History. Culture. Islam

Louis Brenner
West African Sufi
The Religious Heritage and Spiritual Search of Cerno Bokar Saalif Taal

University of California Press
Berkeley & Los Angeles. 1984. 215 p.

A Personal Introduction

“Cerno Bokar decided that he would work for what would bring him close to God.
He became one who searched for Truth; he became a friend of religion.”
Baba Thimbely, 1977
“The light of Truth ... is a darkness more brilliant than all lights combined.”
Cerno Bokar, 1933
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Cerno Bokar Saalif Taal was the great-nephew of al-Hajj Umar Taal, the renowned nineteenth century jihadist and proselytizer of the Tijaniyya Sufi order in West Africa. Born in about 1883 in Segu when this city was still under African suzerainty, Cerno Bokar grew to maturity in the context of the imposition of French colonial power and the concurrent erosion of Tijani political and religious authority. Despite the hardships of his youth, his own religious education was not ignored; he received a sound scholarly training and eventually became a teacher in Bandiagara. Although considered a good scholar by his contemporaries, he was not particularly interested in producing bookish scholars. Rather he addressed himself to the problem of teaching the tenets of Islam to illiterate adults, especially to recent converts. But even more important, he devoted constant efforts toward encouraging those around him to activate the principles of their religion within themselves in the context of their everyday lives. This striving to move “beyond the letter” of the written word, as he stated it, was the real essence of his own spiritual search.
This book is an attempt to explore Cerno Bokar's spiritual quest as the interaction between, on the one hand, the influences of his social and religious environment and, on the other, his own personal yearning to find the “Truth.” Cerno Bokar spoke often about the “Truth,” although he never seems to have given specific definition to the word. One of the Muslim names for God is al-Haqq, the Truth. Another Arabic word, haqiiqa, can also be translated as “truth;” in Sufi terminology it refers to ultimate, divine reality as well as to the highest degree of mystical attainment. Cerno Bokar employed all these meanings in his teachings, but he also spoke of Truth as a kind of essential, universal religion and as a kind of mystical intuition. This vagueness of definition reflects an inherent characteristic of the man, because the emphasis in Cerno Bokar's life was much less in proclaiming any particular “Truth” than in constantly searching for it. Of course, on one level he taught the theological dogmas of Islam which explained the nature of God in terms of His various attributes, but as a Sufi he accepted that the comprehension of the true nature of God might well be beyond his capacity. The saints of Islam might achieve such a profound understanding, but Cerno Bokar never claimed to have done so himself. Everything we know about him suggests that he engaged throughout his adult life in a search for something which he could not clearly define, but in which his belief was sustained by his faith in its existence.
My attraction to a study of Cerno Bokar's life and thought resulted from my fascination with his humble yet persistent sense of search as well as with the directness and sincerity of his observations and commentaries. My first introduction to him was in the biography by Amadou Hampaté Bâ and Marcel Cardaire, Tierno Bokar, le Sage de Bandiagara, at a period when I had become interested in Sufism in West Africa; my particular concern was to determine to what extent an active spiritual discipline existed within the West African Sufi brotherhoods, about which most scholarly writings had emphasized their social and political aspects. Cerno Bokar convinced me that this spiritual discipline existed even in the twentieth century, and my first inclination was to translate into English Le Sage de Bandiagara in order to make this information available to a broader English-speaking audience. However, upon reflection I realized that, important contribution as it was, the Bâ and Cardaire book left unexplored many dimensions of Cerno Bokar's religious thought and his Sufi beliefs and practices. I therefore embarked upon a research project whose aim was to trace Cerno Bokar's religious heritage in as many directions as I was able. In this I relied heavily on the assistance and cooperation of Amadou Hampaté Bâ, through whose agency the vast majority of what we know of Cerno's life and teaching has been preserved and transmitted. But I also interviewed others who knew and studied under Cerno Bokar, I read the West African Tijani books, and I combed African archives for relevant material. In the process I discovered the collection of discourses, originally recorded by Hampaté Bâ, which are included in Part III of this book. Although about half of these discourses had already been published in Le Sage de Bandiagara, I was struck anew by their uniqueness. Here we seemed to have a body of demonstrably valid oral material, not only valuable for documenting Cerno Bokar's thought, but also illustrative of the dynamic and creative ways in which oral instruction could complement literate scholarship in Muslim West Africa. I was tempted to translate and publish them on their own, but I resisted that impulse as well, concluding that such a publication would take us no further in our understanding of the background of Cerno Bokar's thought than a translation of Le Sage.
