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Author Topic: Baye Falls of Senegal  (Read 15072 times)
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physical distance cannot be a barrier to love.

« on: April 09, 2004, 07:10:37 PM »

The Mouride Brotherhood

It has been said that the growth and power of the Mouride Brotherhood is a reflection of the ability of Islam to adapt to the cultural setting in which it finds itself(1). The Mouride brotherhood has been described as a truly African adaption of the Islamic faith which has contributed to the cohesion and resistance of the Wolof to the Gospel. Amadou Bamba, the founder of the brotherhood has adapted Islam to the needs of the Wolof soul in such a way that it could claim their complete devotion. It has been seen as a vehicle for the partial reconstruction of a destroyed social and political order(2).

The success of the Brotherhood may have its origins in a number of historical forces. The first of these was the crisis created in the Wolof states by the rise of militant Islam in the late 18th century. These movements held the traditional Wolof rulers to be little better than pagans and therefore unworthy of popular allegiance. These Islamic revolutionaries set out to undermine the very basis of traditional Wolof social and political organisation and had a lot of support from the rapidly increasing numbers of Wolof Muslims. This led to increasing friction between the 'Muslim Party' and the traditional chiefs which continued until French conquest of the Wolof states late in the 19th century.

The second was the national defeat and humiliation suffered by Wolof at the hands of the French when Lat Dior was killed. Just prior to his death Lat Dior had sought the blessing of Amadou Bamba. The French dismantled the Wolof states and chose chiefs themselves based on knowledge of French and submissiveness to the Colonial power. With this the traditional modes of social dependency were broken down. Bamba provided a means of reconstituting the old social order on a new religious basis which had a great appeal to the old 'traditional' party who were neither fervent nor well versed in Islam. Submission in extreme forms was already built into traditional Wolof social structure, and this was readily adapted by the followers in submitting to religious guides. This may also account for why their is a much deeper layer of animism beneath the surface of Islamic practices among the Wolof than among the Mandinka or Tukulor.

The Mouride brotherhood was originally an offshoot of the Qadiriyya. It was founded by Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1850-1927). He was a Muslim saint, pious, ascetic, generous, of pure private morals, a mystic teacher of unusual learning who devoted his life to the reading and writing of religious works. He was not an eloquent public speaker and had no obviously striking personality. Bamba had links with the legendary resistance fighter, Lat Dior, and also with the marabout warrior Ma Ba. This may provide part of the explanation for his popularity.

In 1886 following the defeat of the Wolof, Bamba moved to his home village of Mbacké-Baol. This was a decisive event as previously he was not held in any special veneration and had gathered disciples who were largely interested in religious teaching. In Mbacké the disciples came to serve Amandou Bamba, to work for him and to benefit from his redeeming gift (baraka) and were usually uninterested in religious instruction at all. These disciples were despised by the local marabout and Bamba was condemned by the villagers and forced to move out to found a village nearby (Darou Salam) after only two years. In 1891 Bamba received a prophetic revelation said to have occurred at Touba, now the capital of the Mouride brotherhood.

Amanda Bamba was not attempting to commence a new brotherhood. He remained a member of the Qdiriyya into which he had been initiated about 1889, and later also was consecrated a muqaddam with the power of initiation into the Qdiriyya.

Following the defeat and death in battle of Lat Dior by the French a number of his followers joined Amadou Bamba. This caused some concern to the French authorities and in 1895 he was arrested and exiled. The exile lasted for seven years and during the first four of these his followers had no contact with him. Stories abounded about extraordinary trials at the hands of the French and miraculous escapes. He was said to have been imprisoned in a cell with a hungry lion, cast onto a fiery furnace, buried for seven days in a deep well, kept on islands inhabited by snakes and devils. One of the most popular legends concerns his voyage to Gabon, when the ship's captain is said to have refused him permission to pray; Bamba jumped overboard and laid his mat on the ocean floor to pray in peace before the astonished crew.

While in exile his following continued to grow as many came to submit themselves to his close relatives and associates. There was no organisation although one of Bamba's brothers, Mam Tierno, acted as interim director.

Constant petitioning and political allegiances by his followers eventually secured his return which was seen as a miracle and many people flocked to him to declare their submission to him as their religious leader.

His increasing popularity concerned the authorities and he was soon exiled again to a leading Sheikh of the Qdiriyya where he was able to learn more of the rituals of this brotherhood. It was also about this time that he adopted a new initiation prayer which became widely used among the Mourides. This exile came to an end in 1907. In 1910 peace was made with the French which opened the way for a new phase in the movement's history marked by good relations with the colonial government and geographical expansion. The principal disciples were encouraged to establish agricultural settlements in new lands opened up by the government.

The movement grew from a few disciples in 1886 to having some 70,000 members less than thirty years later in 1912. There are over one million followers today. This success and indeed the continuing success of the movement is largely due to the belief in supernatural powers attributed to him. He is the great source of baraka therefore a guarantor of redemption for his followers. He died peaceably in 1927 and was buried at Touba where annually 200,000 followers gather for a week long pilgrimage.

Bamba paid little attention to the huge offerings which were presented to him, giving most of it away as soon as it came in. However, many of his close associates found no difficulty in stealing huge amounts for their own use.

There have been a series of struggles for the leadership since Amadou Bamba died. Three of his sons claimed the succession, with the title going to the son supported by the French Colonial Government (Mamedou Mustapha Mbacke).

