University of California Press
Berkeley & Los Angeles. 1984. 215 p.
The case of Agibu represents the transformation of political structure which the French envisaged for West Africa. Henceforward legitimate political authority would be exercised only within limits set by the French. The old-style ruling class built upon patronage and alliance in the courts of rulers was to be replaced by a new ruling class of Frenchmen and their African apprentices who would be trained, either formally or informally, to administer the new system. The common denominator in both the old and new systems was force and the coercive direction of the majority of the population. The motivating ideology for al-Hajj Umar had been reformist Islam; for the French it was their “civilising mission.” It would be misleading to suggest that the clash of Islamic and French ideologies was the only, or even the major, theme of conflict during the colonial period. But for the purposes of the subject here under study, it was of primary importance. Nor should one suppose that either of these ideologies was translated effectively and without modification into practice. The reformism of al-Hajj Umar became bogged down in the demands of military conquest, and the Tijani Sufism of his associates and successors was increasingly obscured by their preoccupation with political power. Much the same can be said of the French, whose peculiar form of “civilisation” in West Africa often consisted of covering over the harsh realities of foreign military occupation with a thin veneer of fine words.
The aim of this chapter is to discuss only one aspect of this complex, evolving situation: the confrontation of Tijani Sufism with French Islamic policy between the two world wars. The major French goal with respect to Islam was the maintenance of political stability. The deposition of Agibu marked the demise of the Umarian political kingdom; the French next went to work on the religious kingdom, a much more difficult task because the objective of attack was very elusive. Muslim leaders were to be found all over the Soudan, and they acted virtually independently of one another. Unlike state systems, the decapitation of religious organizations, like Sufi orders, did not necessarily result in their demise. So the French conducted surveys and compiled dossiers on religious leaders; all those who refused openly to declare their loyalty to France were considered suspect and were carefully watched. Muslims were consequently placed on the defensive; but even so, Muslim activity during this period was not simply a series of reactions to French initiatives. Islam, and the Tijaniyya order, possessed an internal dynamic of their own which was not susceptible to alteration by actions against individual Muslims. Tijani leadership evolved through a process which was very difficult to understand from the outside, especially for non-Muslims, and impossible to control without suppressing freedom of religious practice, something the French were loath to do even if they had been capable of it. The French were therefore caught in the ambivalent position of trying to control Islamic political influence while not suppressing religion. For their part, the Muslims found themselves living under non-Muslim rule, precisely the situation against which al-Hajj Umar's jihâd had been fought. Rather than expanding to meet the imperatives of its theocratic ideology, Islam was now apparently in retreat as a political force. The battle-lines became drawn in such a way that many extremists interpreted cooperation or collaboration with the French as disloyalty to Islam, and they asserted that the “pure” practice of Islam could be achieved only in complete isolation from French contact.
The tensions of this situation focused on the issue of leadership. The turn of the century found many Tijanis anticipating the appearance in West Africa of a saintly leader who would take up the mantle of spiritual authority which had been bequeathed by al-Hajj Umar. For a growing number of Tijanis in the 1920s and 1930s, this position was ascribed to Shaykh Hamallah of Nioro. But many Umarians, especially members of the Taal family, refused to accept the claims made on behalf of Hamallah; their protestations were supported by the French, who became increasingly fearful of Hamallah's burgeoning influence. The French tried to appoint their own Tijani leaders by giving their administrative “blessings” to certain selected individuals who were willing to act as their agents in smoothing over nascent conflicts. Their difficulty with Hamallah was that he refused to have anything whatsoever to do with them or their administration.
Between the two world wars French authority becarne relatively well established in the western Soudan. Visible social and political changes were set in motion to which administrators pointed with pride. Nonetheless, the French did not consider their position secure, and they remained especially sensitive to any activities among Africans which might evolve into an organized opposition to their policies or their presence. In very broad terms, French policy was aimed at maintaining Africans in small social and political units to inhibit the development of any broadbased solidarity. Islam was of particular concern because it was recognised as one indigenous institution which had the potential to unite large numbers of Africans against foreign domination. The French were firmly convinced that gradually, over a long period, their own institutions would take root in Africa and, through the strength of their inherent superiority, undermine any lingering African resistance. A good example of this attitude was educational policy; rather early, a French educational system was introduced with the idea of producing future generations of Africans who would be prepared not only to operate the newly emergent westernized economy and administration, but who, more important still,'would also be imbued with French culture and therefore understanding of and even sympathy towards French colonial aims. Such was the faith of some French administrators in the power of education. Today this view may seem vain and even romantic, especially since the eventual nationalist movements toward independence in Africa were generated by these same educated Africans. Nor should one believe that the French relied solely on such “soft” policies; control was everywhere maintained by a relatively harsh administration. The “soft” formulations were propagated for public consumption; but on the ground few Africans escaped the more bitter aspects of French domination.
Agibu is a case in point; when he had outlived his usefulness to them, the French had no qualms about treating him high-handedly, even if publicly he was always referred to as a “loyal subject of France.” But they would never have been able to occupy the Western Soudan without people like Agibu, Africans who for one reason or another had thrown in their lot with the Europeans. In Bandiagara itself there were never more than a handful of Frenchmen military officers and, later, colonial administrators — whose major task was to ensure that the cadres of African chiefs, clerks and soldiers enforced official policy. Relatively few Frenchmen ever learned any African language well enough to communicate directly with the peoples they governed. In any case, new postings were so frequent, and the different languages so numerous, that reliance on African interpreters was essential. French colonial authority was therefore represented in Masina, as elsewhere in the Western Soudan, by a tiny group of Frenchmen and a large number of Africans on whom the French depended not only for manpower but also for their information about and communication with the people at large. Frenchmen living in these conditions were isolated and certainly must have felt insecure. For the most part administrators could not gain direct knowledge of what was going on around them because of the language barrier, and even when they could, local quarrels and rivalries appeared to them extremely petty. After all, the French felt they were building an empire and extending the benefits of French civilisation to less fortunate peoples. Local disputes not only hindered the progress of these grand projects but, more important, they could lead to outbursts which might threaten the lives of Europeans. Consequently a vast network of informers and spies was developed to keep close watch on every person of the least prominence who might be able to exercise influence on other Africans. Files were maintained on such persons, providing biographical information and assessing their loyalty to France. Movement was carefully controlled; even Agibu was not allowed to leave Bandiagara without permission. The slightest hint of unrest was quickly crushed, and possible local troublernarkers were transferred to other colonies.
This system lent itself to intrigues of Byzantine proportions, from which not only the French but also various African parties could benefit. The source of all local authority was the French colonial administrator, the commandant de cercle. He appointed local African chiefs, oversaw the work of the cadres of clerks and interpreters, and employed spies and informers, all of whom acquired some degree of delegated authority with its attendant relative wealth and prestige. Chiefships, no matter how minor, were keenly sought after by the more ambitious. Influence upon the French administrator could be exercised through his African subordinates, through his interpreter, and even through his African mistress 1. The administration was also subject to manipulation; information which passed up and down the colonial chain of command could be and was modified to suit the needs of certain interested parties. It was difficult to know whom to trust and believe, and the French often disputed among themselves as to who among them truly “understood” the Africans. This nether world of colonial administration has been given more attention in fiction than in historical literature, but it nonetheless provided the context in which many a local decision was taken 2. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations, both accidentally and intentionally perpetrated, were not uncommon. It is not surprising in such conditions that young administrators often arrived at their first postings filled with idealism and enthusiasm, only to depart plagued by cynicism and paranoia, afflictions so common among Europeans in the Soudan that they came to be considered symptoms of a local disease which the French called “la Soudanité.”
The pressures and strains of the colonial situation may have been more keenly felt by persons in authority like Agibu, or by certain French administrators, but they extended in one form or another to all levels of society in Bandiagara and Masina. Political institutions were not the only ones undergoing change; social, economic and religious relationships were also under considerable stress. Pressure for the emancipation of slaves increased during the first decade of the twentieth century with the ambiguous effect of obliging some people to work in ways they had never done before, while liberating others to employ their own labour for their own benefit. (Of course, having abolished slavery, the French adopted their own policy of forced labour for the execution and maintenance of public works projects.) The impact of emancipation was felt with varying force depending upon specific circumstances, but even if the immediate result was not particulary spectacular, the long-term implications were significant both socially and economically. The French also pursued an aggressive educational policy designed at the primary level to train Africans to read, write and speak French, and at more advanced levels to become interpreters or to pursue various technical trades. Whereas some families welcomed the opportunity for their children to gain an entrée into the new political order, a considerable proportion of Muslims strongly resisted French schooling. By the second decade of the century the fledgling school system was firmly established, especially in larger centres of population, and recruitment was stepped up; many children of resisting parents were placed in school by force. Often, to avoid subjecting their children to foreign or non-Muslim values, families substituted children of servile status for one of their own to fill a school place allotted to them.
