University of California Press
Berkeley & Los Angeles. 1984. 215 p.
Sufism (Arabic, tasawwuf) is often descibed as Islamic mysticism,
which Cerno Bokar defined as “imparting the knowledge of God to the human
Mysticism, for him, was an interaction between God, revelation and man's efforts
to absorb this revelation into his owl understanding, an effort which he described
as “a lived experience it which the intuition might be activated as a result
of a lengthy meditative observation.” 2 We explored in
the previous chapter one aspect of Cerno's meditations, his search for analogical
and numerological relationships between manifested existence and ultimate realité (haqîqa).
As we noted, this is fundamentally an intellectual discipline based on the acquisition
of certain specific knowledge, in this case the knowledge of tawhîd and
the science of numbers. The second and perhaps more central ingredient in Cerno's
mysticism was derived from the Tijaniyya Sufi order; this was much more experiential
than intellectual and focused on various spiritual exercises, especially the repeated
recitation of certain prayers. Cerno's Sufi ideas came primarily from two Tijani
books, the Rimâh of al-Hajj
Umar and the Jawâhir al Ma'ânî of
'Alî Harâzim. Both books are filled with quotations from classical
Sufi authors offering a reader a broad selection of generally accepted Sufi ideas,
as well as detailed information on Tijani doctrine. Cerno Bokar's discourses as
well as the content of his catechism sugges an intellectual and spiritual debt
to these two works, which must hav been the basic sources of his religious teaching.
West African Sufism was founded upon the complementarity of intellectual and spiritual disciplines. The very first pages of the Jawâhir al Ma'ânî provided an explicit link between Sufism and the study of tawhîd:
Know that God Almighty has attributed to all things both an external and an internal or hidden [aspect]. The soul of man has both an external and internal [aspect] because it is included among [created] things. That which man comprehends with the external aspect of his soul is interpreted by it through image, imagination and the senses; these are not comprehended by his inner soul at all. That which is comprehended by the internal aspect of the soul is knowledge which is communicated directly to the internal soul and is distinguished by sound experiences and the secret of gnosis and the secret of tawhîd…
The manifestations of God Almighty through His hidden name to the internal soul bring about perceptions through the eye of discernment and not through thought or theorizing. He who perceives through the eye of discernment is a knower of truths and of hidden meanings. No outward forms remain with one of what is perceivcd by the eye of discernment. Nor is there any suffering connected with it; one is relieved from the difficulty of thought. With the arrival of these revelations in his inner soul one masters the divine sciences, and the sciences of the secrets of internal (hidden) meanings and of that which is related to the hereafter, and of direct knowledge of the unity of existence and the denial of anything which might be equated with God. And the secrets of tawhîd and of gnosis appear to him 3.
This passage is a philosophical elaboration of the major theme in Cerno Bokar's
religious thought and practice: the search for a hidden reality which he called “the
truth of divine matters,” or “the real and eternal beauties.” 4
According to this passage, knowledge of what Cerno Bokar called the haqîqa
could be attained through the direct methods of gnosis, without “thought
or theorizing.” The suffering which attends the comprehension of lower forms
of written knowledge is not a part of gnosis. But the Tijani books are careful
to insist that all Sufism is built upon the Qur'an and the sunna which are the
starting point of all mysticism. “The knowledge of tasawwuf will emerge from
the essence of the sharî'a only if one probes deeply into the knowledge
of the sharî 'a.” 5 According to this view, all Sufis must first “suffer” through
the trials of academic religious studies in order to reach the point of beginning
mystical training. The mâ'd-dîn and the kabbe were structured in this
way, even if these curricula had reduced the essential academic training to a minimum.
Some aspects of Tijani doctrine implied that even this training could be completely
eliminated and that mere adherence to this Sufi order was a guarantee for entry
This point illustrates one of the more complex aspects of writing about Sufism: the diversity of its interpretation and application. An individual became a Tijani by being authorized by a properly appointed muqaddam to recite the special litany (wird) of Shaykh al-Tijani. Organizationally the order included people from every social level of the society in which it existed: political leaders, highly trained religious scholars, farmers, merchants, and so forth. These people related in many different ways to the mystical teachings of the order. Theoretically, spiritual development as a Tijani depended upon personal devotion and efforts expended in spiritual exercises. In fact, the leaders of the order in West Africa were almost always either very higyhly trained scholars or prominent members of the leading political families, or both. And on the few occasions when the theory of spiritual development became a fact despite established social norms, there was trouble. No matter how radical an institution the Tijaniyya may have been under al-Hajj Umar in the mid-nineteenth century, by the early twentieth its leaders were generally conservative, seeking to protect their social and political positions. By comparison, Cerno Bokar's attitude was relatively radical in that he clung tenaciously to the gnostic goals which he understood to be at the heart of the Tijaniyya. Politically, and even socially, he refused to act out the role of a prominent Futanke which others expected of him.
Although Sufi organisations were profoundly affected by their social milieu, mysticism as a discipline is extremely personal. The structure of the order, as well as the transmission of its teachings and the training of acolytes, was articulated through a network of personal relationships. And status within the hierarchy shifted through a combination of appointments by superiors and of personal mystical experiences, such as visions and dreams, which were themselves understood as indications of one's spiritual development. The entire structure was extremely fluid, and in the end there were no external standards by which objectively to judge the spiritual status of any individual within it; the acolytes themselves decided to whom they would attach themselves on the basis of their own personal judgment of the merits of any particular leader.