Even by the time I began to write up some of the results of my research, I still intended to attempt a rather specialized analysis of Cerno Bokar's thought and teaching, a kind of religious study. But almost simultaneously with putting pen to paper, I realized that for several reasons I could not limit myself in this way. Firstly, my inclinations as a historian simply did not permit me to ignore the milieu in which Cerno Bokar lived his life. More significantly, his spiritual search as a Tijani Sufi led him at the end of his life to submit to the spiritual authority of Shaykh Hamallah of Nioro, an act which resulted in the harsh suppression of both Cerno and his followers. These events could not be understood without some knowledge of the conditions of French colonialism and the politics of the religious brotherhoods in the twentieth century. Cerno Bokar's difficulties resulted from his deep sense of personal integrity; he had concluded that Hamallah was the most elevated Tijani spiritual leader of his time, and it was therefore necessary to submit to him. He was prepared to keep secret his relationship to Hamallah, because he did not consider public proclamation of his beliefs to be a part of his spiritual quest. But when his affiliation became known, he absolutely refused to retreat from his position, as a result of which he suffered severe consequences. When his Sufi principles came into conflict with the conditions of his ordinary life, Cerno Bokar staunchly stood by his principles.
Pondering the significance of these events led me to a further appreciation of why one must study spiritual search in the context of ordinary life. Cerno Bokar was concerned that people activate their religious principles in their everyday lives. His is not a teaching of social isolation nor of asceticism. Ordinary life can provide aids to one's search, and it can also throw up obstacles; many examples of both are given in the discourses. But in no case can spiritual search be conducted without reference to life itself, as one lives it. For Cerno Bokar there was no search set apart from life, nor indeed was there any real life without search. But if my goal has been to explore these two themes in relation to one another, the result has fallen far short of my original hopes. Although we posses in his discourses a much more intimate knowledge about what (and how) Cerno Bokar thought than about many other better known West African Muslim scholars, not nearly enough detail is known about him to do justice to the kind of project I had envisaged. The discourses provide remarkable insight into Cerno Bokar's personal search for religious understanding, but they do not refer to specific events and are not very useful in reconstructing his biography. We have no accounts of Cerno's own feelings about major events in his life such as his submission to Shaykh Hamallah, his decision after much hesitation to become a teacher, his relationships with various members of the extended Taal family, nor about his views and attitudes toward French colonial authority. The absence of personal testimony by Cerno Bokar about his life is exacerbated first by the fact that very few of his close associates survive today to speak about him, and secondly, that one of these associates, Amadou Hampaté Bâ, has developed a very particular view of the man as his disciple and his biographer, and as the propagator of his teachings. No study of Cerno Bokar could be undertaken without considerable reliance upon Hampaté Bâ, who is not and has never claimed to be an unbiased and objective critic of Cerno and his teachings. Hampaté Bâ has candidly warned me that a disciple's evaluation of his spiritual teacher has little objective value:

He cannot not love his spiritual master because he is his master. For him, he has accomplished everything; otherwise he would not have chosen him as his master. He is his model. For example, I can say that for me Cerno Bokar is insaan al-kaamil, a perfected man. But that does not mean that he is, in fact, insaan al-kaamil, because he himself would not accept it. But for me he is insaan al-kaamil because I have never seen anyone whom I would place above him 1.
Nonetheless, the man who spoke these words has been an invaluable source of information and encouragement in all of my research on Cerno Bokar. Hampaté Bâ recorded Cerno's discourses in 1933, he coauthored a biography of him in 1957 (Le Sage de Bandiagara) which was extensively revised in 1980 2, and I have spent many hours with him in fruitful and fascinating conversation. It therefore seems essential that I say something about him and my relationship with him by way of introducing this book.