The emancipation of slaves and the extension of rudimentary education were tangible evidence of the French “civilising mission” in West Africa, whose progress could be documented by numbers: so many slaves freed, so many youngsters in school. Colonial administrators were not insensitive to the possible ramifications of these innovations. Emancipation was carried out according to local conditions; for example, a compromise was worked out with the pastoral Fulbe of Masina so they could continue to receive a portion of the harvest from their former serfs 3. With regard to education, some concern was expressed over creating a class of uprooted Africans who were alienated from their own society. But given these kinds of considerations, few Frenchmen seriously doubted the soundness of these policies, which they felt pointed the way to progress and to liberty. African reactions, of course, differed from those of the French and varied considerably among themselves. We have mentioned some of the obvious differences of attitude between former slaves and free men. The freedom and eventual upward mobility of former slaves resulted in some stress in the Soudan, especially among those who had owned large numbers of slaves. And if schools represented opportunity for some, they were seen by others as an attack on African values. This opinion was particularly strong among the religious leadership, who had real cause for concern.
Educational policy was but one aspect of a general attack on the established position of Muslims throughout French West Africa. As we have seen, prevailing conditions at the time of the French conquest compelled French authorities often to treat with Muslim leaders. Not only were Muslims, like Agibu, often placed in positions of authority, but the French adopted Arabic as their official language of correspondence with African rulers since Arabic scribes were more widely available than French ones. By the second decade of the twentieth century conditions had changed, and the opinion was growing among colonial authorities that the greatest potential threat to France in West Africa was Islam. Policy decisions increasingly took this factor into consideration. In 1909, in promulgating his new “native policy,” Governor General William Ponty expressed concern that Muslims should not govern non-Muslims because such situations might encoura-gae the spread of “Muslim clericalism.” 4 In 1911 it was decreed that henceforth not only all administrative correspondence but also all judgements of native courts would be written in French. This decision was a serious blow to Islamic education in the Soudan because it eliminated the only official positions Arabists could acquire in the new colonial order. Earlier French policy had been to encourage Arabic education, albeit under their own close direction, in special schools of their own construction (in Dakar, Jenne, and Timbuktu); now such schools lost their practical raison d'être. In an official statement on educational policy, Ponty explained the kind of thinking behind these decisions:
School is the best instrument of progress… Everyone knows that the study of French is the most effective cure one can employ against [religious] fanaticism, and experience teaches us that Muslims who know our language are less imbued with prejudice than those who know only Arabic 5.
Of course, these decrees did not stop the spread of Islam,
which was beginning to gain aclherents more rapidly than ever. Islam was the dominant
religion in the growing commercial and administrative centers in the Soudan, such
as Mopti, Segu and Bandiagara. New arrivals seeking work in these towns came under
Islamic influences and often converted. Almost all long distance commerce was controlled
by Muslims; as trade expanded, so did Muslim influence. On the other hand, the
concern of many Muslims that their fundamental values were threatened by French
policies was also justified. The number of Muslims was growing, but the quality
of their leadership was in serious decline. Many of the most learned scholars had
left the Soudan when Amadu b. Umar fled before the French armies. The economic
structure which had supported religious education had been severely shaken with
the arrival of the French, and the Muslim ruling classes were either no longer
in power or no longer had the means to support religious schools. Many teachers
and scholars found it necessary to abandon their studies and seek their livelihoods
in other ways. In the new political order the educational path to personal success
would no longer be Muslim schools but French ones, where children were given no
religious instruction at all. Rather, they were taught “morale,” which
might best be described as how to be loyal and devoted subjects of France 6.
West African Muslims were not deprived of the choice as to how they might respond to these changes. One must remember that the perceptions of individuals about the source of their difficulties, or indeed their good fortune, varied widely according to local circumstances. The French were not always and everywhere seen as a problematical factor in everyday life. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find an example of an African, no matter how “collaborationist” he might appear, whose interests could be interpreted as completely at one with those of the French. The question most before the Muslim community was not how to expel the non-Muslim usurpers, but how Islam could survive and grow within the conditions now prevalent. Isolated instances of outright opposition to French authority occurred, but the basic pattern for Muslim leaders was acceptence of French sovereignty as a political fact. Public attitudes then ranged from open collaboration to neutrality. True neutrality was possible only through an anonymity bordering on invisibility. The French took great pains to observe the activities of marabouts and other Muslim leaders; any indication that a marabout enjoyed an influence beyond a few close friends or students led to increased surveillance which might lead to formal enquiries. Faced with the possibility of administrative action against them, those marabouts who did not wish to be seen as collaborators adopted a position which might be called militant neutrality. They made no public utterance at all about the French, thus implying that secular politics was completely outside their concern, but given the particular context, this attitude might have profound political implications. Shaykh Hamallah had tried unsuccessfully to pursue such a policy, and the events which surrounded Cerno Bokar's relationship with Hamallah were laced with spies, informers and “collaborators.” But the loyalties of persons involved in such affairs were never clear-cut. Seedu Nuuru Taal of Senegal, a traditionally educated grandson of al-Hajj Umar, acted on behalf of the French in the conviction that his interventions were in the best interests of Islam and, especially in the case of Cerno Bokar and the Hamalliyya, in the interests of the Tijaniyya order as he wished it to be constituted. By contrast, Amadou Hampâté Bâ received a French education and worked for most of his adult life for the French administration. He was drawn into the Hamalliyya movement through his long and intimate contact with Cerno Bokar; however he was not averse to providing information to his French superiors (and colleagues) about the Hamallists, because he felt that by so doing he was aiding that movement.
If the French presence divided Muslim leadership within itself about how to relate to their new sovereigns, the changing social and economic conditions brought new pressures to bear upon the marabouts from the people they were ostensibly leading. In the broadest terms, traditional Muslim leaders would come under increasing pressure to adapt their religious practices to respond to a shifting constituency. Of course, the basic elements of Islam, such as the five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, and so forth, are not seen to be subject to change. But religious practice in West Africa was deeply imbued with Sufi interpretations, as well as with popular belief in the extraordinary powers of some holy men, of the efficacy of supererogatory prayers, and of the value of talismans and charms.
The most direct challenge to this form of Islamic practice and belief was to come from the fundamentalist and anti-Sufi Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia 7, which became firmly rooted in Soudan only after the Second World War. But the pattern of communications which ultimately brought this movement to West Africa began much earlier in the century. More people began to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca; the subsequent increased contact with the outside world introduced more and more Muslims to alternative forms of Islamic social organization and of religious interpretations and expression. The situation was a dynamic one which required astute leaders who could direct the way through the transformations taking place. The French-educated Muslim who worked in the community of Eur'opeans would necessarily view his religion differently than if he had never left the confines of his own village. But at the same time that French education could cause one deeply to question Islam, and even if not consciously then by sheer neglect to abandon it, European educational methods also brought a challenge to Muslim teachers. The adoption in the Qur'anic schools of Western teaching methods as well as curricula was initiated due to the catalyst of the new colonial situation 8.
The reformist Muslim response to the changing situation in West Africa emerged in full force after the Second World War. Reformism was based on fundamentalist Muslim principles which had evolved in the Middle East; it was therefore in many ways an imported response to the European challenge designed to transform traditional West African forms of Islamic practice and to strengthen Islam in general. But before the Second World War, the Muslim movement which caused greatest concern within the French administration in the Soudan was that which formed around Shaykh Hamallah, a Tijani leader in Nioro. In order to understand the origins and growth of Hamallism, we must first examine the structure and history of the Tijaniyya Sufi order in West Africa, an exploration which takes us far away from the immediate political concerns of the French colonial authorities. But perhaps the jarring juxtaposition of subject-matter which the present discussion requires is illustrative of the nature of the cultural confrontation which was taking place in West Africa at the time.
