it was necessary to leave all other wirds. But it appears to have been perfectly possible for members of other orders to add the Tijani wird to their previous wirds, and even for them to dispense it. Exclusivism thus went with the identity, not the spiritual wird itself.

The Hafiziyya

The first expansion of the Tijani Way to the south came in western Sahara, from where several shaykhs visited Fez and met with Ahmad al-Tijani. The most important of these was Muhammad alHafiz w. al-Mukhtar (1760-1830), of the Idaw ‘Ali lineage, based in the Shinqit region 43. He stayed with al-Tijani for several years and on his return to the Sahara started spreading the Way, in particular among his lineage. His Way was specified by not using a contemplative khalwa. Unlike the Mukhtari Way of the same area, it used a loud dhikr. During the leadership of Hafiz’s student Mawlud Fal (b. 1773/4), the Hafiziyya spread throughout Mauritania and the western Sahara, and students took it as far as Adamawa, south of Lake Chad, and into the Nilotic Sudan. Thus, while retaining its core in the Idaw Ali lineage, this Way was spread beyond its region, and by a leader not of that lineage.

Al-Hajj ‘Umar

The most important propagator of the Tijaniyya order was al-Hajj ‘Umar b. Sa’id Tall (1796-1864). Indeed, if any division should be made in the history of sufism in West Africa, it is before and after al-Hajj ‘Umar. He was of the same scholarly Fulani background as ‘Uthman dan Fodio, but his activity was in the west, in Fuuta-Toro in Senegal.
After primary studies with his family, he settled as an itinerant teacher in the Fuuta-Jalon region to the south. Here he met a teacher of the Tijaniyya Way, a follower of Mawlud Fal called ‘Abd al-Karim al-Naqil44. ‘Umar went on the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1828-31 and was there reinitiated into the Way by a student of al-Tijani and the order’s deputy in the Hijaz, Muhammad al-Ghali. He appointed ‘Umar khalifa, representative, for the order in West Africa. This was perhaps not a very high position, in that the order hardly existed there at the time. But it was of great importance to ‘Umar, who on his return built much of his authority on this appointment.
‘Umar’s reputation as a religious leader, formed during his stay in Mecca, was firmly established on his slow return journey. He stayed for eight years in Sokoto and developed a close relationship with dan Fodio’s successor, Muhammad Bello, marrying his daughter. When ‘Umar continued westward in 1839, passing through the sister jihadi state of Masina, he left behind Tijani communities in both places.
‘Umar’s main fame came from the jihad he led from 1852 (see Chapter 6). He was, however, also a leading scholar; in fact, he is considered the second most importanr shaykh of the tariqa after the founder Ahmad al-Tijani himself, and his major work on the order, the Rimah hizb al-Rahim, is generally printed together with the order’s “source book,” the Jawahir al-ma’ani45. Few if any Islamic thinkers of West Africa has had greater impact on the outside world.
Originally, his Tijanism was not directed against other tariqas, as can be seen from his relations with Sokoto. However, as his jihad developed, he came into increasing rivalry with other Ways in the area, in particular the Mukhtariyya Qadiriyya. Under Ahmad al-Bakka’i, that order took an increasingly active political role on the side of Masina, soon a rival of ‘Umar’s new state. That religious questions were subservient can be seen in Masina’s support of the pagan Segu kingdom against Umar, but Umar still found it necessary to develop an ideological justification for his war with a fellow Islamic and strictly jihadist state. From this time, he made a clearer spiritual distinction between the two Ways, the expression “the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya are like iron and gold” became common among the Umarians 46
Umar’s supporters in his wars were his students, the community of Tijani talibé. Their composition changed somewhat during his movement. In the early, pre-jihad phase (1839-45), when he stayed in Jegunko in Fuuta-Jalon, spiritual factors seem to have been dominant in recruiting, and these students later were the ones more reluctant to take up the sword 47. It was also in this period that Umar did most of his writing. Later, from 1846, he recruited more widely among the Futa Toro youth, and while these, too, were committed Tijani brethren, they were more militant in outlook. As the jihad got under way, political and military affairs thus came to dominate both Umar and the community.
Yet the basis was still the Tijani community and identity. The talibés’ relation to ‘Umar was that of murid to shaykh; they came to him individually and in doing so broke all bonds with their earlier social identity, merging into a new jama a community. Umar’s authority came from his position as khalifa of the order, a title he used most of his life, even after he had established himself as a jhadi leader and head of a new state. In this way, ‘Umar developed the tariqa-organization in two related ways: as a method of structuring adhesion to his movement and giving it identity, and as a way to establish and legitimize his authority over the movement and the state. The idea of a jihad was with him at least from his stay in Sokoto, and his organization, while apparently set up for scholarly purposes, was certainly easily transformable into a military force. It must therefore be assumed that, while ‘Umar was without doubt a genuine mystic and renowned scholar, he also built his Tijani pattern of organization and personal authority consciously for the purpose of carrying out the jihad

The Tijaniyya after ‘Umar

After ‘Umar’s death in 1864, his son Ahmad Shaykh took over leadership of the state and the order 48. When his political venture was finally crushed by the French in 1893, it caused a crisis of leadership for the order. Whereas under Umar it had been centrally led through his authority as khalifa, it was later characterized by a fragmentation into many centers, and indeed internal fragmentation of these centers themselves. This did not, however, stop the spreading of the order.
Already during Ahmad’s period as head of the ‘Umarian state, rivalry had arisen with his brother Agibu. When Ahmad fled after the defeat, Agibu established himself in the town of Bandiagara (the location of Umar’s grave) as head of the family and order, under the protection of the French. Several family members maintained their loyalty to Ahmad or other family members, however, and Agibu was not able to Command total support of the ‘Umarian family. A nephew, Alfa Hashim (d. 1931), went to the Hijaz and spread the ‘Umarian Tijaniyya from there to Indonesia and elsewhere. In the twentieth century, Sayyidi Nuru Tall (d. 1980) of Dakar became one of the most prominent leaders of the ‘Umarian Tijaniyya. He was appointed grand marabout of the AOF by the French, with whom he kept close relations 49. Although Nuru’s status in the Tijaniyya was undoubtedly high, Tijani leaders outside the family have developed branches independent of the ‘Umarians, and with far greater mass support.