Tijani doctrine was highly controversial during the era of its expansion in West Africa which resulted in heated disputes with non-Tijanis. By the early twentieth century these particular disagreements had faded in significance, although many studies of the Tijaniyya have focused on these doctrinal issues in a way which overemphasized their importance in the overall history of the order 6. There has also been a tendency among scholars to look at the spread of the Tijaniyya as a military movement under al-Hajj Umar 7. These views of the Tijaniyya are justifiable: the order did spread in West Africa in its early years due to a jihâd; and the doctrinal disputes were real and significant. But the essence of the Tijaniyya was devotional and mystical. If Cerno Bokar had never read any Sufi book other than the Rimâh and the Jawâhir al-Ma'ânî he would have had ample material to justify and even direct his own mystical inclinations; these works are filled with profound observations and commentaries about the Sufi quest. The contentious doctrines of Shaykh al-Tijani were also there, but Cerno Bokar never had to defend these in his lifetime. Nor did he have to fight a jihâd; indeed, he spoke firmly against such undertakings 8. Even this point of view could be justified by what al-Hajj Umar wrote in the Rimâh about the “greater jihâd” against one's own moral shortcomings as opposed to the “lesser jihâd” of the sword against the unbelievers 9. The emergence of a contemplative mystic like Cerno Bokar from within the Tijaniyya should therefore not be at all surprising. He may appear to be unique in West Africa not because there were not others like him, but because few studies of African Sufism have been made from this particular perspective.
In keeping with the pattern common among Tijanis, Cerno Bokar was appointed and
re-appointed muqaddam many times. The informal, private ceremony of appointment
is in fact one of authorization. According to Tijani doctrine, none of their prayers
is to be recited without proper permission, and a muqaddam is a person who has
been designated to grant these permissions; some senior muqaddamfin are also authorized
to appoint other muqaddamûn. Cerno Bokar may well have originally received the
wird as a child while still in Segu 10. Hampâté Bâ claims he
was even appointed a muqaddam as a child 11, not in the sense of possessing full
authorization to transmit the wird but so that he would be constantly trained and
oriented toward the role which he would eventually play as an adult. We cannot
confirm this practice among West African Tijanis, but Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani seems
to have treated his own sons in this way, naming them as future spiritual leaders
when they were still young.
Cerno's early appointments as an adult were made by muqaddamûn outside the Taal family. The first of them came through the spiritual line of al-Hajj Salmoye of Jenne 12, a Marka who had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca several times and who had received his own appointment as muqaddam in Fez. During the later nineteenth century he was responsible for spreading the Tijaniyya in Jenne, especially among the Marka 13. But he departed for the pilgrimage yet again in 1894, never to return to Jenne, so it is unlikely that he personally appointed Cerno Bokar. Nonetheless, the influence on Cerno of this line of appointment may have been considerable, as we will see below. The second line of appointment by a non-Taal was through Nyaaro Karamoko who belonged to a sharîf family (descendants of the Prophet) that had settled and intermarried in West Africa. Nyaaro Karamoko may have become muqaddam through Amadu b. al-Hajj Umar 14, but in any case this line was certainly Umarian. Later Cerno “renewed” his appointments from both Muntaga Taal of Segu and Seedu Nuuru Taal of Senegal 15. The spiritual significance of these two renewals is difficult to comprehend. Both Muntaga and Seedu Nuuru were grandsons of al-Hajj Umar, and the former claimed to have received an authorization as ultimate spiritual leader from his father, Ahmadu b. al-Hajj Umar. Some evidence suggests that Cerno received these renewals from his cousins out of respect for their status in the family, but that he never accepted them as personal spiritual guides 16. Other sources claim that Cerno functioned as a muqaddam under the authority of Muntaga. The confusion on this issue reflects the complexity, as well as the vagueness, of the matter here under discussion. But the likely conclusion seems to be that although Cerno expressed considerable deference toward Muntaga because of his status in the Taal family, it is doubtful that he regarded him as a superior in religious or spiritual matters, especially because he was unlettered Arabic.
By the early 1920s Cerno Bokar himself was widely recognized as a leading muqaddam of the order. In Bandiagara his position was unrivalled 17, even by Tijani Agibu, now chef de subdivision and ranking Taal in the local political hierarchy. Cerno's influence also extended into the surrounding region; for example, Alfa Umar Dow, the premier religious teacher of Mopti at the time, had renewed his silsila with Cerno Bokar 18. Alfa Umar Dow, a Pullo, was born about 1850 in Hamdullahi; he later lived and studied in Bandiagara during the rule there of Tijani Amadu, from whom he received the wird and was appointed muqaddam of the Tijaniyya. Of particular interest is the fact that Alfa Umar, like al-Hajj Salmoye, had also renewed his initiation from a muqaddam from Fez, Moulay Fadl Allah, in about 1898 19. But by the 1920s he apparently looked to Cerno Bokar as his spiritual guide. It may be about this time, during the early 1920s, that the question of leadership within the Tijaniyya order became a crucial issue. A 1923 French report included the following observation, obtained from an unnamed African informant:
One of the sons of al-Hajj Umar, called Murtada, was at Nioro and died in 1922. Cerno Bokar of Bandiagara was to have replaced him in Nioro as a Tijani muqaddam under the authority of Muntaga (in Segu). But there was a sharîf living in Nioro who never went out of his house, a very pious ascetic. Because of his virtue and piety, the people of Nioro requested that he be made Tijani muqaddam. Muntaga accepted this proposal on the advice of his brother Madani, in Hadejia (Nigeria), with whom he is in constant contact via pilgrims and Jula [merchants]. Madani even advised him to follow the prescriptiom this sharîf 20.
This report, which was quoted above in our discussion of Shaykh Hamallah, indicates
Cerno Bokar's high status in the Tijaniyya order the 1920s. The sharîf referred
to, of course, is Shaykh Hamallah, who we have seen also received his Tijani initiations
and appointments via a North African silsila. Therefore, by this date at least
some West Africans felt that the spiritual status of Hamallah had been accepted
by a number of leading Umarian Tijanis; Cerno Bokar's acceptance at this point may
have been tacit, but according to this report that of Madani, and even Muntaga
was much more explicit. Not all the Umarians agreed with these arrangements following
the death of Murtada, and this situation may well have helped to set the stage
for the unsettling events which followed, when many Umarians tried to undermine
the growing appeal of Hamallah.