It is appropriate to begin with myself. In the early 1970s I developed a keen interest in Sufism. I was particularly disturbed that West African Sufism was very often depicted as being devoid of any real or profound spiritual dimension. Most scholarly interest centered on the brotherhoods as social, political and economic organizations. Passing reference was usually made by authors to what Sufism was allegedly about: mystical union with God, salvation through prayer and devotional exercises, a comprehension of the esoteric dimensions of existence; but after a few pages' discussion of these matters, most scholars devoted the bulk of their works to an analysis of the brotherhoods as social and political organizations. My efforts to move beyond this approach began with a wide-ranging reading programme about Sufism outside West Africa, the basic purpose of which was to discover what Sufism was “supposed” to be so that I could then look for it in West Africa. My thinking in this period was recorded in a review article written in 1972 3. The immediately preceding years had seen the appearance of a spate of new books on Sufism, and I reviewed several of them by Martin Lings, F. Schuon and ldries Shah. Although all these authors might not have been happy to find themselves associated with one another in a single article, they were definitely grouped together in my mind because each of them, along with others, had given me some essential guidance on how to approach the study of Sufism. But my conclusions about West Africa in this article were not very edifying. Aside from indicating certain underlying features of Sufism, I basically argued that one could not judge Sufism by external appearances. Just because al-Hajj Umar had led a bloody and ruthless military campaign across half of West Africa, or Amadu Bamba seemed to place little significance on whether or not his followers fulfilled even the most fundamental Islamic obligations, it did not follow that they were not really Sufis.
In certain contexts I would still be prepared to defend this seemingly facile comment. However, just after I wrote the above article I read Le Sage de Bandiagara; now I was convinced that I had found a “real” Sufi in West Africa. Cerno Bokar seemed to fulfill all the criteria I had established from my readings and I wrote another article in order to explain why this was so 4. In it I described Sufism as a specifically Islamic response to man's universal confrontation with life and with the dilemmas of the human condition. I outlined Cerno Bokar's specific form of spiritual search in terms of a quest for self-knowledge and self-control leading toward an awakening of spiritual capacities. And I argued that the discourses published in Le Sage were in fact a form of Sufi teaching story. As I look back upon this article, I realize that I was clothing Cerno Bokar in an image constructed out of bits and pieces taken from my more general reading on Sufism. Much of what I said was valid enough, but the general weight of the article did not bring us much closer to understanding Sufism as practiced in West Africa.
The image of Cerno Bokar portrayed in the present book owes much more to his own West African heritage. I would not retract my statements about self-knowledge and self-control as elements of African Sufism, but they assume a somewhat more measured role in the context of a range of beliefs and practices which will be familiar to many Africanists — for example, the significance of repeated recitations of certain prayers believed to have special efficacy, the belief in saints, miracles, and what are called “secrets,” the search for baraka (Arabic for spiritual grace) and salvation through one's relationship to a venerated shaykh, and the great significance placed upon dreams and visions. My recent research has been devoted to understanding these aspects of West African Sufism as its practitioners themselves see them; in so doing I have relied mostly upon the writings of West African Sufis and upon interviews and discussions with Muslims and Sufis in West Africa. These efforts to comprehend Sufi ideas, concepts and practices from the inside have not been made any easier by my tendency to filter what I hear through some supposed critical faculty in order allegedly to assess the validity of information received. This is not a bad thing for a historian to do, but it is not terribly useful if one is truly trying to take in what and how another person thinks. It was in this task that Hampaté Bâ's assistance to me was greatest, not only because he patiently and painstakingly answered all my questions (which he did), but because he spoke directly and honestly from his own sense of deep commitment about the Sufism in which he believes. He did not lecture to me; he confided in me and in so doing he helped me to attend to his words in the manner they deserved. These were the occasions on which Hampaté Bâ spoke as a disciple and a propagator of Cerno Bokar's teachings; his explications (as he himself pointed out) may not have been precisely those of Cerno Bokar, but I certainly had no means available to me to get any closer to the original teachings. Our conversations ranged over the entire spectrum of West African Islam and Sufism, and his remarks often led me into lines of investigation whose existence I had not even suspected when I commenced my research; the most exciting of these, and the one most extensively explored in this book, was the theological teaching known in Fulfulde as kabbe, which formed the basis of Cerno Bokar's own mâ'd-dîn, a kind of Islamic catechism which he taught in Bandiagara (see Chapter 4 and Appendix I)