The Hamaliyya

The most controversial of these developed in the middle Niger region. This was the branch of Ahmad Hamahu’llah b. Muhammad, of Nioro in northwestern Mali 50. Hamahu’llaah had one foot in the Saharan tradition of sufism, and one in Sahelian Tijaniyya; his father was of a zawaya background from Tichit, his mother a Fulani51. He received his authority directly from the Maghrib, being initiated into the Way by Muhammad b.Abd Allah al-Akhdar, a North African with contacts in the Tlemcen (minority) branch of the Maghribian Tijaniyya. When, shortly before his death in 1909 al-Akhdar met the young Hamahu’llah, he is said to have recognized him as the new khalifa of the brotherhood.
Hamahu’lla’s reputation spread rapidly, and his branch had followers in most of French West Africa after only a decade of existence 52. Hamahu’llah was often harassed by the French authorities because of his abstention from public and official gatherings, thus by implication ignoring the colonial authority. Although he appointed a number of muqaddams from 1914 onwards, he himself was always a reclusive figure, something that possibly strengthened the saintliness that his followers saw in him. For his rejection, he was—like Ahmad Bamba and other nonpolitical sufi leaders—sent into exile, first to Mauritania, then to Côte d’Ivoire; like Bamba, he came back strengthened by it. Hamahu’llah himself and his brotherhood did not themselves seek or play any political role, but a conflict with a rival group, the Tinwajyu, led to clashes for which the French blamed Hamahu’llah. He was thus finally exiled to France, where he died in 1943. Hamahu’llah’s relations with the Umarian Tijanis were also marked by rivalry, but his position as leader of the upper Niger Tijaniyya was strengthened when one of the most respected members of the ‘Umarian family, Cerno Bokar53, joined Hamahu’llah. Thus, the Hamawi branch survived the French repression. After 1958, it grew rapidly under the leadership of Hamahu’llah’s son Muhammad. The branch spread to Burkina, Côte d’Ivoire, and Central Africa 54


The Umarian family is also represented in Senegal. However, the development of the order in this country, where it has become clearly the most widespread tariqa, has mainly been through two other branches, neither of them related to ‘Umar’s family. One is the Sy branch. The founder of this was the Tukolor scholar al-Hajj Malik Sy (1855-1922), who was initiated into the Tijaniyya by his uncle, a student of al-Hajj ‘Umar 55. He settled in Tivawane just north of Dakar and started to draw followers in considerable numbers from the Wolof of the area.
After Malik Sy died, divisions started to appear as the leadership of the order came into dispute. The conflict arose primarily between two of al-Hajj Malik’s sons, ‘Abd al-Bakr (Abdabacar) who took over the leadership, and Abd al-‘Aziz, who challenged him. The followers divided their loyalties between the two. Although ‘Abd al-Bakr was generally recognized as the khalifa until his death in 1957, supporters of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz started to set up parallel structures of the order. After ‘Abd al-Bakr’s death, the pattern reemerged, now between ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who took over as khalifa after his brother, and Abd al-Bakr’s son Cheikh Tidiane. Cheikh Tidiane’s son, the young Mustafa Sy, with his father’s support, established an Islamic organization—Da’irat al-Mustarshidin wal-Mustarshidat—which, while not a sufitariqa (having no wird), in many ways is a modernized organizational expression of the ‘Abd-Bakrian wing of the Sy branch of the Tijaniyya 56. In spite of these fissions and organizational differences, the branch and the family do recognize each other as belonging to the same spiritual structure; although they may have separate annual rallies, the khalifa will formally appear also at the rally organized by his rival and give it his approval.

The Niassiyya

The other major branch of the Tijaniyya in Senegal, the Niassene, or Niassiyya, is smaller, in Senegal, than the Sy branch, but, unlike the Sy, its influences extend far outside that country. Its major base is outside Senegal, and it is particularly strong in Nigeria, where it is clearly the dominant tariqa57
The founder of the branch was ‘Abd Allah (Aboulaye) Niasse (d. 1922), who took the Tijani wird from Ma Ba, the Gambian student of ‘Umar and jihadist in his own right 58. After the defeat of the jihad, Abd Allah left militancy and started to teach the Tijaniyya, establishing a center in Kaolack on the Saloum River. Having some success in gathering followers, he was succeeded by his son Muhammad. But it was another son, Ibrahim “Baya” Niasse (1902-75) who soon started to gather the greater following and can be considered the real founder of the Niassiyya branch from about 1930.
The Niasse family is interesting because, unlike the Sy, it does not spring from a tradition of political or religious leaders. They are, to the contrary, of caste (blacksmith) origin, which may have had effects on the nature of its support in Senegal and the fact that it is less dominant there than elsewhere. Also, Ibrahim Niasse, although he was of the same “main-line” Tijanis as the Sy, supported qabd, praying with hands folded across the chest—a statement of great import that challenged the dominant view of the Maliki madkhab and set his branch apart from all other Tijani branches in West Africa 59
The introduction of the Niassiyya branch into Nigeria dates back to Ibrahim Niasse’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1937. There he met Abd Allah Bayero, the emir of Kano, who accepted Niasse as his teacher and took the branch home to Kano, inviting Ibrahim to come there. There was already a Tijani presence in the city: a major branch of it was lead by the scholar Muhammad Salga. On the latter’s death in 1938, however, the majority of the Salgawa followers accepted the Niassiyya, thus forming the basis for the brotherhood, which rapidly spread in Nigeria to outshine the older Qadiriyya 60. One factor that helped the promotion of this branch was the rivalry between Sokoto, the center of the jihad and where the Qadiriyya held sway, and the larger urban and commercial center of Kano. The latter city became the center of the Tijaniyya in Nigeria, and the adoption of the Tijaniyya became a way of self-assertion for this region vis-à-vis the Sokoto Qadiris.
The branch of Ibrahim Niasse, itself born out of a family split, has not escaped the same fissionary tendency as its rivals. Ibrahim tried to break this by appointing a son-in-law, Alioune Cisse, as his successor; this has, however, led to a split between Ibrahim’s descendants and those of Cisse 61. In spite of this, the branch has grown, and the non-Senegalese sections recognize Kaolack as its spiritual center, sending students and delegations there.