We must now attempt to analyse Cerno Bokar's conduct as muqaddam. The functions of this office can be divided into two major aspects. The first, which we have already described, is that of “granter of authorities”: the muqaddam authorizes persons to recite Tijani prayers and he appoints other muqaddamûn. His second function is that of spiritual guide; the muqaddam directs the spiritual development of his disciples. In practice of course these roles might be so completely intermingled as to be almost indistinguishable from one another; one would expect the disciple to receive various authorizations directly from the person who was guiding his spiritual development. But from our information concerning Cerno Bokar, it seems that these roles might be performed by quite separate individuals. Much of Cerno's own spiritual training has been attributed to Amadu Tafsiir Ba who, although a Tijani muqaddam, never played any role in Cerno's various appointments and renewals within the order. Cerno himself initiated six persons into the “secrets” of Sufism, in the tradition of the kabbe discussed in the previous chapter. But he also appointed four Tijani muqaddamfin, about whom we know little more than their names 21; none of these four received the esoteric initiation of the kabbe from him. Little is known as to why such a split should be present and any suggestions put forward here should be considered somewhat speculative. There are, however, a set of indigenous concepts which might explain this situation. In the Rimâh 22 Umar quotes a Sufi authority to the effect that there are three different kinds of shaykh, each of whom is capable of providing a different kind of religious guidance. There is the kind who imparts the knowledge of books (shaykh al-ta'lîm), those who can aid one's spriritual development through association and companionship with him (shaykh al-tarbiya), and the kind who can transmit spiritual benefits and blessings (baraka) through the medium of a personal meeting (shaykh al-tarqiya). Individuals are attracted to any one of these kinds of shaykh on the basis of their own personal inclinations.
Although in practice it might be difficult to classify specific Muslim personalities into any one of these categories, it seems clear that this kind of distinction did function within Islamic society. Cerno Bokar was an academic teacher, but he was not considered the most prominent scholar of Bandiagara; he was, however, felt to be the leading Tijani muqaddamûn. He himself is reputed to have received spiritual training from Amadu Tafsiir, who was not his own muqaddam. As we have seen, the pattern of muqaddamûn relationships was designed not only to transmit authorizations to recite Tijani prayers, but also to bring one closer to the spiritual benefits which flowed from Shaykh al-Tijani, by improving one's relationship (silsila) to him. We have no evidence to suggest that Cerno Bokar ever spent any considerable length of time with any of his own muqaddamûn. These kinds of relationships might be described as tarqiya, those considered spiritually beneficial to an individual even through brief contact. The more lengthy association of tarbiya was perhaps similar to that between Cerno Bokar and Amadu Tafsiir, or between Cerno and some of his own disciples 23. Indeed, from what we know of him, Cerno Bokar seems to have preferred to develop relationships of tarbiya between himself and his disciples, which is evident in the manner in which he is said to have transmitted the wird to new members of the order. His attitude was strict, and he did not make it easy for those who wished to join. One Tijani, a school teacher at the time of his entry into the Tijaniyya, recounted his experience on this occasion with Cerno Bokar and his own personal views about the procedure:
People would come to [Cerno's] house and ask to be given the wird. He kept some of them waiting a long time. I can take myself and my two friends as an example; we waited more than three months. Even then he had not completely decided to allow us to practice [the wird]; he did not permit us to enter the order. One of us asked him his reasons, and finally he said, “Yes.” As muqaddam he would not accept just anyone; he wanted to have confidence in the individual. … He wanted to determine that the person was truly in need of [the wird], and that he would retain it. First of all he would teach the person how to practice his religion: how to pray and how to perform both the major and minor ablutions. When he was confident that the person knew all this, he would permit him to take the wird. Without learning these things it was not worth the trouble, because prayer precedes the wird. Because if you do not have the wird, you are not prevented from entering Paradise, whereas if you do not pray, you will not go to Paradise. However, if you know how to pray, and you have the wird, and if you perform it appropriately, that can only increase your advantages 24.
Another informant provided a more sophisticated explanation of the same procedure:
[Cerno Bokar] was different from all the others who gave the wird, because only if he saw in the person the sign of his faith would he give it. … Some people came only so it would be said they had the wird. … But the wird is only a branch; the trunk is to be found in Islam, which must be understood first. The wird is a kind of decoration, he said, but Islam is that which truly augments one. When the trunk is well established, the beautiful branches will come 25.
In view of what has been said above about the origins of Sufism in the Qur'an
and in the sunna (quoting from al-Hajj
Umar), and of what we have learned about
the structure of Cerno Bokar's mâ'd-dîn, there should be nothing suprising
about the procedures described here: a knowledge of Islam necessarily precedes
the practice of Sufism. But in fact, Cerno's rigorous screening process was very
unusual, and it was resented by some Tijanis. Complaints were apparently submitted
to Seedu Nuuru Taal during one of his early visits to Bandiagara (1928 or earlier)
who felt called upon to express his own disapproval of Cerno Bokar's practices
26. Conditions for membership in the Tijaniyya, of course, included obedience to
the sharî'a, but Shaykh al-Tijani had also stated that the wird should be
given to anyone who requested it 27. Many West African Tijanis had come to accept
minimal requirements for admission to the order, and some leaders were perhaps
also concerned lest the strength of the order and even what they considered its
principles be modified by an overstrict policy of admission.
Seedu Nuuru's disclaimer probably had little effect on Cerno Bokar; but the interesting question remains as to why Cerno should have adopted an approach so seemingly out of line with what appears to have been the predominant Umarian practice. We would suggest that he was motivated to these kinds of practices by his personal preference for the kind of spiritual and religious training which was demanded by the relationships of tarbiya, the progress of a disciple through lengthy association and companionship with his teacher. Having said that Cerno's strict attitude toward new members in the order was unusual, we must add that it was not unique to him. He may well have adopted the practice as a result of his early association with Jenne, whence he received one of his first Tijani appointments as an adult. Paul Marty had noted that the Jenne Tijanis were also strict in the matter of new admissions to the order:
The muqaddamûn do not authorize the wird on the first request. They subject the postulant to a certain novitiate, designed to test him, or rather to increase his desire for an initiation which is all the more valuable for not being squandered 28.
This description could well apply to Cerno Bokar; we cannot say for certain whether he adopted his procedures based on this Jenne precedent, but his attitude reflects his determination to pursue his religious obligations as he saw fit despite external pressures.