But of course Hampaté Bâ is not only a disciple of Cerno Bokar; he has also chosen to be his biographer. Indeed, he is responsible, either directly or indirectly, for virtually everything the public knows about Cerno Bokar. Now the relationship of a disciple to his teacher could not be more different from that between an individual and his biographer, at least in the western, academic concept of biography. A Sufi disciple is meant to develop a very special association with his teacher; he seeks not only to absorb the substantive content of the teaching which is communicated by words, but also to be imbued with the “presence” of the teacher who is directing his internal spiritual development. This dimension of the relationship is almost never discussed openly and in any case is practically impossible to describe, although it is the essence of the entire exercise without which little else of real and lasting value can be accomplished. Only through this inner development can the disciple truly receive the totality of the teaching and make it his own, but having accomplished this degree of “understanding”, he can then in turn transmit the teaching to others. In so doing he has no need, though he may wish to do so, to refer to his teacher, because what he is teaching comes from within himself and from his own understanding. The Sufi disciple therefore views his teacher from a privileged and very private perspective, and he seeks to allow the influences of his teacher to act upon him. He is not interested in a public revelation of the facts of this relationship, and any views or opinions of it by the outside world are considered largely irrelevant. A biographer works from a very different set of premises. Biography is about public revelation, or at least about the gathering of all kinds of information from all kinds of sources so as to describe in as full a fashion as possible the life of an individual. Biography is presented to the public from whom it invites response and reaction, particularly biography in the contemporary world. Neither Hampaté Bâ's efforts at biography nor his endeavors to propagate his interpretations of Cerno Bokar's teaching have been without response and reaction. This is especially so within West Africa where each slightly variant form of Islamic practice tends to find both adherents and opponents. Cerno Bokar had his enemies and his critics and so does Hampaté Bâ, although not for the same reasons. Witness the following quotation from Lansiné Kaba's study of Islamic reformist movements in Mali:

In the 1950s there was in Bamako a small group of modernists whose spokesman was the distinguished historian Amadou Hampaté Bâ, whose work reveals strong influences of European education and important elements of Western thought. These are especially noticeable in his book Tierno Bokar: Le Sage de Bandiagara. The character depicted in this book resembles Socrates in many respects. To the Socratic method of systematic doubt and patient questioning and teaching, the learned old man also adds the high moral qualities inherent in Jesus Christ. The blending of the two spiritual fathers of the Western tradition into the person of an old Muslim teacher may be deliberate or accidental. Yet the implication is clear: Islam contains a philosophical enlightenment and a degree of spirituality comparable to those of European culture. This remark will satisfy many contemporary Muslims. The portrayal, however, implies a strong intellectual reaction against traditional Muslim leadership and a clear support for the idea of change in the attitude of Muslims towards modern life. Wahhabi leaders will support this idea. However, Bâ's views go much further. They are in accordance with those advocates who hope to incorporate into Islamic doctrine certain Western principles and methods. This adoption eventually may lead to a complete syncretism of the two value systems 5.

These remarks should be placed in context; Kaba's book, The Wahhabiyya, is a study of post-war Islamic reformist movements in Mali. In the 1950s Hampaté Bâ was influential in starting up a number of French-supported Muslim religious schools which used Bambara and Fulfulde as the languages of instruction. These vernacular schools were seen by many Muslim educational reformers, perhaps justifiably, as politically inspired experiments to undermine their own schools in which Arabic was being introduced as the language of instruction. I have no knowledge of Hampaté Bâ's precise intentions and actions in all this, but he was accused by some parties of collaborating with the French against reformist interests. For Kaba, the most damning aspect of Le Sage de Bandiagara is that it was co-authored by Marcel Cardaire, an official in the Bureau des Affaires Musulmanes (an agency devoted largely to the surveillance of Muslims) and a staunch opponent of the reformists. Certainly this literary collaboration could not have been devoid of political connotations, whether intended or not. But is Kaba justified in implying that the image of Cerno Bokar which is presented in Le Sage was conjured up in the midst of the modernist-reformist debate as a “strong intellectual reaction against traditional Muslim leadership” and a “syncretism” of European and Islamic value systems?