The Shadhiliyya

The third of the major families of sufi-Ways that spread in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa is the Shadhiliyya, a family of orders that dominates Maghribi Islam. It spread into the Saharan regions, particularly through the Nasiriyya suborder that has its center at Tamagrut on the southern Moroccan desert side. However, it was eclipsed by the Qadiriyya (and the Tijaniyya of the Idaw ‘Ali) in the desert regions, and while some West African shaykhs took the Shadhili wird, its organizational role remained marginal in West Africa.
In East Africa, however, the Shadhiliyya has become the major brotherhood, alongside the Qadiriyya. Like the latter, it arrived in the region around Mo. The main propagater was Muhammad Maruf (1853-1905), from a Hadhrami family in the Comoro Islands 62. He broke from the Alawiyya that dominated his community and was initiated into the Yashrutiyya, a branch of the Shadhiliyya, by his compatriot ‘Abd Allah Darwish. Ma’ruf was apparently in conflict with the authorities: he traveled to Madagascar and later to Zanzibar to escape problems. In both places, he worked actively and with considerable success to recruit people to his Way, in particular in Zanzibar, where his order came to outshine the Qadiriyya. Like the latter, it spread to the mainland among the non-Arab as well as new converts to Islam. It also spread south to Malawi, but was constrained by the Qadiriyya, which already was in place. Nevertheless, some of the most prominent scholars there, like Abd Allah b. Hajj Mkwanda (d. 1930), joined the Shadhillyya. The two orders soon came into conflict over the issue of certain rituals, the Shadhilis condemning the Qadiri usages as non-shari’a63
The Sudan saw an early influence from Shadhill shaykhs, mostly through influence from Egypt. This can be noticed as early as the seventeenth century, but these were only affiliations by individual shaykbs to a scholarly and saintly tradition that was yet without any organizational existence 64. Organization was to appear only in the eighteenth century, with a new set of orders that were all influenced by the Moroccan scholar Ahmad b. Idris (d. 1837).

Idrisi Orders: The Sanusiyya

Ibn Idris, who spent most of his career in Mecca and the Yemen, never visited sub-Saharan Africa, but several of his students made their careers there 65. He is atypical in that not only was no structured brotherhood set up with his name, but he did not even establish a distinct Way, preferring the standard Shadhili wird. Yet several students spoke of the “teachings of Ibn Idris” in a manner not much different from that of a founder of a Way.
His most famous student was Muhammad b. Ali al-Sanusi (1787-1859) 66. Another Maghribi, he studied in Fez, Cairo, and Mecca, where be met Ibn Idris and became his student. He then returned west to Cyrenaica and established a brotherhood among the Bedouin there. He thus fell into the pattern of the Saharan scholarly family, except that he did not belong to the region; in that sense, he had no family or tribal background and particular interests to further. Instead, he established a tarlqaorganization in a way not known before in the area. This continued the spiritual role of mediating common to the traditional mrabit tribes; but it also went beyond this: it integrated members of the various strong tribes into the order, provided religious services (teaching the young, registering marriages, taking care of the poor), and-and this was primary-ensured the peace in a more forceful manner. As his main weapon, al-Sanusi used his own charisma which was inherited by his successors 67
Like Ibn Idris, al-Sanusi made a point of collecting as many different wirds as possible. He listed more than fifty different tariqas in his published works, and was initiated into many others. However, his main adhesion was to the Shadhiliyya, through Ibn Idris, and it seems that he largely considered the aim of his brotherhood to be spreading Ibn Idris’s teachings. The order had its basis in Cyrenaican Bedouin society, but was never restricted to this. It quickly spread to urban areas and to neighboring regions to the west and east, as well as to the Hijaz, where al-Sanusi spent much of his life in scholarly pursuits. It also spread southward, first to Kufra in al-Sanusi’s lifetime, then further into the Chad regions during the time of his son, Muhammad al-Mahdi. It largely followed the trade routes that grew in the Sanusi-guaranteed peace, and at its outer extremities in Niger and Wadai, the Sanusi order was primarily an organization for traders, local or from the north 68. The order also set tip lodges and organized non-Bedouin groups in the desert to the south, so it does not seem to have considered itself restricted to the Bedoujn areas.
This extension was, however, halted. The French had, quite incorrectly, formed an image of the Sanusiyya as a militant, anti-French and anti-Christian sect of fanatics. Wien the advancing French forces encountered the Sanusi in Chad, they decided to strike first and attacked several Jodges 69. The Sanusi were initially saved by the French inability to follow them into the desert, but the ensuing strugglefought by local (mostly non-Bedouin) tribes in the name of the Sanusiyya-started a transformation of the order that eventually, after the Italian invasion in 1911, made them a guerilla force in Libya.
South of the Sahara, the difference between the “original” Sanusi tariqa and the “transformed” military combatants can be seen in Niger, where a young Tuareg, Kaossan, raised a shortlived military rebellion against the French in 1916 in the name of the Sanusiyya and with the blessing of the leadership 70. This revolt found no echo among the existing Sanusi lodges and notables in Zinder; they adapted to the colonial situation.
The Sanusiyya continued to exist in Niger for some time. Yet, with the center in Cyrenaica crushed during the war and the French repression of the lodges in Chad, even the purely pious elements of the order eventually became extinct.