Cerno Bokar's role as a spiritual guide is more difficult to describe. Spiritual
guidance concentrates not on the transmission of specific authorizations or knowledge,
but on the nurturing in the adept of his own personal spiritual search. The ultimate
goal is nothing less than the transformation of the individual's entire state of
being so that he might move closer to the presence of God. The mystical quest and
its attendant transformations are discussed at some length in the Tijani literature,
although not usually in any analytical depth. The descriptive idioms and metaphors
are often profoundly evocative, although any clear understanding of how specific
methods work, or precisely when they are suggested to disciples, remains elusive.
Yet, from a survey of the Tijani writings along with material from his discourses,
we can derive an outline of the conceptual system which underlay Cerno's approach
to spiritual guidance, and a few indications of its application.
In the most general terms, the Sufi concept of spiritual quest can be described as follows: the aspirant, under the direction of his guide (murshid), seeks to bring himself into a certain condition (maqâm) in preparation for the possibility that God might transform his state of being (hâl). Man's own efforts, although absolutely necessary, are seen as tentative and transitory; permanent transformation comes only as a gift from God. The role of the spiritual guide is to assist the disciple in preparing himself for this possible transformation, which is seen to proceed through a number of stages 29. Al-Hajj Umar called this lengthy process of spiritual preparation tarbiya:
The intention of tarbiya is the cleansing and purification of the essence from any slackness, so that it will be capable of bearing the burden of the secret (sirr). This is not possible unless wrongdoing is eliminated from it, and unless vanity and falsehood are prohibited from coming into contact with this objective. When for a time these are separated from it, [the essence] exists with only the attributes of its true nature, and God Almighty might purify it without any intermediary 30.
For Umar, as for most Tijanis, spiritual development required both moral change
(elimination of wrongdoing, vanity and falsehood) and psychological change (purification
from internal slackness). The murshid could aid an aspirant in this process only
through lengthy and intimate association, in other words as a shaykh al-tarbiya.
Most discussions of Sufi spiritual transformation contain both moral and psychological overtones. Perhaps the most moralistic of the metaphors employed by al-Hajj Umar in his description of spiritual quest was that of the jihâdal-nafs, or struggle with the carnal soul. This allusion to jihâd (struggle, or “holy war”) is derived from both the Qur'an and the Hadîth. In a lengthy chapter on jihâd in the Rimâh, Umar quotes the Qur'anic verse: “As for those who struggle towards Us, We will guide them in Our paths, for truly God is the Light of the doers of good” (XXIX, 69). He also quotes the following hadîth, pronounced by Muhammad on returning from battle against those who opposed his Muslim community. He said,
“We have returned from the lesser jihâd to the greater jihâd.” And they said, “What is the greater jihâd, O Messenger of God?” He said, “The struggle with the carnal soul and with the passions.” 31
The nafs, or carnal soul, sometimes referred to as the lower soul, can be described as those parts of man which he shares with the animals, including all natural functions and appetites as well as one's debilitory habits and passions. Indeed, the Sufis often describe the nafs with the characteristics of certain animals:
… the covetousness of the crow, the greed of the dog, the pride of the peacock, the baseness of the calf, the unruliness of the lizard, the malice of the camel, the restlessness of the cat, the ferociousness of the lion, the wickedness of the snake, the shyness of the mouse, and the frivolity of the monkey. 32
Although the nafs can be the host to all these sinful attributes, and be “more evil than seventy Satans,” one is cautioned against rejecting it entirely. “Rather one must accept it as his companion, through which he will manage his struggle and his flight [from evil passions].” 33 Bringing the nafs under control is often likened to training an animal (in the following passage either a camel or a horse):
… beat it with the whip of the Book [Qur'an], bind it with the halter of reproach and judgment, set limits upon it with conscientious rebuke and reprimand, and place the saddle of firm intention upon it with the girth of determination. Then mount it with the profession of the sharî'a and ride it into the fields of Truth [al-Haqq] 34.
Cerno Bokar spoke in a similar vein when he described one's efforts to control the nafs as a shepherd seeks to control his sheep:
When sheep become agitated, the shepherd is no longer able to guide them. Then one sees him doing everything to prevent them from scattering. What is true for the temporal shepherd is also useful for the spiritual shepherd. Each of us is a shepherd for his passions. Certainly it is necessary to master them; they are just anothef kind of sheep. We must avoid the possibility that they will leap over our heads, overrun us and drag us into a moral abyss, a valley where neither the soul nor the spirit can survive 35.
The taming, training and control of the nafs is man's major task in his spiritual
search; he begins with this and probably is never able to abandon it. He is able
to carry on this struggle because, although the nafs constitutes a great part of
his functioning life, man also possesses other constituent parts which are relatively
independent of it. These include the intellect ('aql), the heart (qalb), and the
spirit (rûh); additional attributes to these might be included in discussions
by various Sufis 36. Cerno Bokar never presents a systematic discussion of how
all these parts of man fit together and interact 37, but we can derive some understanding
of his views from his discourses. He believed that the human spirit (rûh)
was a particle of the Divine Spirit entrusted to man via Adam at the time of his
creation. This idea is taken from the Qur'an: “And when I have fashioned
him and breathed into him of My Spirit, then fall down before him prostrate” (XXXVIII,
72) 38. One of the goals of the Sufi quest for Cerno was to achieve a state in
which “the spirit is constantly occupied with reciting the name of the Lord.” 39
Many Sufis would claim that the natural propensity of the spirit is to move toward
God, from which it is hindered by the evil ways of the nafs. The heart (qalb) does
not figure much in Cerno's discourses. Many Sufis consider it to be the seat of
faith; Cerno's view may be very close to this, for he sees the heart as the source
of a certain internal energy which can transform one's faith to a higher form.