No one who has read Le Sage de Bandiagara would deny that in it Cerno Bokar is portrayed in such a way that few Westerners could fail to recognize him as a man of profound spiritual accomplishment. I personally would not describe that image as particularly Christian or Socratic, but one can appreciate Kaba's remarks on this. However, the public image of Cerno Bokar had begun to emerge in the journals of western academia a decade before the appearance of Le Sage in 1957, in the form of two articles by Théodore Monod. The first, “Un poème mystique soudanais” 6, was the translation of a poem composed by a disciple of Cerno Bokar; the second article, entitled “Un Homme de Dieu: Tierno Bokar,” 7 offered the first published presentation of Cerno Bokar's own teachings in the form of some of his discourses. Cerno Bokar next appeared in the pages of Alphonse Gouilly's L'Islam dans l'Afrique Occidentale Française in a section of the book devoted to the Hamallist Sufi movement. Gouilly includes a passage on Hamallist doctrine to which is appended a lengthy footnote on the “esoteric aspect of Hamallism” provided to him by “a learned African, himself a follower of Hamallah.” 8. The note explains the stages of Sufi spiritual development in much the same format as would later appear in Le Sage de Bandiagara where it is specifically attributed to Cerno Bokar. Gouilly's “learned African” informant was, of course, Hampaté Bâ, who had also provided Monod with the material which allowed him to publish his two articles. Much the same relationship existed between Cardaire and Hampaté Bâ in their co-authorship of Le Sage; Hampaté Bâ provided all the substantive material, and Cardaire put the text into proper French, adding some of his own interpretations and comments. At least Cardaire credited Hampaté Bâ's contribution by name, although Hampaté Bâ claims that he never saw the actual text before it was published.
To return to Kaba's accusations, two questions must be posed: in what way was Hampaté Bâ responsible for the image of Cerno Bokar which had been presented to the French-reading public between 1947 and 1957; and how did this image relate directly to the modernist reformist debates of the early 1950s in Mali (then French Soudan)? To respond to the second question first, it should be clear from chronology alone that Cerno Bokar was being portrayed as a particular kind of mystic well before the reformist confrontations in Mali in which Hampaté Bâ was involved. Furthermore, those early articles were written in a context completely separated from reformist concerns; there can be little doubt that Hampaté Bâ had managed to impress Monod and later Gouilly with the teachings of Cerno Bokar. Surely his goal was to vindicate the tarnished name of his teacher and also to defend the reputation of the Hamalliyya. This view conforms to Hampaté Bâ's own version of how he and Cardaire came to write Le Sage, which is outlined in its recent revised version, Vie et Enseignement de Tierno Bokar 9. According to him, he first met Cardaire when the. latter came to Bamako to investigate his involvement in the discredited Hamalliyya movement. Not only did Hampaté Bâ escape implication, but he befriended Cardaire who himself suggested they co-author a biography of Cerno Bokar. I am unable to comment on the extent to which Hampaté Bâ either shared Cardaire's views on the reformists or cooperated in moves against them, but it seems clear that his contribution to publications about Cerno Bokar were designed to achieve a purpose quite different from challenging reformism.