The Khatmiyya

Another order set up by a student of Ibn Idris has, while nonmilitant and less spectacular, become a dominant force in Sudanese Islam. This is the Khatmiyya, established by Muhammad ‘Uthman al-Mirghani (1793-1852) 71. Of Hijazi origin, he went to the Sudan to proselytize in 1815. He soon developed some independence from his master and, unlike al-Sanusi, set up a tariqa-like structure independent from Ibn Idris during the latter’s lifetime. This came to be known as the Khatmiyya: like al-Tijani, al-Mirghani claimed to be a “seal” (khatim) of the sufis. Besides underlining his own elevated status this was not, however, linked to the kind of exclusiveness and rejection of tradition that we find in al-Tijani. Like Ibn Idris and al-Sanusi, the sufi doctrines of the Khatmiyya must mainly be considered a continuation of traditional sufism.
While the order spread widely during Muhammad ‘Uthman’s lifetime, its success was based on the work of his successors-in particular, his son Muhammad al-Hasan al-Mirghani. The leadership remained with the family, but was regionalized in district sections around a central lodge at al-Saniyya in eastern Sudan. However, as the family was not of Sudanese origin, it strengthened its local roots by initiating local religious leaders into the order. In this way, its externality to the region made it merge the family-based Mirghani leadership to a set of local structures. Its structure thus was different from the maraboutic model of the west, where most of the orders (and branches) were led by families originating in the region. This shared feature of the Khatmiyya and the Sanusiyya externality—led both to create stronger organizations than was common in their areas.
The Khatmiyya came into conflict with the Mahdi movement that arose in Sudan around 1980. While the Mahdi may not have been as anti-sufi as often portrayed, he clearly saw the Khatmiyya as a potential force of opposition, and fought it. After the defeat of the Mahdists in 1899, however, the brotherhood grew considerably, and soon became the dominant force in Sudanese Islam—a force that after independence was transformed into political capital in the multiparty system. While there is still rivalry with the Mahdi supporters in the Ansar—now a parallel system of adherence to that of the Khatmiyya—the major current sufi challenger is probably the Tijaniyya Niassiyya, which has spread rapidly in the Sudan since 1950 72

The Rashidiyya

A third student of Ibn Idris, the Sudanese Ibrahim al-Rashid (1813-74), was the only one of the three discussed here who established his Way in his native land 73. Younger than al-Sanusi and al-Mirghani, he was with Ibn Idris at his death. He appears initially to have followed al-Sanusi, so long as the latter conceived of himself primarily as an Ibn Idris organizer. But when the Sanusiyya started to develop its own identity in Cyrenaica, al-Rashid left and returned to the Sudan to form a tariqa of his own 74
The Rashidiyya—seen as a rival by the dominant Khatmiyya order—had the advantage that Ibrahim al-Rashid, coming from a local scholarly family, could draw on established loyalties. He seems also to have had the more or less tacit support of the Ibn Idris family, who had not yet, however, established any corporate presence. This may have helped push the Khatmiyya into a more marked independence from the Idrisi legacy.
While al-Rashid did follow the other Idrisi derivatives in establishing a formal structure by initiating local leaders, his order was not so well cemented as that of the Khatmiyya. Thus, on al-Rashid’s death, it developed in different directions, each branch with a separate identity. Several of these branches spread outside the Sudan: the most famous is no doubt the Salihiyya of Somalia, best known because of the more or less tangential role it played in anticolonial organization.

The Salihiyya

The Salihiyya brotherhood was formed in the Sudan by al-Shaykh Muhammad Salih (d. 1919), a nephew of al-Rashid. He was the “official” heir of the master, but his tariqa became known under his own name 75. Salih stayed for some time in Mecca, and there the Way spread to pilgrims, in particular to some from India and regions around the Indian Ocean. It gained a strong foothold in Somalia, where it was first spread among the Abyssinian population by a former slave, Muhammad Gulid (d. 1918) 76
A separate attempt to spread the order in Ogaden was made by Muhammad Abd Allah Hasan (1864-1920), a leader who raised a jihad against the British and the Italians. Traveling to Mecca, he was initiated by Muhammad Salih, and on his return to Somalia he tried to gather support for the brotherhood in both Mogadishu and the interior. He had so much success that in 1895 he proclaimed himself overall khalifa of the order in Somalia. Exactly how far he actively sought leadership of the jihad that broke out four years later, and what role the order played in it, is unclear.
Abd Allah Hasan was a scholar much as Dan Fodio and al-Hajj ‘Umar. Like his rival Uways, he wrote poetry in Somali, and he helped to promote writing in the vernacular. On his arrival in Mogadishu, he is said to have preached reform of the local Islam, against the use of tobacco and qat, as well as the worshipping of graves. He thus came into a heated conflict with Uways, the Qadirl leader in the south (it was a Salihi supporter who killed Uways in 1909). However, it may be that this fiery image has, to say the least, been enhanced by projection into the past of a strict attitude that he held as leader of the jihad
In any case, he did not receive the backing of the Sallhlyya at large; he was repudiated by the leader of the order in Mecca 77. Still, the jihad remained identified with the order until it ended with Abd Allah Hasan’s death in 1920-21.

The Ahmadiyya-Dandarawiyya

Other branches of the Ibn Idris tradition also spread on the Horn and East Africa. Some identify the Bardera community of southern Somalia with the teachings of Ibn Idris. However, its establishment c. 1815 was probably too early for an ldrisl affiliation, or indeed for any specific tariqa affiliation at all 78. Toward the end of the century, however, an 1drisl community was set up in Geledi. This used the name of Ahmadiyya, which refers to Abmad b. Idris, but in East Africa is mostly identified with the Dandarawiyya branch.
This was yet another subbranch of the Rashidiyya, formed by an Egyptian student of Ibrahim alRashid, Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Dandarawi (1839-1910). It spread in Egypt, the Sudan, and along the East African coast from northern Somalia to Tanzania 79. There were a number of Ahmadi-Dandarawi communities in Somalia, and from there it spread to Zanzibar and thence to the mainland coast at the beginning of the twentieth century . However, the brotherhood in East Africa remained restricted to the Somali and Arab diaspora communities and thus did not share the success of the Qadiriyya and Shadhiliyya-Yashrutiyya.