He speaks of a black material which God has placed in each human heart, which can
be ignited through “prayer, love and charity” and maintained at high
heat through the recitation of dhikr (special Sufi prayers). Should this fire be
extinguished and the material be allowed to grow cold, it can poison the “spiritual
organism.” 40. This idea of internal heat can also be found in the Rimâh where Umar discusses the conditions for reciting dhikr. One is prohibited from
drinking water either during or immediately after the recitations because “the
heat of the dhikr attracts illuminations, revelations and ‘mystical experiences’ … but
drinking water stifles this heat.” 41
Although in this view both the spirit and the heart are separate from the nafs, neither of these parts of man is seen to possess the capacity to stand completely alone against the nafs. The properly trained intellect ('aql), however, can actively direct and control the nafs. Umar quotes one of his Sufi authorities to the effect that in the jihâd al-nafs one must rely on the “prohibitive [faculties] of the intellect and of one's self-will [mulk]” 42. These are the commanders in one's internal war against the spiritually debilitating qualities of the nafs. The intellect, then so central in Cerno's thought as man's most important possession in his initial understanding of religion continues to play a vital role during his spiritual search. His concept of the role of the intellect is close to that described by Muhammad al-Ghazâlî in his Alchemy of Happiness 43. He likens man's constituent parts to a kingdom in which the sovereign is the heart and the prime minister is the reason. Reason administers the kingdom, and should some subject rebel, “following his own passions,” then this is reported to the heart so that the disorder can be be controlled. The concept of the intellect as a kind of watchdog and adviser to a sovereign heart, which is compassionate in the exercise of its authority seems much closer to the Sufism of Cerno Bokar than the metaphor of jihâd and warfare, which al-Hajj Umar pursues at length in his writings. Cerno endorsed the jihâd al-nafs, the aim of which he saw as “the vanquishing of our faults: egoism, exaggerated love of self, scorn for one's fellow man, and so on.” 44 But he consistently spoke of his own method as one of love and charity. The faults of the seeker must be overcome, but the methods employed by Cerno were rather more indirect than those suggested by some of the authorities whom al-Hajj Umar chose to quote. As we have already seen, Cerno believed the intellect gave man the capacity to understand his position in life, his relationship to God and therefore the necessity to pursue his religion. Through the intellect man could also understand the values to be derived from “initiating” oneself into the Sufi way. Once embarked, the intellect would continue to serve as an internal guide. Indeed, man had been endowed with intelligence for precisely this purpose:
God has no need of reason nor of human intelligence. He gave them to us for use in this life. We are not therefore to bring them untouched to the grave, that is, to live and die without meditating on and drawing spiritual profit from the events which happen to us and from the things which we ascertain 45.
In the pattern of Cerno Bokar's spiritual search, then, the faculties of the intellect are directed more toward perception and direction than toward punishment and prohibition. This approach seems more gentle than some of the harsh directives which Umar quoted in his description of the jihâd al-nafs, and yet in another section of the Rimâh he defines the Tijaniyya as a “way of thankfulness,” or a “way of gratitude and love” as opposed to a “way of struggle.” 46. This statement is not the contradiction it might at first seem; Umar is not suggesting that Tijanis do not engage in the jihâd al-nafs, but rather that they do not tend to employ some of the more extreme or physically demanding spiritual exercises endorsed by some Sufi groups. Tijanis concentrated on the recitation of prayers and sought “the attachment of one's heart to the Truth [God].” But other exercises were also employed, precisely which ones and when they were suggested was left to the discretion of the murshid. One might, for example, be directed into isolation (khalwa), or to fast, or to recite certain dhikr. The following passage briefly indicates how these kinds of exercises were seen to aid the adept in the struggle with the evils of the nafs, not by direct confrontation but indirectly through the effects of the exercises themselves:
In isolation one is cut off from those bearers of falsehood who number among the lifeless; in performing dhikr one must abandon the speech of error, desire and nonsense which is [normally] on his tongue; by reducing the intake of food one reduces the vapour in the brain and thereby lessens the carnal appetite so that the intellect can return to its devotion to God and His Prophet 47
Cerno Bokar may have employed all these kinds of exercises in guiding his own
disciples, but, judging from his discourses, he placed greatest emphasis upon the
recitation of the prescribed Tijani prayers (the wird and the various adhkâr)
and personal meditation, especially of Qur'anic verses. Recitations of prayers
were recommended specifically for the purpose of assisting a disciple in his struggle
to overcome those habitual propensities which hindered his movement toward God.
The emphasis placed on such recitations was in no way unique to the Tijaniyya;
it pervaded Sufi Islam. It will be recalled that al-Sanûsî in his 'Aqîdat
al-Sughrâ, for example, had enjoined the frequent recitation of the shahâdâ until
its meaning “mingled with one's flesh and blood.” 48. Although the recitation
of these prayers was believed to impart spiritual benefit from mere repetition,
many leading Sufi thinkers also felt that the actual manner of recitation was of
critical importance to the effectiveness of the prayer. Al-Sanûsî had
said that the shahâdâ should be repeated “while calling to mind
that which it contains from the articles of faith.” Al-Hajj
Umar, in a passage
very reminiscent of al-Sanûsî, counsels that during the recitation
of the shahâdâ one should “banish everything from his heart which
might take the place of God Almighty so that the phrase ‘There is no god
but God’ will exert an influence upon the heart and so that this influence
can spread to other parts of the body.” 49. He also said that when reciting
the dhikr, “one should bring its meaning into his heart each time [he repeats
it], and he should pay attention to his heart, evoking the meaning until his heart
is reciting the dhikr and he is listening to it.” 50. In other words, prayers
were not to be recited mechanically but with an intense concentration of attention
so that their meanings might come to life within the disciple's own body.
This internal reordering constitutes the spiritual transformation which is the goal of the Sufis, and one can now begin to comprehend that for all its moral overtones, its profoundest impact is psychological. To achieve a state in which, as Cerno Bokar said, “the spirit is constantly occupied with reciting the name of the Lord” requires considerable change within the individual. The language of Cerno's discourses describes these changes and transformations in the metaphorical terminology of the changing states of heat, light and water. He viewed man's internal condition as in a state of constant flux, and his efforts at spiritual guidance were toward that internal reordering through which one might receive the permanent spiritual transformation which can only come from God. Sufis refer to this permanent transformation as being “opened” by God, an “opening” which renders one receptive to higher spiritual substances.
In all this process the murshid acts as a guide. Strictly speaking, according to Tijani doctrine, spiritual guides or even the shuyûkh of the order could not of their own will bestow spiritual favour or grace (baraka) upon their followers. The murshid was able to direct others in their spiritual efforts because he had himself passed through this process. In addition, because he had been “opened” by God, spiritual forces or substances could be transmitted through him, but these could not be received by another individual unless the recipient had prepared himself spiritually for them. (This is the relationship of tarqiya, mentioned above.) Or so said the Tijani books. Popular West African belief, among Tijanis and Muslims in general, did not conform with this strict interpretation; most people believed that holy men possessed supernatural powers and that their blessings could be had for the asking. The vast majority of marabouts and muqaddamftn also embraced this popular belief and not a few offered their spiritual power for sale in the form of charms and fetishes.