Beliefs and Practices
Bamba himself was quite orthodox in his teachings. He commanded his followers to observe the five obligations of Islam, and encouraged his more learned disciples to pursue a life of meditation, self-instruction and personal austerity. He made no grandiose claims of himself and did not even claim to be a genealogical descendant of Mohammed. Conformity to the general requirements of Islam might be supplemented in some cases by the recitation of litanies. There were two litanies specific to the Mourides, the wird(3) and the dhikr(4), but Bamba also taught the Tijni and Qdiri wird to those who desired to learn them. The Mourides do not attach special importance to these prayer formulas compared to other sufi brotherhoods, and most would not use or even know them.

The Mouride brotherhood have a requirement of complete submission to a religious guide. The disciple declared his total submission to a Sheikh, who undertakes in turn to intercede for his followers. A disciple can only be attached to one sheikh at a time. In the ceremony of submission, called a njebbel, the disciple presents himself before the sheikh, on his knees, and pronounces the following phrase, "I submit my body and my soul to you. I will do everything you order me, and abstain from anything you forbid me." A benediction is given to the taliba and the sheikh spits into the hands of the disciple. The sheikh becomes the guarantor of the spiritual wellbeing of the person, on condition of his unquestioning obedience. Amadou Bamba made this promise:-

"Whosoever he may be, he who becomes my disciple shall be saved in this world and the next. Any mouride who seeks refuge with me shall go to paradise and shall not know the burning embers of hell."

In fact, this complete submission to his will is generally seen as being the only certain path to paradise.

This submission carried certain obligations including the need to give offerings to and to work for the Sheikh. An emphasis of the Brotherhood was the taliba's duty to work for his Sheikh, which was seen as a legitimate substitute for religious learning. An extension of this has been the creation of collective farms called daras. Here men work, unpaid for their Sheikh for as long as he should desire. Some men have spent 30 - 40 years working there. This has brought the movement great political and economic power, and has been abused by some of Bamba's successors. In practice, most would only spend a few days of each year in the cultivation of their marabout's fields, and express their devotion in offerings of produce or money.

This submission is completely voluntary. The sheikh has no power of excommunication, and no means of punishment apart from the fear of the next life.

There are several kinds of offerings including charitable and those made directly to the sheikh. The zadat(5) is usually very small in Mouride areas, and often given to the sheikh in the belief that he knows best who is most deserving. The main form of gift is called the haddiya and is for the exclusive use of the marabout. The mourides are more lavish and regular in their giving than other brotherhoods. Their have also been several taxes placed on Mourides at various times including the sas and the njottuk bop.

There is some redistribution of this back to disciples. Sheikhs are expected to be generous, and is not supposed to refuse a request for material assistance. In hard times the sheikhs can act as a kind of social security, offers loans at rates lower than other sources and can protect his talibés from difficulties with the administration. In practice however, minders keep the average person from securing access to the sheikh, and preferential treatment is given to his entourage, favourites and close relatives.

Bamba himself played little part in the establishment of the organisation of the Mourides. The leaders of the movement were never selected by the founder. Popular recognition is the main determinant of the title "sheikh'. And the pattern of allegiance is mainly decided by the talibés themselves, although this follows on exclusively hereditary lines from the original leaders. A marabout is not a sheikh unless he has talibés. Few would hold the position of iman in village mosques but in villages with a resident sheikh, he will choose the iman from among his followers. In mixed towns, Mourides are rarely selected as iman as their candidates are considered by others to be lacking in Islamic learning.

A number of maraboutic subgroups have formed within the brotherhood with each centred on some small village in which the tomb of the founder is located. His direct successor is called the Khalifa. Each year he holds a night of religious singing (Magal) in the founders honour, which is an occasion of pilgrimage for all talibés in that group. There are a number of these Magals of special significance including the Great Magal directed by the Khalifa-General; that of Darou Salam commemorating Amadou Bamba's return from exile; that of Darou Mousty on the anniversary of Mam Tierno's death; that of Touba-Darou Khoudoss on the anniversary of the death of the first Khalifa-General; and that of Porokhane on the occasion of the twentieth day of groundnut trading.

It is the baraka of Bamba transmitted through the sheikh which is thought to bring the blessings. This can be transmitted by physical contact, direct or indirect. Hence to eat food the sheikh has left, to touch his clothes, receive his saliva is to benefit from this form of grace, which not only has benefits for the next life but is thought to bring success in worldly enterprise.

Apart from the belief in Bamba's baraka being transmitted through submission to a sheikh, they also command respect due to a belief in his power over supernatural forces, whose skills afford protection against the evil eye, witches, and various malevolent spirits. This is through the preparation of amulets or talismen, the use of magic formulas and magical procedures of Islamic origin. The spirits and divinities of the pre-existing animism have been adapted to the jinn and angels of Islam, and the traditional approach to them maintained through an Islamic veneer.

The Bay Fall
This is a distinctive branch of the Mourides. Founded by Sheikh Ibra Fall, Bamba's first and most illustrious disciple, they have made work the primary religious duty. This group do not pray, do not fast, and are not against drunkenness and smoking. Their appearance is quite distinctive with hair worn in long knotted tresses, black wool stocking caps on their head, and leather amulets all over their bodies. On their waist is a wide leather belt from which dangles a huge wooden club covered with leather and metal studs. During pilgrimage week they act as unofficial "military police" in crowd control.



Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is a simple way of life, pure and original as was given by the most high. Spirituality is a network linking us to the most high, the universe and eachother
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