The Isma’iliyya

Other Sudanese orders related to the Ibn Idris tradition have roots in the tradition of wilaya and of local teachers who spread learning without any particular tariqa. Some of these formed a following of their own in the nineteenth century —for example, Muhammad al-Majdhub and Isma’il al-Wali (d. 1863) 81. Isma’il was a student of Muhammad ‘Uthman al-Mirghani, who established a regional tariqa on the traditional model of scholarship in Kordofan in western Sudan. Ethnic rivalry forced it to mark some distance from the Khatmiyya, which was more associated with the northern region.
After Isma’il’s death, the brotherhood acquired a more structured organization, eventually spreading to the rest of the Sudan. A split occurred between Isma’il’s two sons, the “traditionalist” Makki (d. 1906), who inherited the leadership, and the younger al-Azhari, who had studied in Egypt. The latter was unhappy with the traditionalist approach of his brother and moved to Omdurman, near Khartoum, gathering followers there 82. During the Mahdiyya, the two brothers were on opposite sides: Makki was pro-Mahdi; al-Azhari was killed fighting against the Mahdi. The followers of the younger brother came to consider themselves a separate branch, the Azhariyya. On the whole, then, the Isma’iliyya represents a local compromise between the “traditional” and the “Idrisi” organizational model, although there was little difference in the spiritual teachings of Isma’il and of his Idrisi colleagues.

The Idrisiyya

Although Ibn Idris himself never established either a Way or a brotherhood, his descendants have not been so reticent 83. A branch of the family settled in Zayniyya in Luxor in Egypt, and formed an Idrisiyya order there at the end of the nineteenth century. From there it spread into the Sudan and it has developed a strong base there. A much more reclusive and quietist order than the Khatmiyya, it has an elitist appearance and has refused any overt participation in public or political life. However, its spiritual status gives it a noticeable potential influence.

The Development of the Brotherhoods

The general direction of the dissemination of the Ways has on the whole been from north to south, although east-west movements have also been significant. West African sufism was heavily influenced from the Sahara; Sudanese sufis took their inspiration partly from Egypt, partly from the Hijaz; and southern Somalia was an important stagepost for the spread of Ways to East Africa. Only the dissemination of the Qadiriyya into the interior, west and north-westward from Zanzibar, breaks this north-south pattern in a major way.
Given this pattern, it is noticeable that the distribution of the individual orders is not necessarily reproduced north-south. The most evident example of this is the Shadhiliyya, which largely dominates Maghribi sufism with a number of expanding suborders, such as the Nasiriyya, Darqawiyya, Madaniyya, and so on. In West Africa, these are either quite absent or overshadowed by various branches of the Qadiriyya (which are present but less dominant in the central Maghrib) and, later, the Tijaniyya, which, while originally Maghribi and spreading through the Sahara, took its major vitality from a link in the Hijaz. The most active Shadhili orders in Sub-Saharan Africa are those of the east: the Idrisi derived orders in the Sudan and Somalia, and the Darqawi derivation in East Africa.
The other striking feature is the importance of a few individuals in “setting the direction” of tariqa distribution: al-Mukhtar al-Kunti and Uways al-Barawi for the Qadiriyya; al-Hajj ‘Umar for the Tijaniyya; Ibn Idris and, more locally, Shaykh Ma’ruf, for the Shadhillyya and derivations. These men not only inspired those who joined their own branch, but even, it appears, independent organizers outside it: al-Mukhtar’s most successful contemporary, Muhammad Fadil, was a fellow Qadiri; alongside the Umarians, Tijani branches outside the ‘Umar-Muhammad Ghali silsila dominate West Africa; and the Uwaystan is only one out of several equally strong Qadiri branches in East Africa. But in each period and region, the tariqa family that made the leap of innovation still dominates.
This indicates that while interregional scholarly contacts and influence is essential in the spread of sufi ideas, the key to their development is local. They grow because they answer needs or can be used in a particular context. When a dominant innovator introduces a tariqa pattern in an area, not only his followers but those who seek a similar pattern of behavior in rivalry or independence will tend to stick closely to the model, and thus stay in the same tariqa family but with a different silsila. The spread and increased complexity of the sufi model is the result of conscious actions for a purpose.
This also emphasizes that Ways develop through competition. There are two tendencies here. On the one hand, there was an “inclusivist” and tolerant attitude, the founders collecting initiations from a variety of Ways and tariqa families; local Mauritanian shaykhs freely disseminated both the Qadiri, Nasiri, and the theoretically exclusivist Tijani wird; and the Nigerian leader Nasiru Kabara led several brotherhoods at the same time. On the other hand, rivalry and competition between brotherhoods on the ground could be real and on occasion lead to clashes, even deaths. Again, the key factor is the context, the particular circumstance, not differences in the spiritual contents of the Ways.