The literature of Sufism describes the ultimate Sufi experience as a union with God, or an annihilation in God, a concept which can perhaps be better understood if viewed from its broader Muslim perspective. “Islam” means submission, and the Islamic religion demands submission to God through adherence to His law as revealed in the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad. Sufis can be seen as Muslims who seek to acquire a personal and subjective experience of their relationship to God and thereby understand more deeply their submission to Him. This rather inclusive view of Sufism is in no way designed to obscure the fact that Sufism in its particular forms of expression includes a vast and diverse range of religious practices. Even so, the various Sufi orders which grew up were distinguished from one another not by any differences in the ultimate goal of their mystical practices, but in the, methods for reaching this goal. These methods constituted a kind of religious rule which was set out by the founder of an order and which was based upon his personal experience of spiritual search. The Arabic word for Sufi order is tarîqa, meaning “path” or “way;” the orders were usually named after their founders, so that the Tijaniyya order might also be described as the Sufi way, or the religious rule, of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani. The founder (as well as subsequent leaders) of a Sufi order, particularly in the western reaches of the Muslim world, was called shaykh, and he was usually considered to have acquired saintly attributes. The Arabic word walî is often translated as “saint,” although the term “friend of God” perhaps better communicates the connotations which underly the Muslim concept. The wali is one who is considered close to God; through his own efforts he has traversed the highest stages of spiritual development. His profound spiritual understanding has been “opened” by God and his state of being has been transformed onto one of the highest spiritual planes. His perception transcends that of ordinary mortals, and he is considered to be in touch with extraordinary spiritual powers. One of the most salient features of West African Islam was the desire of Muslims to be associated with persons felt to have achieved these levels of saintliness.
Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani lived in North Africa in the latter eighteenth century. He was considered a walî by his followers, and the order which he founded was based on his authority as a spiritual leader. However, al-Tijani was unusual in that he claimed that his “way” was unique and consequently superior to all others. The historical spread of the Sufi orders up to this period had been rather organic in nature; all founders traced their spiritual heritage back to the Prophet Muhammad through a chain of shuyûkh beginning with their own Sufi master, then to his master, and so on. A graphic representation of these collected spiritual hierarchies would resemble a triangle with the Prophet Muhammad at the apex and the historically most recent shuyukh at the base. Al-Tijani broke with this pattern. Although he had been affiliated with several orders, as was then common practice, at a certain stage in his spiritual development he claimed to have had a vision of the prophet, not in a drearn but while he was awake. The Prophet told him that he should leave all the other “ways” he had pursued and that he himself would be al-Tijani's direct intermediary to God 9. The Prophet also instructed him on all the prayers and recitations he should pursue. In this way, all the spiritual methods of the Tijaniyya way are claimed to have originated directly from the Prophet Muhammad, and all the usual chains of authority via other shuyfikh were eliminated. As a result of these visions and of the instructions given him by the Prophet, al-Tijani considered himself to have been selected for a special role in the history of Sufism. He came to view his position in relation to Sufism as analogous to that of Muhammad with respect to monotheism. Just as Muhammad was considered the seal of the Prophets, or the last Prophet whom God would send to mankind, and his religion, Islam, was considered superior to all other religions, so al-Tijani claimed to be the seal of the saints, and his way superior to all others. Adherence to the Tijaniyya way, it was claimed, virtually guaranteed attainment of paradise, and withdrawal from the order ensured damnation. Adherents were also prohibited from belonging to any other orders, nor could they visit the shuyûkh of other orders, thus stamping the Tijaniyya with a further air of exclusivity 10.
These claims brought a hail of criticism down upon the Tijaniyya from both Sufis and non-Sufis alike. The Sufis have been more or less continually under attack throughout their long history from more legalistically minded Muslims who have questioned their interpretations of the Qur'an and hadîth, and occasionally declared their practices to be unlawful or even heretical. But the Tijaniyya also elicited criticism from Sufi leaders because of Ahmad al-Tijani's unusual claims. When, during the nineteenth century, al-Hajj Umar was endeavoring to extend the Tijaniyya way in West Africa, he encountered the full force of these criticisms. His major work, the Rimâh, was written in response to these attacks. The book is a polemic on behalf of Sufism in general and the Tijaniyya order in particular. In it Umar defends belief in the saints and encourages association with them. He castigates those who deny or even question the elevated role of these “friends of God” who, he claims, are not only superior spiritual leaders but also qualified interpreters of the law, preferable to the “legalists” whose ability and effectiveness are limited by their literal compliance to a particular interpretation of the written word. The saints (awliyâ'), however, search for the truth wherever it leads them 11. Mere association with the awliyâ' is preferable to avoiding them, but better yet, according to Umar, every “intelligent person” should embark upon the quest which will bring him closer to God, because although God “opens” very few seekers, this level of spiritual attainment is possible for all Muslims. Umar's arguments are constructed in conformity with general Sufi concepts and rely for support on standard Sufi texts. Therefore when he turns his attention to the defense of Tijani doctrine, he points out that many Sufis have claimed to see the Prophet Muhammad in visions. He quotes one author as saying, “Everything has its distinguishing sign, and the sign of [spiritual] attainment by the worshipper is seeing the Prophet while awake.” 12 Having established that visions of the Prophet are accepted among Sufis, the rest of the argument falls into place. The Prophet can appear to whomever he wishes and direct a person as he wishes. Consequently, if one accepts the basic Sufi premises of the argument, there is no logical rejoinder to al-Tijani's claims. (One could, of course, question his veracity.)
The Tijaniyya order was spread in West Africa during the nineteenth century largely though the activities of al-Hajj Umar. His efforts at proselytization fall into three broad categories.
The organization which grew up during Umar's jihâd was as much political, as spiritual. Each administrative centre in the new state (Dinguiray, Nioro, Segu, Bandiagara) was also a spiritual centre from where the leading muqaddamûn appointed under Umar's authority directed the spiritual affairs of the order. During these years of rapid expansion, the Tijaniyya therefore became associated with the social and political structure of a nascent Islamic state led largely by Futanke.
The fact that the Tijaniyya under Umar had spread in the wake of a jihâd had considerable impact on the subsequent history of the order in West Africa. The spiritual essence of Tijani Sufism with which Umar had been endowed during his pilgrimage became increasingly obscured by the activities of warfare and the demands of political policy. Having begun with the jihâd itself, this process of spiritual deterioration continued after Umar's death during the years of internecine strife among the various surviving leaders of his state, and if anything it intensified with the establishment of French colonial rule. The French conquest robbed the Tijaniyya of many of its leaders, who fled eastward to escape the invaders. Those who stayed behind were confused, not only as to how best to respond to the French presence, but as to what they should be most careful to defend: their social and political status, their personal spiritual authority or the religion of Islam in general. All of these were under attack, and there were strong differences of opinion about how best to respond. As we have seen, some resisted the invaders, others collaborated with them, and still others attempted in effect to ignore the entire situation, at least in the strict political sense. Cerno Bokar fell into this last category. He was neither uninterested in nor unaffected by the pressures and activities of life around him, but his primary concerns were religious and not political. A number of Cerno's discourses reflect his despair with the contemporary state of affairs, especially the condition of religious life. It was no doubt because of his extreme apolitical stance that some of his followers considered him the true spiritual heir to al-Hajj Umar's teachings. Here was a man who was, in a way, untouched by the worldly accretions brought into the Tijaniyya through the course of the jihâd.
The major problem facing West African Tijanis at the turn of the century was the absence of widely accepted spiritual leadership. The order itself was growing rapidly; people flocked to it (and to others as well, such as the Muridiyya (?) in Senegal) in their search for religious protection against the turmoil and confusion of the times. Shaykh al-Tijani himself had proclaimed a rather pessimistic view of his own epoch, suggesting that it was no longer possible, as it had been in the early days of Islam, for man to avoid sin. But although trapped in this inescapable cycle of decline, al-Tijani offered an absolute guarantee of salvation for all those who joined his order, a guarantee which came from the Prophet himself 13. This promise of salvation had strong appeal for many Muslims and operated as an important theme throughout the history of the order 14. But the teachings of the order also emphasized the need for a shaykh from whom the adherents must receive guidance and direction as well as spiritual sustenance. Although Tijani literature described the qualities that a shaykh should possess, no formal institutions of selection and entitlement existed. Of course, the founder of the order, al-Tijani himself, was considered by all Tijanis to be its most elevated spiritual authority, but as the order grew it split into various factions, each claiming its own special relationship to him. The vast majority of West African Tijanis in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were linked to the founder through al-Hajj Umar, although this was not the only line. Umar himself had first become a Tijani through a muqaddam of a Mauritanian branch of the order, and by the turn of the century various other North African lines of initiation had been brought to West Africa by travelling muqaddamûn. But Umar's position was special; he claimed to have been named the khalîfa, or successor, of the founder for all West Africa. He was authorized to appoint sixteen muqaddamûn, each of whom was subsequently authorized to appoint four others. Through this original group of spiritual guides (in fact, he only appointed ten) al-Hajj Umar's line of the Tijaniyya order was spread in West Africa 15. The authority by which the lesser muqaddamûn of this group appointed others is not clearly spelled out in the literature, but the order continued to expand and numerous additional muqaddamûn were appointed.