These considerations bring us to a discussion of the relationships between Sufism as a personal search for the spiritual transformation which has been described here and Sufism as a popular manifestation of religious belief andpractice. The vast majority of Tijanis would never undertake what Umar described as the jihâd al-nafs; they would perform the prayers and recitations required of all members of the order, but probably for the most part not with the kind of concentrated attention demanded by the shuyûkh. Not even the gentle spiritual proddings of Cerno Bokar found a wide audience of determined spiritual acolytes. But Shaykh al-Tijani had promised exceptional benefits for all the members of his order, not just those who engaged in the rigours of spiritual self-discipline. He claimed to be superior to all the awliya' and that consequently all members of his order, as well as their relations and descendants, would enter paradise “without reckoning or punishment.” 51. The first of these statements angered many Sufis, including the leaders of the West African Qadiriyya; the second was considered by many scholars to be heretical since the subjection of all persons to the Last judgment is one of the fundamental dogmas of Islam 52. We cannot here enter into a discussion of the learned debates which centered on these doctrinal issues, although they greatly affected the early years of Tijani expansion. The point to be emphasized here is that the Tijaniyya addressed not just a scholarly and spiritual élite, but the Muslim population at large. The Prophet had ordered al-Tijani to transmit his wird “to every Muslim who requested it, no matter what his condition, great or small, free man or woman, obedient or disobedient.” 53. In such circumstances, beliefs and practices which were widespread among the general population were bound to become mixed with Tijani practice, and the stricter doctrine was bound to become subject to looser and looser interpretation.
Our purpose here is to place Cerno Bokar in this wider context of Tijani belief and practice from the perspective of several aspects of Tijani doctrine which were particularly prone to distortion, such as the role of the shaykh and the walî, the performance of miracles, and the concept of intercession. There seems no reason to doubt that Cerno Bokar accepted all the tenets of Tijani doctrine, including Shaykh al-Tijani's more extreme claims; however, the interpretation and emphasis he placed upon the various elements of the doctrine were his own. Let us begin with the concept of shaykh or walî. Al-Hajj Umar stated that a walî is “one who knows nothing, becomes the companion to no one, and neither serves nor loves anyone except God.” And the shaykh is “the perfected walî whose position among his people can be likened to the position of the Prophet among his community; pledging allegiance to him is like pledging allegiance to the Prophet, because he is a representative ofthe Prophet.” 54. Every shaykh, then, is a walî ; the awliya' form a mystical élite, they are the leaders of the spiritual hierarchy. From the point of view of spiritual search, one could do no better than to find and submit to a shaykh. Who, then, were the shuyûkh and awliyâ' of the Tijaniyya order and how could they be recognised? Of course, the founder himself, Ahmad al-Tij ani, was a walî; he knew this because the Prophet had appeared to him while awake, not in a dream, and instructed him on his mission. Al-Hajj Umar devotes an entire chapter of the Rimâh to supporting the contention that a walî sees the Prophet while awake 55. It will be recalled that Umar himself had been appointed by Muhammad al-Ghâlî as a khalîfa, or successor, to Shaykh al-Tijani for all of West Africa. Umar considered the khalîfa to be “the representative of the shaykh in an absolute sense” and therefore the spiritual superior to the muqaddamûn 56. The authority for this appointment had come from al-Tijani himself, in a vision; confirmation of the appointment came in subsequent visions of both the Prophet and al-Tijani who appeared both to Umar and to various prominent persons close to him in order to indicate his special status in the order 57. In his descriptions of these visions, Umar refers to himself several times as a shaykh; we must therefore conclude that he also considered himself to be a walî.
Tijanis, like other Sufis, believed that visions were related to divine revelations. Although the Prophetic cycle had ended, some manifestations of God's revelations were still available to the most upright Muslims in the form of visions. Umar quotes al-Tirmidhî to the effect that “visions (ru'yâ) are from God, whereas the dream (hulm) is from Satan.” 58. The visions in which the Prophet appears are known to be sound, because “Satan cannot take the form of the Prophet.” 59. Nor can Satan resemble the shaykh, because “the shaykh follows the Prophet.” Therefore visions are very important to Tijanis for aiding them in their spiritual search and in indicating to them their spiritual guides. As we shall see below, Cerno Bokar was guided toward Shaykh Hamallah by a vision 60.
Although one can prepare oneself to receive visions through a series of prayers called istikhara, the vision itself is believed to come from a higher spiritual source. The conceptual pattern here is therefore similar to that discussed above with reference to the spiritual transformations of the Sufi search. Man receives visions through divine favour; he can only prepare himself to receive them, but he cannot directly induce them. Much the same can be said for miracles (karâmât). Miracles are extraordinary events which manifest themselves through a walî, not due to his personal powers, but because he is close to God. In the Rimâh al-Hajj Umar follows the more orthodox Sufi line in warning against seeking miracles, and he quotes the rather vivid hadîth that “miracles are the menstruation of men.” 61. Miracles were considered a test or a trial, because they tended to be a diversion away from spiritual efforts. Most of these doctrinal subtleties were lost, of course, on the majority of Tijanis and other Muslims. The occurrence of miracles was accepted as fact by all Tijanis; and these miracles were manifested through holy men and were believed to be signs of their closeness to God. It should come as no surprise that “miracle mongering” was widespread among those who wished to prove the powers of their particular shaykh.