What It Means to Be a Sufi

One such context was the structurality of the Saharan scholarly lineages, as seen above, where the “accumulation” of sufi patterns were strategies to promote the position of one’s own lineage. In this case, the sufi pattern grew out from kinship and lineage, and while followers (murid) were attracted on an individual basis, adhesion was often also on a kinship and lineage basis (tilmidh).
As the Ways grew in new surroundings, however, new patterns of organization and of relationships between shaykh and murid emerged, different from a kinship basis. This relationship could have several elements. The most basic was the acceptance of a certain shaykh, local or distant, as one’s guide in return for spiritual or material benefits. This could be an individual choice, or have a collective element in that the shaykh in question was seen to “represent” a certain group or category to which the follower belonged. Another level of adhesion was for the follower to take part in the rituals of the brotherhood, on a regular basis (as dhikrs) or by attending the annual birth and death, mawlid and hawliyya, gatherings, either locally or for a larger region. They could also signal their choice in other ways, by how they performed prayer or funerary rituals and the like, when these were distinctive to a particular brotherhood.
Once the follower received special instruction and was given some of the secret knowledge of the wird, he became an initiate and, progressing up the path of knowledge and experience, could himself start to teach the lower ranks as a muqaddam. An important part of the process was often for the seeker to isolate himself physically for a time in a meditation (khalwa). Each brotherhood and branch differed widely in how many levels of muqaddams and other midlevel leaders there would be, and in how strictly they were controlled from a center. Typically, the authority of the muqaddams and their freedom of action would be restricted during the founder’s lifetime or while the brotherhood was geographically concentrated. After the expansion of the brotherhood, central control could either be established by regular gatherings of the local shaykhs, or by the shaykh regularly traveling to the various countries. The number of intermediary levels in the organization did not necessarily have any relation to the level of mystical stages that an initiate had to go through in his (or her) search 84

Fissiparous Tendencies

It follows from the history of sufi brotherhoods that there is always a balance between a cohesive force—the spiritual authority of the shaykh or saint—and a fissionary tendency; all Ways, after all, split away from other Ways, and this is also apparent in African brotherhoods. It is perhaps seen most clearly in the Senegalese orders, where there is a pattern: a founder of a branch establishes his fame through his own spiritual means by establishing a following; his legitimacy is based on this following, although his formal appointment into the position of teacher is ascribed to a distant family member or a leading shaykh outside the family. Unlike in the Sahara, this association of the family with a silsila is not carried beyond at most one or two steps up.
Once the branch is set up, however, legitimacy is inherited, not acquired, but it is invariably a matter of contention. This pattern appears in the ‘Umarian Tijaniyya itself, in the other Tijani branches of Senegal, and in the Muridiyya and other orders in the region, with some variations. It is however noticeable that all the Tijani branches maintain the Tijani identity as primary. Names used for subbranches, such as Niassiyya, Malikiyya, and Hamawiyya, appear to be subordinate to the Tijani identity. This is in marked contrast to, in particular, the Sudan, where branches seem very quickly to split off and establish their own identity as different from that of the mother Way; this is true not just for those set up by Ibn Idris’s students, but, even more so, for the following generation of Rashidi and Khatmi derivations.
This corresponds to two contrasting ways in which the lines of authority go; that is, two different ways of building the link between followers and the founder’s family (besides the Saharan model, where the lineage structure is the focus of the brotherhood). The one in the early history of Sudanese orders we may call a “grafting” model, whereby a shaykh from outside travels to various regions and initiates local scholarly leaders and walis into his Way. Thus the order is “grafted” onto various local structures of wilaya, which are drawn into a new and wider network. The new structure is transethnic and interregional; the local element is inscribed into an existing and fairly stable structure of authority. Only by moving away physically and making a clean break can an aspiring local shaykh hope to establish himself independently (such as Isma’il al-Wali’s son al-Azhari), and even then it will be with difficulty. Authority is assigned from above.
In what might be called the “maraboutic” model of the Senegalese orders, on the other hand, the shaykh is designated from below. The basis of the order is the free association of the commoner or lower-level student to his marabout/shaykh. The prestige of the latter is based on the number of adherents he can claim, which he can then bring to the brotherhood of his choice, and he is given a status accordingly. A discontented member of the leadership can thus easily gain the support of a number of midlevel shaykhs, and thereby their following, creating his own power basis.
Although there clearly are limits to how far the midlevel shaykh can manipulate this situation, this model does emphasize a certain freedom of movement. No doubt, the fissionary tendencies that we see in all Senegalese orders stem from their basis in this contractual maraboutic model of authority.

The Social Background

The brotherhoods thus vary as to what degree they are linked to social groups. Typically, the founders of Ways and branches come from families with a reputation for learning and scholarship, but the contrast between the Sy family’s traditional links with the local rulers and the Kaolack family’s background in a lower-ranking blacksmith caste is striking. The brotherhoods may also be differentiated socially by their recruitment: in Senegal, the Tijanis at least earlier had a reputation for attracting more urban and highly educated members than the Muridiyya. Or the differentiation may be ethnic, as, in East Africa, between the Arabic diaspora community, an Africanized Shirazi (Swahili) class, and urban and rural Africans.
The admission of women to the brotherhoods has been a very common matter of contention between them 85. It is not exceptional to see women belonging to the saintly families playing important informal roles, both as scholars teaching the ritual and Islamic sciences and in the actual running of the brotherhood 86. It is less common to see women having formal positions, as teachers and leaders of both men and women, but one case has already been mentioned: Mtumwa bt. ‘Ali of Malawi. Another example is Sokhna Magat Diop, of Senegal, the daughter of one of Ahmad Bamba’s muqaddams. She took formal leadership of her father’s branch of the Muridiyya when he died in 1943 87. She functions as “a marabout like the others,” with full and recognized authority over the branch, although she normally stays out of the public eye, leaving speechmaking to her son. Interestingly, while her father was known as a nonconformist shaykh, called the “Mahdi of Thiès,” she herself has brought the branch into a clearly traditional and moderate Muridi model.
A typical feature of many of the brotherhoods has been their development as settled communities. This started in the Saharan period, when both al-Mukthar and Shaykh Sidiya established communities for their tilmidh adherent lineages, although they themselves may not have lived in them. Later, these communities were of many different types, and in examining the nature of the brotherhoods, it helps to study what kinds of settled communities they formed.
The most common type of structure is the sufi lodge (zawiya), which may simply be the house where the dhikr is performed and where the shaykh may stay. Sometimes, however, the zawiya can take on wider functions. The Sanusiyya made them into small oasis communities in which the shaykhs and students would live; poor families might come to cultivate gardens and be protected, and these places became stageposts, for trading networks.
In some communities, agricultural aspects dominated. These became primarily farming establishments, for individuals or groups, originally around a local scholar or holy man, but later to be integrated into the universe of sufi Ways as brotherhood communities. This seems to be the case for the Somali jama’as. The Muridi groundnut-producing daras is a special case of such a farming community: the murids, instead of settling in the community on a permanent basis, served there for a certain period as part of their cycle of initiation into the brotherhood. In the twentieth century, newer types of organization have developed, of which the da’iras are a striking example, appearing to build on a “modern” organizational model inserted into the postcolonial civil society.