These muqaddamûn were the subordinate local authorities of the order, and several different ranks were included within this one title. Some muqaddamûn were authorized only to transmit the wird or litany of Tijani prayers to new members, others were authorized to transmit additional special prayers or spiritual exercises, and still others could appoint new muqaddamûn. These differences in role are not indicated by any additional title, and the modification of status of these officials was extremely fluid and not controlled by any central authority. The centres of authority which have existed tended to be localized, and these have constantly shifted in time and space. This is because authority within the Tijaniyya was exercised primarily through individuals rather than through institutions. Paul Marty had perceived this characteristic of the West African Sufi orders when he said that “it is not a common doctrine or idea which constitutes the close bond which unites the Africans, it is a man.” 16 The centralization and widespread exercise of spiritual authority among the Tijanis depended on the appearance of a shaykh who received this title not from any appointment but through recognition by other Tijanis of his spiritual qualities. Theoretically these qualities had nothing to do with social or political status. Such a leader was required to possess a clear and pure spiritual link, through silsila or chain of initiations, back to Ahmad al-Tijani. In addition, he was expected to reflect in his very presence the qualities of spiritual attainment appropriate to a spiritual guide, evidence of which was provided by his piety, religious devotion, ascetic inclinations and, not least, by the content of his dreams and visions.
Al-Hajj Umar possessed all these qualities. Although originally initiated into the Tijaniyya in West Africa through a Mauritanian branch of the order, he received a renewal and an improvement of his link to the founder from Muhammad al-Ghâlî who had been appointed muqaddam by Shaykh al-Tijani himself. This made Umar a “third generation” Tijani. He also possessed the requisite spiritual qualities, which he described in the Rimâh and which were expanded upon by his followers 17. He was appointed khalîfa on the authority of a vision in which Shaykh al-Tijani ordered al-Ghâlî to give all the secrets of the order to Umar and to name him to this post. This vision was confirmed by other visions of Umar himself and of other leading Tijanis 18. By the time of his death in 1865, he was considered not only a shaykh of the Tijaniyya order but a political leader of a jihâd as well. His son Ahmadu, then in Segu, had been designated by Umar as his successor, but he never managed to win the unrivalled political loyalty of his father's followers, which resulted in his never being recognized as the sole spiritual authority for the West African Tijanis. After his flight from the region and his death, the lines of leadership became even more vague. By now no one individual could even make the claim that he was sole spiritual leader of the West African Tijanis. And in the minds of many the qualifications for this office had been modified; the idea was widespread that the members of the Taal family of al-Hajj Umar were the only legitimate claimants to such a title. Blood inheritance was not an essential qualification for Tijani leadership, but neither was it without precedent. Before his death Shaykh al-Tijani had named a companion, not a relative, as his successor, although he also provided for the future elevation of his own children 19. In West Africa spiritual leadership was tending toward localization, and familial status was replacing spiritual qualities as the basis for selection. Muntaga b. Ahmadu in Segu claimed that his father had transmitted authority to him in a letter, which he was never able to produce 20. In Nioro, Murtada b. Umar exercised some spiritual authority until his death in 1922. And outside the immediate region there were others: Seedu Nuuru Taal in Senegal, Madani b. Ahmadu in Hadejia (Nigeria) and Alfa Hashimi b. Ahmadu (son of Umar's brother) in the Hejaz. By the 1920s Cerno Bokar himself, as the great-nephew of al-Hajj Umar, was also considered a leading muqaddam in the order. During most of his adult life he was deeply concerned over the spiritual leadership of the order.
Shaykh Hamallah emerged to prominence in the context of this search for spiritual leadership. Given different historical conditions, the movement which formed in his name would probably never have given rise to the political turmoil which surrounded it. But his attraction as a holy man was such that he became a catalyst for the release of the numerous social and political (not to mention, religious) tensions present in the western Soudan between the two world wars.
Two important contributions to the historiography of this movement have recently appeared, a doctoral thesis written at the University of Dakar by Alioune Traoré 22 and a revised version by Amadou Hampâté Bâ of his biography of Cerno Bokar 23. Both these studies are sympathetic to Hamallah, representing as they do something of an inside view. However, they differ markedly from one another in emphasis, Hampâtê Bâ's account relying mostly on oral evidence, and Traoré's largely on archival documentation, although he, too, conducted extensive interviews. Hampâtê Bâ contends that most of the difficulties which surrounded Hamallah and his followers were the result of relatively minor personal jealousies and animosities blown out of all proportion by Hamallah's enemies and detractors 24. Traoré places the blame for Hamallah's misfortunes more squarely on the French administration 25, and he gently chides Bâ and Cardaire for not going further in 1957 in accusing “the tenants of the colonial system of partiality” in this affair 26. But neither Hampâtê Bâ in his recent book nor Traoré in his well-researched thesis reveal all that they know or suspect about the tangled politics which underlay the Hamallist affair, because even today the issue has not been drained of its emotionality. As a result of this fact, and as a barrier to more exhaustive research into the subject, the Hamallist files in the National Archives of Mali are still closed to the public.
The French sources which are available 27 tend to be openly hostile to the Hamallists 28, and even when they are not they are almost always out of touch with African views of events. Only very rarely was the gulf which separated Frenchmen from Africans ever effectively bridged, especially on an issue as volatile as the Hamalliyya 29. Not all attitudes were as extreme as those expressed in the following quotation, but it is a fair example of the flavour of French opinion about the origins of the Hamalliyya movement in particular and of similar movements in general:
… departing from an orthodox foundation, the appearance of an enlightened mystic, ecstatic visions, a new revelation emanating from the Prophet or from the Angel Gabriel from which arises a new Way which immediately discovers its field of activity in a frustrated mystical population eager for miracles and always receptive to the madnesses into which the Shaykh would drag them. Possessing only the faintest colouring of Islam, practically illiterate and backward, this population is therefore incapable of judging the point at which this new Way resolutely embraces the most complete heresy 30.
The emotional and pejorative language of this passage reveals the depths which misunderstanding and contempt could reach. Of course, in the Soudan of the period there were frustrated and gullible people for whom Hamallah had great appeal, but he attracted many other kinds of people as well: for example Muslim scholars, French-educated Africans, and level-headed merchants. Only in rare instances were the French able to grasp the nature of West African Islam and the internal dynamics of the Sufi brotherhoods. They saw Hamallah's movement as a threat, not only because of his broad-based support, but also because he would not openly defer to French authority.
The growth of Hamallah's movement and of opposition to him is complex and can be discussed here only in broad outline. The “Hamallists” became distinguished from other West African Tijanis for two fundamental reasons:
In no other ways did Hamallists differ from other Tijanis on religious matters. These distinctive Hamallist characteristics also represent two of the very few facts about the movement on which all observers agree, which means that almost every other aspect of its origin and development are open to widely divergent interpretation. We are indebted to Hampâté and Traoré for their presentation of a generally accepted Hamallist view of the origins of the movement, but their evidence for this early period is based exclusively on oral material. Not one contemporary Hamallist written document has been produced which could substantiate the course of events as presented by the oral accounts. French documents can only corroborate certain external events; they say nothing about the thinking of either Tijanis or Hamallists. And the oral accounts themselves are not free of contradictions and anomalies.
The Hamalliyya was born in the first decade of the twentieth century. The most basic facts surrounding this event, on which all sources agree, are that in 1900 there appeared in Nioro an Algerian Tijani muqaddam named Sîdî Muhammad b. Ahmad b. 'Abdallâh, known as al-Akhdar. Al-Akhdar had been appointed muqaddam in Tlemcen (Algeria) by Shaykh Sîdî al-Tâhir Bû-Tîba 31, a man who was considered by some to be a khalîfa in the order, having been very close to Shaykh al-Tijani himself. Shaykh al-Tâhir, and consequently al-Akhdar, recited the prayer jawharat al-kamâl eleven times. On his arrival in Nioro, al-Akhdar began preaching this version of the Tijani prayers, and not a few persons, the young Hamallah among them, accepted a renewal of their wird with him. Resistance and rivalry soon developed among other Tijanis who clung to the twelve recitations of the prayer. In 1909, with the death of al-Akhdar, Hamallah, then only about twenty years of age, was recognized as his successor as leader of the “onze-grains” or “eleven beads” as this group came to be called. If not immediately, at least by the end of the next decade, Hamallah was being addressed as shaykh.