Another concept which occupies a prominent position in Tijani doctrine is that of intercession. Strictly, intercession (shafâ'a) refers to the Tijani doctrine that the Prophet Muhammad will intercede for all Tijanis at the Last Judgment and that they will therefore enter directly into Paradise. However, we wish here to discuss another concept which is occasionally referred to in popular belief as intercession 62. This is the idea of the intermediary role of a shaykh in the transmission of spiritual grace. Al-Tijani claimed that the Prophet told him: “I am your intermediary (wâsita) and the one who will aid your [spiritual] actualization, so abandon everything which you have received from the other Sufi ways.” 63. Al-Tijani in turn became the intermediary for those who followed him, and the later shuyûkh of the order were seen to have inherited a similar spiritual capacity. The popular Tijani belief in many areas was that one's shaykh had the capacity to intervene on an individual's behalf with the higher spiritual powers. The difference between the popular belief and the actual doctrine is subtle but important. The doctrine views the intermediary as a vehicle for the transmission of spiritual forces; the individual receives or transmits these forces but he has no personal influence over them. An example of this concept can be seen in the following comment on the dhikr quoted from the Rimâh:
Whenever one begins the dhikr, the image of his shaykh should be present in his heart, and he should seek his aid. The heart of the shaykh is turned toward the heart of his own shaykh, and so on to the level of the Prophet. And the heart of the Prophet Muhammad is constantly turned towards the Divine Presence. Thus, when one pronounces the dhikr, he should envisage his shaykh and seek the aid of his saintliness. Then aid will flow forth from the Divine Presence to the Prophet; then it will flow from the heart of the Prophet to the hearts of all the shuyûkh of all ranks until it reaches his shaykh, and then from the heart of his shaykh into his own heart 64.
This spiritual chain of transmission is effective only insofar as each individual
link has been properly prepared to perform his function. Similarly, at the very
end of the chain, a supplicant cannot expect to receive the benefits of the baraka
(spiritual grace) transmitted by his shaykh unless he is spiritually prepared.
The popular practice was rather different to this; supplications were made profligately
to holy men, both living and dead, in the belief that such requests would be granted.
And not a few religious figures encouraged these beliefs.
Cerno Bokar embraced Tijani doctrine in its strictest sense. He never claimed to be a shaykh or a walî, although some people may have considered him so. He was given to visions, and he attempted to interpret them for himself and for his disciples. But we have no record of his having had a vision of the Prophet Muhammad. And although some of his disciples claimed he had been “illuminated” and “opened by God” 65, he himself remained unpretentious and humble in this regard, as his discourses reflect. When asked to discuss the various forms of “mystical light,” he opened his remarks with the rejoinder, “I am not, as you believe, a man who has seen all these lights.” 66. He seemed to strive to avoid the kind of veneration which might subvert his efforts to aid those around him in their personal religious and spiritual search. He addressed his disciples as “brother” and he refused himself to be called by any elevated titles. In response to the suggestion that he was possessed of special powers, he was rather direct: “Do not believe that we dispense miraculous means for curing ill souls. We aid our brothers by submitting to them holy verses for their reflection.” 67. On one occasion a woman asked Cerno for a blessing which would render her “pleasant, affable and patient.” He sent her home and admonished her that she possessed the capacity to achieve these qualities through her own efforts. In so doing, he told her: “The blessings which will come to you will be far superior to those which you could obtain from me; they will be from God and the Prophet.” 68.
The claims by his disciples about Cerno Bokar's spiritual accomplishments, and his own disclaimers, say much about the dynamics of Sufi relationships. As Hampâté Bâ said, “a student can do nothing else but love his master, because he is his master. For him, he has accomplished everything. Otherwise, he would not have chosen him as a master; he is his model.” 69. Becoming a Sufi disciple in the more profound sense of the term implied a personal desire to change one's state of being; part of the process of this transformation was to imitate the behaviour of one's spiritual guide. Even those persons in the order who were not inclined toward the more profound aspects of spiritual development looked to their spiritual guides for special spiritual benefits. It is therefore not surprising that people's personal hopes were reflected in how they saw their own spiritual superiors. By contrast, the guide himself, if he were honest, was required to temper the imagination of his disciples. This is why the descriptions of Cerno Bokar by his own followers usually tell us more about them than about him; and they also help us to see the kinds of concerns which brought people together in spiritual search.
I knew Cerno Bokar Saalif from the time of my adolescence, by his wisdom and his incomparable behaviour. As I grew older I continued to retain a great esteem for him. When I was of the age to marry I came into direct contact with him, in order to convert to religion, in order to understand my dîn, and subsequently to adopt the Tijaniyya order. … It was in 1933; I remember this date because it was the same year that I took the wird, it was the same year that my son Tijani was born, and it was the same year that I completely abandoned the cigarette. … That is why I remember it so well. Because each time that I ran into Cerno, I was smoking, and I was obliged to throw the cigarette behind me in order to greet him and shake his hand. But when I took the wird the time had come to abandon the cigarette, and I gave it up completely.... Cerno was never angry. Whatever the situation, he was never able to see two people in discord and not immediately try to reconcile them, man and wife, relatives, and even if it was a question of veritable enemies. He always tried to re-establish order. He followed precisely what the Qur'an said. … For me, personally, I never found anyone like him, until I was transferred to Timbuktu where I found Shaykh Tijani who was also a real man, a fervent Muslim 70.
I know very little about Cerno Bokar because I did not study with him. It was my search for a shaykh which brought us together. I studied with Alfa Ali Sek; Cerno was also his shaykh, because he was closer to Shaykh Umar and because he was also master of the wird. … Cerno Bokar had no desire except the religion of God; that is what he searched for. He decided in his heart to work for what would bring him close to God. He became one who searched for truth, he became a friend of religion. He was very good; he gave sermons in order to show how religion should be practiced; there was no one like him. 71.
In all my life, among all the men I have met, I would place no one above Cerno. For me he is insan al-kâmil [the perfected man], but that does not mean that he is in fact insan al-kâmil, … because he would himself deny it. And I cannot know him better than he knows himself. The proof of it is how much he always asked his students to pray for him. … He did this many times in my presence; the more lowly the person's status the more Cerno requested his prayers. For example, an old woman might come, completely simple, in order to request his prayers. After Cerno had prayed for her he would say to hef: “But you, too, you must pray for me.” Many people were astonished by that.... That was a sort of consciousness of his state and of what man should be. It is a way of struggling against pride, and against the belief that one is better than others. As for me, I think that nothing is more dangerous in mysticism than to believe that one is superior to others.” 72.