Piety and Scholarship

The organizations are thus set up to promote the brotherhoods’ main goals of piety and mysticism. The most important fields for the sufi scholarship have been piety and tawhid, the unity of God. A survey of manuscripts in some major collections of West African Islamic manuscripts recently cataloged shows that works on piety and praise of the Prophet equal those of fiqh in number. Only a minority of titles deal with actual sufi themes, even in the libraries of sufi centers 88
This centrality of piety in their works, contrasted with the more “scholastic” sciences, shows the importance that the orders and their leaders placed on disseminating an ideal of behavior, rather than on engaging in competitive disputation with rival scholars. Thus, the various orders spread and taught the same books—in particular, such basic works as the Umm al-Barahin of Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Sanusi on theology and the Risala of Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani on Maliki law.
The didactic direction of the writings by the sufi scholars of Africa is also shown by the increased centrality of writing in the vernacular—in parcicular, poetry of piety and praise for the Prophet. Most of the auchors wrote in Arabic, but many also used local languages. This clearly was of great importance in widening the basis for their teachings. This is a general phenomenon of modern African Islam, and is not limited to those who established sufi orders (although it is one of their important characteristics).
The above does not mean that the scholars were not aware of the debates in the world of sufi and general Islamic thought. They participated in them. We have mentioned the stature of al-Hajj ‘Umar in the Tijaniyya generally, and the importance of his scholarly work; we could also venture the extensive, and polemical, writings of the founder of the Sanusiyya in usul al-fiqh.
A suggestion has been made that the new orders that grew up in the eighteenth and nineteenth century share certain polemical ideas that set them apart from the earlier tariqas; however, this has been challenged. Although, as has already been mentioned, the Khatmiyya and the Tijaniyya share the term “seal of wilaya,” the term (which did not originate with either of them) appears in such different contexts that it cannot be seen as a common idea.
The concept that has been most clearly linked to the idea of “Neo-sufism” is that of the tariqa Muhammadiyya, which both the Tijani and Ibn Idris orders use 89. It is, however, not a new concept, and it does not mean, as has been suggested, that the sufi changes his spiritual aim from experiencing a “unity with God” to the more prosaic “unity with the Prophet.” The ultimate aim remains the same. The term is saying, in part, that the seeker must follow the model behavior of the Prophet as far as that seeker is able; it is an ideal of piety. But more specifically, the term refers to seeing the Prophet in the flesh, in a vision, awake—talking to him and touching him. The tariqa Muhammadiyya is a silsila of sufis in which each member of the chain has had this experience, which is evidently one of extremely high spiritual standing. For al-Tijani, it was not really a chain at all; he himself had taken it directly from the Prophet. For the Idrisis, however, this elevated chain, or Way, comprised three or four scholars—a silsila going back to the supernatural figure of al-Khidr and continuing to Ibn Idris and those of his students who claimed the same status (thus, al-Sanusi and al-Mirghani). However, for these latter Ways—although the Muhammadiyya was the most elevated Way they had taken, and was thus given pride of place in their denomination of tbemselves—it was far from their only one; it was always supported by other, non-Muhammadi silsilas. In more prosaic terms, what the tariqa Muhammadiyya means is that those who attach themselves to it claim a higher stature in the spiritual field than the fellow orders. This could of course be transformed into an active resource in times of rivalry and competition, but it did not in itself have a social or political implication.