The Hamallist accounts fill out the bare bones of these facts in the following manner. They claim that the zâwiya of Shaykh al-Tâhir in Tlemcen had preserved the purest form of Tijani practice in the entire order, due to al-Tâhir's close relationship to the founder; their continued recitation of the “eleven beads” was but one aspect of their special spiritual position. According to this account, al-Akhdar had been sent from Tlemcen on a special mission designed to re-establish the purity of Tijani practice in West Africa, which included more than the recitation of the “eleven,” but also to identify a new spiritual leader to replace the declining fortunes of the Umarians, following the death of al-Hajj Umar and the flight of his son Ahmadu. The Tlemcen leadership had determined that a new khalîfa would appear in West Africa who would also be a qutb al-zamân (pole of the era), a very elevated walî. Al-Akhdar was instructed on the signs through which he would be able to recognize this new spiritual leader. After extensive travels, the itinerary of which varies from source to source, he discovered the person he was seeking in Hamallah, whom he indicated to his followers before his death 32.
Perhaps this account is in some respects true; we are in no position to disprove it definitively. But neither is it very convincing in its totality when other facts are taken into consideration. In the first place as indicated above, contemporary written evidence only supports the idea that al-Akhdar came to Nioro and proselytized his version of the Tijaniyya, the superiority of which he seems to have proclaimed. No Arabic documentation has come to light; and the French knew virtually nothing about the internal affairs of the order, so perhaps we cannot attribute much significance to their silence about Hamallah being discovered by al-Akhdar and named qutb. The closest we can come to any written support for this Hamallist claim is Paul Marty's statement that Hamallah “declared himself to be not a muqaddam but chief shaykh [cheikh général].” 33 Of course, it is entirely possible that al-Akhdar had encouraged Hamallah to proclaim himself as such, and he may well have done so for what he considered very good reasons. But the proposition that al-Akhdar had been sent on a specific mission to identify such a shaykh or khalîfa seems to be unique in the Tijani literature; there are many stories about the identification of shuyûkh by visions, but the idea that one man should be sent on a wide ranging voyage to find and identify one single shaykh seems most unusual.That he should have been sent from Tlemcen on behalf of the “mother houses” of the order in Algeria, as Hampâté Bâ states 34, with the purpose of regenerating the West African Tijaniyya seems unacceptable without further documentary evidence, because Tlemcen and Shaykh al-Tâhir represented a dissident branch of the order in Algeria.
Al-Tâhir claimed to be Shaykh al-Tijani's sole successor as leader of the order 35. That al-Tâhir was regarded as one of the leading shuyûkh seems to be beyond dispute 36, but his claims to sole succession led to conflict with other Algerian leaders. The breach also widened into the broader political arena, because al-Tâhir condemned the policy of cooperation with the French which the majority of Algerian Tijanis pursued. Because of these internal political conflicts in the North African Tijaniyya, Traoré is careful not to make such broad claims as Hampâté Bâ about al-Akhdar's mission. Rather he emphasizes al-Tâhir's special position in the Tijaniyya and the desire of Tlemcen to maintain and spread the spiritual purity which they claimed was theirs. In presenting his case, however, Traoré glosses over the doubts which some Tijanis harboured about al-Tâhir's own claims 37. For Traoré, al-Akhdar's mission was to encourage the rejuvenation of the flagging West African Tijaniyya and the return of its adherents to the pure form of doctrine represented by the “eleven beads.” Why, one must ask, if Tlemcen was so important a center, and if al-Akhdar had been charged with identifying not only a khalîfa but a qutb al-zamân, did not he or indeed Hamallah find a place in the extensive biographical dictionary of the Tijaniyya written by one of its Moroccan shuyûkh, Ahmad Sukayrij ? 38 Although Sukayrij's book is devoted primarily to descriptions of the companions of Ahmad al-Tijani, he gave considerable space to al-Hajj Umar whom he recognizes as a khalîfa. Why not to Hamallah, who was proclaimed not only to be Umar's successor as khalîfa but also to occupy the even more elevated position of qutb?
Of course, we are in no position to discuss how Sukayrij organised the contents of his book, but in raising this kind of question we can begin to perceive the different points of view which must have circulated about al-Akhdar, Hamallah and the movement which took his name. Sukayrij could not have been ignorant of Hamallah, but he must not have considered him so significant a figure as to mention him, even though Hamallists claim that their movement preserves the very essence of al-Tijani's spiritual teaching. We would suggest that the oral accounts cited above, although containing certain elements of fact, were elaborated into their present form relatively late in the history of the movement. We would like here to propose another interpretation of the origins of the Hamalliyya based upon an analysis of generally accepted facts in comparison with what we know of the structure and dynamics of the order itself. This view is largely hypothetical and requires the test of further research. Its major elements are that the Hamalliyya movement found its initial strength in Hamallah's exceptional religious personality, and that his following solidified into a powerful and significant movement primarily as a result of organized opposition to it from other Tijanis and from the French administration. This interpretation places a different emphasis on the role of the doctrinal dispute which characterized the early years of the movement, i.e. that Hamallists recited the Jawharat al-kamâl only eleven times. It is true, of course, that al-Akhdar's proselytization of the “eleven beads” was opposed by some parties from the time of his arrival in Nioro. But we would argue that disputes over this matter would have remained local had it not been for Hamallah's extraordinary appeal, which was at first basically religious but later became politicized because of the actions of both his enemies and some of his followers.
The interpretation also reduces emphasis on the role of al-Akhdar and his Tlemcen connection by casting considerable doubt on the contention that he had been sent on a specific mission to identify a khalîfa. The idea that one man would be despatched on the vaguely defined mission to identify another previously unknown shaykh makes for a good story, but it is also tainted with the strong odor of post facto justification; furthermore, such a mission does not fit with general Tijani practice. One could accept that al-Akhdar, having met Hamallah and spent some time with him, became convinced that he was destined to become a shaykh. Perhaps he and Hamallah both had visions which convinced them of this fact, as the oral accounts aver. This pattern is widespread among Tijanis, for which al-Hajj Umar's appointment as khalîfa by al-Ghâlî is evidence. The claim that al-Akhdar was on a specific mission is also placed in doubt by contradictions in the evidence. Hampâté Bâ has him travelling throughout Soudanic West Africa, having begun his journey in Egypt 39. Traoré agrees with Marty that he arrived in Nioro after a lengthy sojourn in Mauritania 40. Traoré claims that everywhere he went he announced his mission to identify a qutb; Hampaté Bâ implies that he kept this aspect of his work secret until he had identified Hamallah. In either case, could such a proclamation have escaped the attention of the French administration, and especially of Marty who was so preoccupied with the affairs of the Sufi brotherhoods?
It seems much more likely that al-Akhdar's visits to Mauritania and the Soudan were part of a continuing effort by North African Tijanis to maintain links with their West African brothers. This activity was centered primarily in the Moroccan zawâyâ of the order, which had much closer connections with West Africa than the Algerian ones. Movement between North and West Africa may have intensified at the turn of the century, but it was a long-established pattern going right back to al-Hajj Umar. Only a few years after Umar's death, his son Ahmadu was visited in Segu by two Moroccan Tijani muqaddamûn 41, who seem to have played some role in Ahmadu's efforts to be recognized as successor to his father. The attraction of a North African initiation into the order was that it allegedly brought one into closer spiritual proximity to the founder of the order, Shaykh al-Tijani. The rapid growth of the Tijaniyya throughout West Africa during the colonial period was intimately associated with the development of these North African relationships, and the pattern can be discerned throughout the region. One of the best examples is the branch of the order developed by Shaykh Ibrahim Nyass of Senegal, who gained adherents throughout West Africa. In 1937 he was appointed khalîfa of the order by Shaykh Ahmad Sukayrij in Fez 42. The Tijaniyya in Kano, upon which Nyass was able to draft his movement, was based on a series of Moroccan initiations 43.
Al-Akhdar's activities seem to fall within this pattern of spreading North African influence, but he was also in competition with the majority of North African muqaddamûn in that he was an advocate of the “eleven beads,” apparently the only one in West Africa at the time. He certainly preached the superiority of this practice, and even chided local Tijanis, claiming that they had gone astray in reciting the Jawhâral al-kamâl twelve times. This was more than a subtle criticism of al-Hajj Umar and led to conflicts disturbing enough to have al-Akhdar deported to Dakar for a brief period 44. Al-Akhdar thus planted the seeds of dissension in Nioro which were to grow into a bitter, rivalry between the “elevens” and the “twelves,” although the dispute itself did not reach maturity until some years later. Even when Marty wrote (his Soudan was published in 1920), he did not seem to consider the issue of jawharat al-kamâl to be particularly volatile. He judged Hamallah as potentially the most powerful Muslim leader in Nioro, but not to be a trouble-maker; he described him as reserved with the French but not an opponent. As for the political intrigues which by then had begun to surface among some of his followers, Marty explicitly absolved Hamallah of any part in them 45.