1. Discourse 36.
3. JM, I, 23, in a passage based on the writings of Ibn 'Arabî. For a discussion of the these ideas, see Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabî (Princeton, N.J., 1969), 114-6. The reader should note that portions of the Jawâhir al-Ma'anî were apparently plagiarized from a biograpy of a late seventeenth century Sufi, Ahmad b. 'Abdallâh Ma'n al-Andahisl. I have not checked this biography in order to know how extensively 'Alî Harâzim relied on this work, but this fact does not seem significant to our purposes here. Our concern is the Jawâhir al-Ma'anî as a Sufi source book, not as an accurate account of Ahmad al-Tijani's life. See Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 24-5.
4. TB, 86; VE, 166-7.
5. JM, 1, 12, quoting al-Sha'rânî.
6. See, for example, Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya.
7. The most extreme example of this is J.S. Trimingham, A History of Islam in West Africa (London, 1965); see also Oloruntimehin, Segu Empire.
8. TB, 84; VE, 158-9.
9. Rimâh, II, 209-36.
10. Amadou Hampâté Bâ claims Cerno was first given the wird by Ahmadu b. al-Hajj Umar; interview of 2 May 1978.
11. Interview of 1 July 1980.
12. Interviews with Amadou Hampâté Bâ of 2 May 1978 and 1 July 1980.
13. P. Marty, Soudan, II, 142ff.
14. Interview with Amadou Hampâté Bâ, 2 May 1978.
15. Interview with Amadou Hampâté Bâ, 1 July 1980.
16. Interviews with Amadou Hampâté Bâ, 2 May 1978 and 1 July 1980.
17. ANM, Fonds Récent, 4-E-18, Mission de Capitaine André, 192 3.
18. This conclusion is drawn from references to his relationship with Cerno Bokar in ANM, Fonds Ancien, 1-D-49, Monographies du Cercle de Mopti, and Fonds Récent, 4-E-14, Enquête sur l'Islam.
19. Marty, Soudan, 11, 215-7.
20. ANM, Fonds Récent, 4-E-18, Affaires Musulmanes, Mission de Capt. André, 1923.
21. Interview with Sory Hamadun Bala of 30 September 1977; they were Jibril of Amba, Bubakar of Kenje, Hamadun Bory of Karakinde, a Pullo, and Yaqûb, a Sarakolle from Tugan. Amadou Hampâté Bâ also claims to have been appointed a muqaddam by Cerno, interview of 8 July 1981.
22. Rimâh, I, 94, quoting al-Zarrûq. Baba Thimbely commented on this passage in an interview, 1 October 1977.
23. Baba Thimbely considered Cerno to be a shaykh al-tarbiya, interview of 21 January 1978.
24. Interview with Dauda Maiga, 30 September 1977.
25. Interview with Baba Thimbely, 29 September 1977; Amadou Hampâté Bâ gave a very similar account in an interview, 3 May 1978. Cerno Bokar was aided in his screening and selection of disciples by a leading scholar of Bandiagara and a close friend, Alfa Ali Sek. It was he who determined if the person knew the fundamentals of Islamic practice, and he who explained the conditions for membership in the order, which had been stated by Shaykh al-Tijani himself. Without a letter of support from Alfa Ali, Cerno accepted no one into the order. Interviews with Baba Thimbely, 29 September 1977 and with Amadou Hampâté Bâ, 3 May 1978.
26. Baba Thimbely interview of 29 September 1977 and Dauda Maiga interview of 30 September 1977. The earliest archival reference to Seedu Nuuru being in Bandiagara is 22 March 1928: ANM, Fonds Récent, 1-E-31, Rapports politiques et rapports de Tournées.
27. JM, I, 122.
28. Marty, Soudan, II, 140.
29. For a general discussion of this subject, see Trimingham, Sufi Orders, and Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions.
30. Rimâh, I, 132-3; for a very different definition of tarbiya, which suggests the wide range of interpretation on such doctrinal matters present in West Africa, see the testimony of a Hausa informant in M. Hiskett, “The Community of Grace,” 120-1.
31. Rimâh, II, 211.
32. Ibid., II, 212, quoting from Siraj al mulûk of al-Turtûshî.
33. Ibid., II, 216, quoting from Bahjat al-nufûs.
34. Ibid., II, 213-4, quoting from Sullam al-ridhwân li-dhawq halâwat al-imân.
35. Discourse 9.
36. For a discussion of these and other attributes, consult Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions.
37. For an example of such a systematic discussion, see Aba Himid Muhammad al-Ghazâlî, The Alchemy of Happiness, translated from the Turkish by Henry A. Homes (Albany, 1873).
38. Discourse 1.
39. Discourse 5.
40. Discourses 52 and 53.
41. Rimâh, II, 4.
42. Rimâh, II, 216, quoting Bahjat al-nufûs.
43. Alchemy of Happiness, 18ff.
44. TB, 84; VE, 158-9.
45. Discourse 49.
46. Rimâh, I, 133.
48. See above, p. 80.
49. Rimâh, 11, 4.
51. For a list and discussion of these benefits, see Rimâh, 11, 40-50.
52. For a general discussion of these issues, see Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 163-85.
53. JM, I, 122.
54. Taken from the headings of chapters 17 and 18 in the Rim&acir;h, 1, 113 and 117.
55. Rimâh, I, 198-211.
56. Ibid., I, 184.
57. Ibid., I, 184ff.
58. Rimâh, I, 192.
60. For a further discussion of this point, see Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya, 165-6.
61. Rimâh, 1, 13 1. For a general discussion of miracles, see Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, 199-213.
62. See J.R. Paden, Religion and Political Culture in Kano, 67.
63. JM, I, 5 1.
64. Rimâh, 11, 2-4, quoting from Shaykh Jibril al-Khirmâbâdhî.
65. Interviews with Sori Hamadun Bala of 30 September 1977 and with Koola Sidi of 20 March 1978.
66. Discourse 55.
67. TB, 78; VE, 140.
68. Discourse 15.
69. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, interview of 12 May 1978.
70. Dauda Maiga, interview of 29 September 1977.
71. Baba Thimbely, interview of 29 September 1977.
72. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, interview of 12 May 1978.