The Brotherhoods and Social Change

This leads to the question of the brotherhoods, the tariqa-organizations, as agents for political change. It is clear from the survey above that the different orders, when classified by Way, do not split into a quietist/militant dichotomy. The militant Umarian jihad was very much based on the Tijani order, but when the jihad was over the order did not collapse; rather, it spread and forged new and deeper roots in society. In the Idrisi tradition, the Sanusi resistance stems from the same root as the “quietist” Khatmiyya and the withdrawn modern Idrisiyya. The brothers Sad Buh and Ma’al-Aynayn took opposite paths in politics but spread the same Fadili Way from their father. Thus, the “militancy” of the orders does not stem from their teachings, nor do the “militants” create a sufism that requires political activity to survive.
The tariqa-Way is thus irrelevant for the political potential of the orders: it is the organizational aspects of the orders that make them into possible political actors. As we noticed, the organization is not historically an essential means of dissemination of the Way; it is, however, a natural way of formalizing the relationship of teacher to student. When it did not arise in early African sufism, it was because this relationship was already defined by the lineage, and any new form of authority outside the lineage model was both foreign and unnecessary. This changed, but when it did, there must have been a reason for it.
We may see several elements in the creation of tariqa-organization: First there is the formalizing of the relationship between student and teacher, a relationship that is one of absolute (spiritual) authority and obedience. Second there is the creation of a hierarchy in this relationship: the teacher leads the student through several stages of esoteric knowledge, the mastery of one being a requirement for the initiation into the next. There is no need for this esoteric hierarchy to be transformed into an organizational status system, but clearly the existence of such a multilayered hierarchy can be the basis for the development of multiple levels of organization. From this may follow a third element of organization—the centralization of esoteric knowledge, and from this emerges leadership.
An established brotherhood can also have organizational functions beyond the ranks of the initiates proper. Apart from helping with the mundane matters of life and the dissemination of learning of various kinds in a community, the shaykh, and through him his brotherhood, can become a focus of identity The commoner who knows that his local shaykh (“marabout”) is a member of the Tijaniyya order will consider himself “attached” to that order, while having no formal ties to it. He may therefore look to the shaykh, and beyond him to the brotherhood, for help when other avenues are closed or when he for other reasons considers the shaykh the one most likely to support him. In this way, the brotherhood can become a focus for reglonal, ethnic, or social identity.
The organization and the lines of identity it creates stem from the spiritual work of the order, and are not created for the purpose of political activity. However, these elements are extremely well suited for political organization. A sufi order as described here has a clear identity; it has the committed support of a population on the basis of an existing category (which may be ethnic or regional); and it has an internal organization that is independent (that is, not merely a reflection of family or other structures) wherein the higher ranks of the leadership can, in theory, command the complete support of the lower ranks. It is a potentially explosive combination. The sufi order, when fully organizational, thus contains the potential to become a political actor, but a transformation of the functions of the order is required for this to happen.
Of the cases above, we see the tariqa structure used for political purposes when the Mukhtariyya gained ascendancy over rival clans; we see it also in the Tijani jihad of al-Hajj ‘Umar, and in the history of the Sanusiyya and the Salihiyya from the Idrisi tradition. We do not, however, see much of it in the jihads of ‘Uthman b. Fodio and of Sheku Ahmadu in Masina—both of them Qadiri sufis. Why with some and not with others? Part of the answer can be linked to differences in strength of the orders’ organizational patterns. In Hausaland, Uthman’s affiliation to the Qadiriyya was mainly as a Way, not to it as an organization. Although the Qadiriyya was used as a focus of identity, it did not hold sufficient power for him to build his jihad on it. However, that is not a complete answer, for Sidi al-Mukhtar was in much the same situation and he was able to add the Qadiri affiliation to the “spiritual resources” needed for the political transformation of his lineage. There was nothing in the sufi model to stop ‘Uthman using it in a similar way for his new community. That that did not happen must be because the external context was different.
Sidi al-Mukhtar wanted to tilt the balance of power to his clan, so he added the resource of a stronger tariqa organization to the lineage’s status as a line of walls. This was both sufficient and required. ‘Uthman, on the other hand, did not stand in a similar situation of structural rivalry with parallel lineage-based groups. His goal was revolutionary, and references to the early hijra and community of the Prophet supplied the required identity and models of behavior. His decentralized model of disseminating “grants of jihad” by issuing flags was both flexible and sufficlent for the spread of the movement. Thus, the tariqa model was one of spiritual importance for him, but not one relevant for the struggle.
Furthermore, the Mukhtariyya, like the Sanusiyya but unlike Hausaland, developed in an stateless environment. In such a situation, a transformational pattern of organization, when needed, was more likely to be found in a “religious” source, sufism. The Sokoto jihad, on the other hand, was against an existing state structure and would thus seek the more clearly state-oriented hijra model.
Al-Hajj ‘Umar, like ‘Uthman, worked in a region where state structures were well developed. However, in his case the ideology and legitimacy of these structures were too close to his own for him easily to take over the Sokoto model for jihad. He was a “second-generation jihadist”; there had been several jihad movements in the region before his, and the rival state of Masina had a strong jihad charisma. The social basis for his community was also less clear-cut than in ‘Uthman’s. Because of this, he needed a new element—something that could be a focus of identity, authority, and organization for him. He found all three in the Tijanjyya tariqa. This is not to say that ‘Umar was any less genuine in his sufi concern than ‘Uthman; we have ample proof of his scholarliness. Yet both ‘Uthman and ‘Umar seem to have been conscious militants who set out on the path of militant reform. It was the circumstances of their struggle that were different, and these led one to take a strong tariqa model and the other to not do so.
A third major case, that of the Sanusi resistance, was different from both the other two. The Sanusiyya created their organization not for political ends, but only to promote piety and learning in Bedouin society. One reason for their strong internal structure was probably that they lacked a local family or tribal basis, such as the other Saharan sufi orders had. Militancy was forced upon them later by outsiders—the French. However, when that situation occurred and the local people started to use the Sanusi identity as a focus for resistance—for lack of any other—the potion of organization and identity seems to have been very effective, at least in the Cyrenaican heartland, where they forced the Italian invaders into a stalemate for almost two decades.
Thus, the sufi orders are not themselves conscious agents for social and political change. Their aim is to promote the Way of spiritual growth. They do, however, represent a resource that can be used for social and political purposes in the strategic jockeying for positions in a segmented society, or as a focus for identity and organization in a transformational struggle for a new political order. The Ways, however, are not dependent on either of these purposes, and have survived the political changes, strengthened and more widely disseminated. They are currently under attack from a new quarter—from Islamic “reformists” who see them as dépassé, as carriers of “African” traditions that they want to replace with Islamic ones. But there seems to be a capacity for the brotherhoods to accommodate this “reformist” tendency and create new structures more adapted to the modern society, such as the different Senegalese da’iras. It is likely that the current debates may lead to the internal development of the sufi brotherhoods, rather than to their demise.
Have the sufi brotherhoods “Africanized” an Arabic or “global” Islam? It has been suggested that these brotherhoods, by providing an outlet for local leadership, have promoted a self-assertion in the face of non-African dominance 90. It would, however, rather seem that their function has been to internationalize the Islam of Africa, by bringing the existing local leaders into contact with networks that span the continents and in which geographic and ethnic background is of minor importance.
Certainly, the brotherhoods have helped spread Islam to new territories—in particular, in the last hundred years, in continental East Africa. But their main function seems to have been to deepen and intellectualize the Islam of peoples who already knew it, not only among the scholars but also, through spreading writing in the vernacular, by teaching the basics of Islam and emphasizing personal piety and exemplary behavior, to Muslims at large. In the end, this effect is probably of greater import than its external functions as a focus for political combat and jihad

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