The question of “twelve beads/eleven beads” is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Hamalliyya movement for an outsider to understand. How could such a seemingly minor doctrinal point become a major issue of contention? It will be recalled that Shaykh al-Tijani received the litany of his order direct from the Prophet Muhammad in a vision. According to Jawâhir al-Ma'âni, the jawharat al-kamâl should be recited as a part of the wazîfa eleven times 46, but late in his life al-Tijani added a twelfth recitation. Umar prescribed twelve recitations in the Rimâh 47, and twelve certainly became the most widespread practice in the order. Why this modification was made has never been clearly explained, but one would suspect it resulted from a vision. In West Africa a popular explanation is that on one occasion Shaykh al-Tijani arrived late for the recitation of the wazîfa when those present had already recited the Jawharat al-kamâl eleven times. The prayer was repeated once more in the presence of al-Tijani who did not object and therefore, it was argued, tacitly approved the twelve recitations 48. This account is denied in North Africa; indeed, it would be surprising if a revealed litany of this sort could have been modified by such accidental means. Today most Tijanis, including many Hamallists, would argue that either eleven or twelve recitations is acceptable 49. Hampâté Bâ takes this view and offers an esoteric, numerological explanation of the relative appropriateness of eleven or twelve recitations; he even has Shaykh Hamallah himself saying: “Once again, I declare that the ‘twelve’ is not an error.” 50 Traoré, on the other hand, adheres more firmly to a strict Hamallist line; for him the modification of the original revelation of eleven recitations was a deviation 51, although his view fails to accept any possibility of change within the litany, even for acceptable esoteric reasons, such as subsequent visions.
Today in West Africa the specific issue of “eleven beads/twelve beads” evokes relatively little emotion; and it seems never to have done so in North Africa. Indeed, the volatility of the question appears to have been directly related to the expansion of Hamallah's movement and its resultant political significance. Many Hamallists proclaimed the “eleven” as a symbol of their superiority and as a badge of their identity; their enemies employed the term as an epithet against those who, they claimed, had betrayed the spiritual teachings of al-Hajj Umar. Although the doctrinal aspects of this issue were debated by Tijani scholars, the sometimes violent mutual recriminations between rival groups which occurred in West Africa in the 1930s and 1940s seem a reflection less of fundamental religious difference than of the current social and political tensions.
We are arguing here that the activities of al-Akhdar might have caused no more than a slight ripple of upset among West African Tijanis had he not met Hamallah, whose religious persona was the essential ingredient giving life to the movement which later bore his name. We know little of his early life 52. He was born about 1883 of a Moorish father and a Pullo mother, and both his father and grandfather were merchants who claimed sharîfian ancestry. Hamallah received a religious education, but reports concerning his scholarly endeavours are vague. Marty described him as well-lettered, with an abiding interest in books on mysticism; Traoré cites his extensive library as evidence of his learning 53. But al-Akhdar had been impressed by Hamallah not because of his book-learning, but because of his mystical stature. At least that is the view given in all the oral accounts of how Hamallah was finally identified as khalîfa. The details of these accounts differ, which is not surprising since they can only be suppositions on transactions whicb took place between the two men in strict seclusion. But they agree on the main point, namely that Hamallah knew the “secret” or “Great Name” of God, which had appeared to him in visions 54, and al-Akhdar took this as conclusive proof that Hamallah was the man he had been seeking. According to al-Hajj Umar, who devoted a brief chapter to the subject in the Rimâh, the “Great Name” of God was known only to “exceptional persons, such as prophets and qutb and the like.” 55 One might therefore conclude that, since the “Great Name” had appeared to Hamallah in a vision, all al-Akhdar had to do was recognize him as khalîfa. But the matter was not so simple. The oral accounts also suggest that al-Akhdar was himself dispensing certain “secrets,” and that some people felt that the possession of these “secrets” would qualify them to be khalîfa. The specific person most mentioned in this regard was Muhammad Mukhtar, a leading Tijani muqaddam in Nioro and one of Hamallah's former teachers 56. He repudiated the “eleven” when Hamallah was named as al-Akhdar's successor, refusing to follow so young a man, and he consequently became a focus of opposition to Hamallah. So the question is: did al-Akhdar recognize the pre-existent fact of Hamallah's khalîfa-ship, or did he invest him with certain “secrets” which gave him the authority of office? Or should there perhaps be an affrmative answer to both questions? 57
This is another of those questions which eludes clear answers. What seems more certain is that Hamallah was an extraordinary religious leader and that, whatever the means whereby he had come to his decision, al-Akhdar had made a wise choice. It also seems clear that the choice was fundamentally, and probably exclusively, a religious one. Al-Akhdar's affiliation with the anti-French zâwiya of Tlemcen had not escaped the attention of the local administration, but this caused little concern until the 1920s. Even the anti-Umarian thrust of the “eleven” did not at first seem very dangerous; not even the French were much concerned with the political implications of al-Akhdar's activities. Hamallah too was seen primarily as a mystic. For Hampâté Bâ and Traoré he was a contemplative, withdrawn spiritual teacher; for Marty he was an ecstatic:
He has, so they say, ecstatic visions during which everything in heaven and earth passes before his eyes; he enters into direct communication with Allah and His prophet as he wishes. He receives abundant alms, most of which he redistributes.... [The dhikr sessions in his house each day] terminate most of the time with nervous crises and other well-known phenomena. 58
Whatever judgment is made of Hamallah as a mystic or a religious leader, his widespread appeal in West Africa is indisputable. In so far as this appeal was religious, it was based on his personal qualities of asceticism, piety and humility, all characteristics which Muslims expected to find in saintly men. But there was also a political dimension to his appeal, and this seems to have been generated largely by the activities of his enemies, especially certain Umarians and certain officials in the French administration. The critical period during which the political force of the movement crystallized was from 1922 till 1924. Before 1922, official concem over Hamallah was muted; but in 1925 he was exiled from Nioro. The most interesting aspect of this dramatic transformation is that it had little to do with the personal activities of Hamallah himself, who was noted for his isolation and limited contact with the outside world. In the end, Hamallah was punished not for what he did but for what he failed to do. Some French sources do suggest that in the years immediately following the death of al-Akhdar, Hamallah actively proselytized on behalf of the “eleven,” and that alHajj Malik Sy, a highly respected Tijani shaykh in Senegal, intervened to encourage Hamallah to desist from these activities 59. The French averred that Hamallah replied “insolently” to the first of Malik Sy's letters (in 1911) and not at all to the second. In contrast to this allegation is the failure of the French authorities ever to implicate Hamallah directly in any of the increasingly violent outbursts later associated with the Hamallists. And there is Marty's observation, published in 1920, that in his judgement Hamallah was completely innocent of the “intrigues” which some of his followers were perpetrating; and that furthermore he considered that “the Moors submitted to [Hamallah's] obedience are those most amenable to our orders.”60
In 1922 Malik Sy died, and some of the French thought they noted a subsequent hardening in Hamallah's attitude 61, although there seems to be little justification for this interpretation based on Hamallah's known activities. The death of Malik Sy probably had more impact among the French than with Hamallah; Sy was considered a loyal subject of France and his activities were generally thought to be conciliatory 62. One might more convincingly argue that the silencing of Malik Sy's voice gave scope to the influence of a more strident anti-Hamallist faction, which in the end managed to convince French officials of the danger which Hamallah supposedly posed to their rule 63. This hypothesis is indirectly supported by other evidence, which implies that in 1922 Hamallah was beginning to gain widespread support among Tijani leaders. The relevant document will be discussed again below because it directly concerns Cerno Bokar.
One of al-Hajj Umar's sons, called Murtada, was at Nioro; he died in 1922. Cerno Bokar of Bandiagara should have replaced him at Nioro as a Tijani muqaddam responsible to Muntaga [in Segu]. But there was a shaykh living in Nioro who never left his house. He is a very pious ascetic, whom the people of Nioro, due to his virtue and his piety, requested should be their Tijani muqaddam. Muntaga accepted this arrangement on the advice of his brother, Madani, in Hadejia [Nigeria] with whom he is in constant touch through pilgrims and julas [merchants]. Madani even advised him to follow the indications of this shaykh 64.
This isolated report, taken from an unnamed African informant, cannot be accepted as conclusive proof that certain well-placed Umarian Tijanis were by 1922 prepared to accept Hamallah as a legitimate muqaddam. But neither can one fail to wonder where such a report might have originated had it not contained some grain of truth. We would argue that whether true or not, the report caused great consternation in Dakar.
Hamallah's enemies, both Muslims and French, were galvanized into action. Violent incidents occurred in 1923 and 1924 for which blame was laid at the door of Hamallah, although explicit proof of his complicity was never forthcoming. Indeed, the key to Hamallah's downfall, if his arrest and exile can be so described, was his studied aloofness from all the turmoil which surrounded him. In the end, the accusation which resulted in his punishment was that he had failed to intervene in a tangled and heated dispute over the succession to leadership of a Moorish group. The French charged that the dispute was kept alive by Hamallah's followers, who would have desisted had he ordered them to do so. But the report which, in the judgment of Traoré, led to Hamallah's condemnation was extremely wide-ranging; it accused him of unmitigated anti-French activity — not only failure to intervene in succession disputes (which, it should be added, were no concern of his), but failure voluntarily to visit French officials, failure to send his children to French schools, the fact that anti-French poems and tracts had been written by Hamallists (none of which was attributed to Hamallah), and, probably the most important, the presence of a growing number of committed Hamallists among the Africans working in the French administration 65. The author of this report achieved his goal; Hamallah was condemned to ten years' exile, and in 1925 deportcd to Mederdra in Mauritania.
What the French wanted from Hamallah, and what he never offered, was a modicum of voluntary cooperation. Obviously, to have been able to point to Hamallah as a “loyal friend of France” would have been extremely advantageous for colonial policy. But whether Hamallah's failure to act in the manner preferred by the French was a conscious political decision or whether it sprang from other motivations, such as a religious penchant to isolate himself from worldly affairs, is impossible to say. He himself never spoke publicly on the issue. Certainly he refused to intervene in African affairs as much as in colonial ones. Hamallah's silence offered all parties the opportunity to portray him as they wished. The alleged injustice of his exile made him into something of a cause celèbre among certain French-educated politicians in Senegal. No less a figure than Lamine Guèye, then conseiller colonial, spoke out against the French decision 66. He even wrote an article in the official journal L'A.O.F., in which, while defending Hamallah, he gave his personal version of the shaykh's meeting with the Governor-General of the Soudan, Terrasson de Fougères. This account, which tended to bring into relief the many French fears about Hamallah, must have also won him many new admirers among the critics of French policies, and further politicized the silent role he was to play, albeit perhaps unwillingly, in future events. After having been informed by the Governor-General that he was to be exiled, Hamallah, as reported by Gueye, replied in the following way:
“I pay my taxes, I fulfill my obligations, I spread no sort of propaganda, neither oral or written, nor do I have on my conscience any act of hostility with respect to France or its representatives. If you know of any, tell me because I am prepared to submit to your punishment if my guilt is demonstrated.”
[The Governor retorted:]
— “Your children do not attend French school.”
[Hamallah replied that his children were too small, but the Governor asserted that Hamallah was also wrong not to intervene with his followers, to which he answered:]
— “Governor, Sir, I have already said that I have spread no sort of propagaganda. You are the personification of authority which you exercise effectively, having at your disposal soldiers, police and an army. As for me, I have only my rosary. When I have paid my taxes and fulfilled all the obligations imposed on a subject, my role is terminated. It is not for me to concern myself with those who upset the public order; would this not be to infringe upon your authority? Besides, you have never asked me to intervene with any Muslim or in any circumstances. Why not summon those you call my disciples and who are upsetting the public order? This is your right since they are transgressing your orders and acting contrary to your will; then you can chastise them in the manner they deserve.” 67
This article, addressed to an African public literate in French, reflected the current political mood of a significant section of the African population. The image of Hamallah firmly drawing the line between what he considered legitimate French authority and his own personal integrity was powerful stuff. And it may well be that a growing number of French-educated African Muslims were attracted to the Hamalliyya in the 1920s and '30s precisely because their association with Hamallah reinforced their personal integrity as Muslims at a time when concern over the contamination of becoming “Europeanized” must have been profound. The French had made it no secret that one of the aims of their educational policy was to render Muslims less “fanatical.” The growing numbers of évolués (as the French-educated , French-speaking Africans were patronizingly called) in the Hamalliyya may have brought to their attention the first hard evidence that this policy was not working. One of the major concerns expressed in the Descemet report of 1925 was that Hamallah's influence over African employees in the colonial service had reached alarming proportions; two teachers had even resigned from the service rather than accept new postings away from Nioro (ordered, it should be added, with the specific aim of removing them from Hamallah's influence) 68. However, French opinion on what was happening was not unanimous. Even as late as 1939, the Governor of Soudan in his annual political report was prepared to argue that the Hamalliyya in fact aided French policy because “in simplifying to a great extent religious practices and in shortening prayers and rosaries, it permits its adepts, while not compromising their faith, to devote more of their time to their work and diverse occupations.” The report goes on to observe that the attraction of youth and évolués to this supposedly “tepid” religious practice is perfectly normal since the Hamalliyya, breaking as it does with olderestablished religious practice, contributes to the ability of the youth “to liberate themselves from the grip of their families and from ancestral customs.” 69 No general surveys exist which could document the motivations of persons who joined the Hamalliyya at this time, but the few interviews with Hamallists made in connection with this study would suggest that, whatever their associated interests, these persons at least were seeking to reaffirm their personal religious commitments, for which they were prepared to make considerable sacrifices. Descemet was correct in expressing concern over the dangers which the movement represented to French interests, if resurgent Islam was indeed such a danger.
The “eleven beads” had come a long way from those early years in Nioro when al-Akhdar had gained a large portion of his support among Wolof and Marka merchants. Hamallah had attracted a wider range of adherents, especially among the Moors; and the movement began to develop a diverse and geographically extensive membership representing a cross-section of social, ethnic, and occupational groups. Not a few scholars sought renewal of their wird with Hamallah 70. By 1922 some well-placed Umarians had offered him at least tacit support. And the 1920s and '30s witnessed a growth in membership among évolués. At no time in its history could this movement as a whole be justifiably described as the “frustrated mystical population” which some Frenchmen imagined, although its membership was not free of extremist and even bizarre elements. The greatest fear harboured by the French, despite a few dissenters, was the prospect of a unified party of Muslim évolués agitating for social and political change. The security of the French presence relied on the continued political division of African society. Hamallism could never have provided widespread political unity, but the increasingly violent nature of the incidents perpetrated in its name was disturbing to the French as well as perhaps inspiring to anti-French Muslims. The profoundly political nature which the Hamallist movement developed in the 1930s and '40s is emphasized by its relatively rapid demise as a political force with the appearance of legitimate political parties after the Second World War 71.
In 1930 there was a violent incident in Kaedi (southern Mauritania), directed in part against the local colonial administration, which resulted in twenty-seven deaths. The French felt that they saw Hamallah's influence in this affair and moved him from Mauritania to Adzopé in southern Ivory Coast where he served the ramaining five years of his exile. The idea was to isolate him, and all Moors were barred from entry to Ivory Coast during this period. But other merchants continued to find their way to him, and he continued to initiate people into the "eleven." During this period of his exile Hamallah modified his prayers to an abbreviated form permissible when one is either travelling, in a dangerous situation or in war. Charges were made that some of his more fervent followers had begun facing west in their prayers (the direction from which they expected him to return) and also blasphemously putting his name in their prayers ("There is no god but God, and Hamallah is His prophet"). The extent of such practices has yet to be demonstrated, but their existence reflects the extremely emotional nature of the situation 72 .
Hamallah's exile ended in 1935. He returned to Nioro in January 1936, but he continued to pray the abbreviated prayer until well into the next year, when he was dissuaded from doing so by Seedu Nuuru Taal of Senegal. A high-powered delegation visited Nioro for just that purpose, including not only Seedu Nuuru, but the Governor-General of French West Africa and the Governor of the Soudan. The entire affair is described in a letter from Shaykh Hamallah to Cerno Bokar. Seedu Nuuru was sent to treat with Hamallah privately, and Hamallah explained to him that he had adopted the abbreviated prayer because he feared for his safety. Seedu Nuuru suggested that the French might be willing to offer a pledge of security if Hamallah would return to the normal form of prayers. This was all agreed, to the great relief of the French, who “prepared a great feast for which they expended much money; they rejoiced and were extremely happy.” 73 The French also offerred Hamallah a monetary reward for his cooperation, which he refused; the sum was given over for the repair of the local mosque. Seedu Nuuru was given a medal and allegedly some money. Hamallah was then visited by his local enemies and detractors, whom he refers to in his letter as the “rejecters,” (that is, those who rejected his teaching, although describing them thus is almost equivalent to calling them unbelievers). There was a semi-public display of reconciliation, which did not particularly impress Hamallah. He concluded his letter to Cerno Bokar: “That is what occurred between us and the Europeans and the ‘rejecters;’ but it is all a ruse which they are plotting.” 74
Whether a ruse or not, Hamallah and his followers were yet to experience their most serious trials. In 1938 a violent repression of Hamallists in Bandiagara was triggered by Cerno Bokar's submission to Shaykh Hamallah. But in 1940 a long-festering animosity between some of Hamallah's followers (including his sons) and certain hostile Moorish groups erupted into a violent confrontation in which there were some 400 deaths. Although Hamallah broke his usual silence and publicly condemned this horrible outburst, he was nonetheless arrested, along with over 700 of his followers. He was deported to Algeria and thence to France, where he died in January 1943. 75 The movement which bore his name did not die with him, although after the war it gradually surrendered its political significance to legitimate political parties.
1. Until a relatively late date, men were not allowed to bring their wives to the Soudan, but according to accepted practice, many of them had an African mistress. Occasionally the offspring of these unions were educated in France, but more usually the women and children were abandoned when the official was posted elsewhere.
2. For a semi-fictional account of a colonial career, see M. Delafosse, “Les Etats d'âme d'un colonial,” L'Afrique Française: Bulletin du Comité de l'Afrique française et du Comité du Maroc, 1909, pp. 62, 102, 12 7, 162, 200, 240, 288, 311, 338, 373, 414. See also, T.C. Weiskel, French Colonial Rule and the Baule Peoples: Resistance and Collaboration, 1889-1911 (Oxford, 1980), 214 - 5.
3. ANM, Fonds ancien, 1-D-49, Monographie du Cercle de Mopti, “Organisation politique et administration des groupes indigènes du Cercle de Mopti avant l'occupation française.”
4. “La Politique indigène,” L'Afrique Française, 1909, Supplément, 348 - 9.
5. “Circulaire de William Ponty, du 30 août 1910,” L'Afrique Française, 1910, 341.
6. See G. Hardy, Une Conquête morale. L'Enseignement en A.O.F. (Paris, 1917).
7. See L. Kaba, The Wahhabiyya.
8. Ibid. One of the most successful examples of the combination of Western curricula and teaching methods with traditional Islamic subjects is to be found in the madrasa school of al-Hajj Sa'ad 'Umar Touré in Segu, Mali. The language of instruction is Arabic, and all modern subjects are taught as well as the religious ones. The school at present has more than 1,000 students.
9. JM, I, 51.
10. For a detailed history of the order, see Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya (London, 1965).
11. Rimâh, I, 88ff.
12. Ibid., I, 200, quoting al-Dabbâgh.
13. Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 42-4.
14. Abmad Sukayrij, Kashf al-Hijâb (Morocco, 1961), 329-30, writes about Muhammad al-Kansûsî who claimed to have left the Qadiriyya in favour of the Tijaniyya because in his opinion God had chosen to create it as a force against the corruption of that epoch. Al-Kansûsî's ideas were important in West Africa because he entered into debate with leading West African Qadiris in order to justify his conversion. See Sukayrij and Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 168ff.
15. For a discussion of Umar's appointments of muqaddamûn, see J.R. Willis, Al-Hâjj 'Umar b. Sa'id, 196.
16. P. Marty, “L'Islam en Mauretanie et au Sénégal,” Revue du Monde Musulman, 31 (1915-16), 378.
17. See for example M.A. Tyam, La Vie d'el Hadj Omar, qasîda en poular, translated by Henri Gaden (Paris, 1935).
18. Rimâh, I, 192.
19. Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 23.
20. P.-J. André, L'Islam noir. Contribution à l'étude des confréries religieuses islamiques en Afrique occidentale (Paris, 1924), 65.
21. His full Arabic name was Sîdî Ahmad Hamâullâh b. Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Hasanî- al-Tijânî al-Tishîtî, but I have used the form of the name as it was usually pronounced by my informants.
22. Alioune Traoré, Contribution à l'étude de l'Islam. Le Mouvement tijanien de Cheikb Hamahoullah, Thèse de 3e cycle, Université de Dakar, 1975.
24. See for example, VE, 72ff.
25. Traoré, Contribution, 144ff.
26. Ibid., 142.
27. Traoré employed extensive documentation available in Senegal and Mauritania.
28. But not always; Marty's account of Hamallah is rather favourable, Soudan, IV, 218ff.
29. A notable exception is Amadou Hampâté Bâ who befriended Marcel Cardaire of the Bureau des Affaires Musulmanes, an agency charged with the surveillance of Muslims, and with whom he wrote Tierno Bokar, le Sage de Bandiagara.
30. Ct. Rocaboy, “L'Hamallisme,” CHEAM 1153.
31. For Shaykh al-Tâhir see Sukayrij, 414-5. Nothing about al-Akhdar or the Hamallist movement appears in Sukayrij
32. VE, 57ff; Traoré, Contribution, 43ff.
33. Marty, Soudan, IV, 220.
34. VE, 58-9.
35. Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 96.
36. See Sukayrij, 414 - 5 and Traoré, Contribution, 46.
37. His translation of a portion of Sukayrij's brief biographical entry on al-Tâhir is misleading. Traoré (p. 46) translates: “In spite of such gifts and qualities as these, some men have tried, but in vain, to tarnish his reputation.” I translate it as: “However, I have seen some of the brothers (may God improve their affair and mine) who deny the majority of what is attributed to him, but only God knows the truth of that.” Sukayrij, 414-5.
38. Kashfal-hijâb was published in 1961.
39. VE, 59-60.
40. Marty, Soudan, IV, 211; Traoré, Contribution, 48-9.
41. BN, Arabe 5713, f. 59a-b; the visit occurred in 1868-9.
42. M. Hiskett, “The ‘Community of Grace’ and its opponents, the ‘Rejecters’: a Debate about theology and mysticism in Muslim West Africa with special reference to its Hausa expression,” African Language Studies, XVII (1980), 103; John N. Paden, Religion and Political Culture in Kano (Berkeley, 1973), 97 -8.
43. Paden, Religion and Political Culture, 82-3; 86-7.
44. Marty, Soudan, IV, 219.
45. Ibid., 222.
46. JM, I, 124.
47. Rimâh, II, 82.
48. VE, 58.
49. Traoré, Contribution, 82.
50. VE, 58 and 94.
51. Traoré, Contribution, 87ff.
52. Ibid., 53-6.
53. Ibid., 60-3; Marty, Soudan, IV, 220.
54. TB, 48 and VE, 68; these two versions differ in interesting respects. Traoré, Contribution, 51.
55. Rimâh, 1, 195.
56. See VE, 63 -4; Traoré, Contribution, 112 - 3; Marty, Soudan, IV, 217 - 8.
57. “Secrets” were an important currency among the shuyûkh of the order; see Paden, Religion and Political Culture, 98, quoting lbrâhîm Nyass, Rihlat Hijâziyya.
58. Marty, Soudan, IV, 220.
59. F. Quesnot, “L'Evolution du Tidjanisme sénégalais depuis 1922.” CHEAM 2865 (1958), Ch. IV. See also Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 151-2.
60. Marty, Soudan, IV, 222.
61. Quesnot, “L'Evolution,” 25.
62. See Marty, “L'Islam en Mauretanie et au Sénégal,” 369ff.
63. P. Alexandre argues in this way in “Hamallism, an Islamic Movement in French West Africa,” in R.I. Rotberg and A. Mazrui (eds), Protest and Power in Black Africa (New York, 1970), 497 - 512.
64. ANM, Fonds récent, 4-E-18, Affaires Musulmanes, Mission du Capitaine André, 1923. André's reports must be treated with care since he often got his facts wrong.
65. Traoré, Contribution, 295 - 300, quotes a lengthy excerpt from the Rapport Descemet, Archives Nationales de Mauritanie, Série E 2 / 3 3, 192 5.
66. Traoré, Contribution, 144.
67. Ibid., 150-1, quoted from l'A.O.F, 28 janvier 1926; this passage is also quoted in A. Gouilly, L'Islam dans l'A.O.F, 139-40, where he gives the title of the article as “Comme au pays des mille et une nuits”. Hampâté Bâ gives a different account of this meeting in VE, 79-80.
68. Traoré, Contribution, 297.
69. ANS, 2 G 39/8, Soudan, Rapport Politique Annuel, 1939.
70. Traoré provides a detailed discussion of supporters and enemies of Hamallah.
71. Alexandre, “Hamallism,” 507, who claims many Hamallists entered the RDA.
72. See Traoré, Contribution, 186ff.
73. A copy of this letter was held in the library of Baba Thimbely, Bandiagara; a microfilm copy is now held in CEDRAB, Timbuktu, Mali, and in the MAMMP Collection, Yale University Library.
75. Traoré gives a detailed description of these events up to Hamallah's death.