Hampaté Bâ's role in the creation of Cerno Bokar's published image is more difficult to assess. As well as a historian and an accomplished poet in Fulfulde, he is a consummate raconteur. No one who has read his works would doubt his facility with words or his ability to formulate a convincing characterisation of a personality in any manner which pleased him. His reconstructions of historical events are often expressed in a literary idiom which seems to aim more for effect and impression than fact, even if they are accurate accounts. Nor is he unwilling to give free rein to his creative imagination, for example in providing allegedly verbatim reports of conversations at which he was not present. This particular approach to history might be described as a contemporary, literate expression of what has come to be known among Africanists as “oral tradition.” This is not the place to enter into a discussion of the nature of oral tradition in Africa, but certainly one of the factors which distinguishes it from Western historical exposition is the degree to which effect is seen as a legitimate and even essential ingredient of it. We Western-trained historians are taught to search for demonstrable and supportable “facts” out of which should emerge supposedly objective analyses; oral tradition rarely make any claims to objectivity. Hampaté Bâ's training as a historian was in the informal school of the oral traditionalists; it began in earliest childhood whilst listening to tales spun by the esteemed raconteurs of Masina; the process never seems to have ceased for him, nor has his personal interest in it waned. He has made occasional reference to this formation in his writings 10, and its significance should not be underestimated. It should also be recalled that his reputation as a published historian is based upon his experimentation with and defense of oral tradition as a valid and useful source of African history.
This traditionalist approach to history may give us pause in our search for the “true facts,” but one must not forget that in his continued advocacy of this particular form of expression Hampaté Bâ gives witness to his uncompromising fidelity to this aspect of his African heritage 11. My experience suggests that he is unabashedly prepared to discuss Africa's society and history in all its aspects without offering apology for what it is or has been, and to do this with considerable pride. If the idiom of his communication encourages him to play to his audience or lends itself to a wide range of emotional, ideological or political colouring, this is the idiom which Africa has taught him. This is one reason why I find it impossible to understand Lansiné Kaba's charge that the portrayal of Cerno Bokar in Le Sage de Bandiagara “implies a strong intellectual reaction against traditional Muslim leadership.” One might argue that certain of the anecdotes which Hampaté Bâ relates about Cerno are designed to cater to specific European sensibilities, such as his little lecture to his students on charity which was instanced by the fall of a baby sparrow from its nest (p. 100), or his extraordinary lesson based on the proverb, “The greatest knowledge is to know one does not know” (p. 144). Perhaps these are the kind of stories which led Kaba to feel that Cerno Bokar was being falsely imbued with what he sees as Christian and Socratic attributes; but of course the qualities of charity and self-doubt are not the special possessions of the western world, and I will argue in his book that Cerno Bokar's teachings about these and many other ideas emerge directly from West Africa's Islamic tradition, even if I have no way to prove that the precise content of Hampaté Bâ's stories is factually true. For me, then, the image which Hampaté Bâ created of Cerno Bokar in Le Sage, far from being a reaction against traditional Muslim leadership, inspired me with a new interest in studying it, and all of my personal contacts with him during my research have convinced me that he is in fact a committed advocate of that leadership.


What all this boils down to is that the major “primary source” for my research into the life of Cerno Bokar was a devoted disciple of the individual under investigation, the advocate of a particular form of history, and a delightful raconteur. For my part, I found myself perfectly willing to listen to Hampaté Bâ for hours, and by now it will be clear that my relationship with him has nurtured within me a considerable respect for him. I do not believe that a full understanding and appreciation of Cerno's ideas are possible without this respect, and I offer no apology for what some might consider a biassed view on my part. In any case, I have no intention of arguing that Cerno Bokar was a personification of West African Islam; he was an exceptional and in many ways extraordinary individual. But at the same time he was a product of the West African Islamic heritage upon which every aspect of his teaching was based. For the insight and sense of acceptance to which Hampaté Bâ led me, I am grateful; at the same time, of course, I have been left the task of evaluating his historical accounts from the perspective which I have adopted in my study.
The procedures which I have adopted are not so systematic that they deserve to be called a methodology, but they should be stated briefly here. Hampaté Bâ's general explications of Islamic and Sufi doctrine and practice were accepted as factual evidence only for what he himself believes as a disciple of Cerno Bokar; as I suggested above, conversations on these matters have guided me in much of my research, but generally their content has not been employed in this book as direct evidence for Islamic belief and practice. Rather I have relied as much as possible on other primary and corroborating sources in order to describe and analyse the intellectual and religious background to Cerno Bokar's thought. Hampaté Bâ often pointed the way in this research, and occasionally he was able to explain certain subjects for which other indigenous sources were virtually impossible to obtain, for example, on the Sufi uses
The situation is rather different and more difficult in moving from the background to the specific content of Cerno Bokar's thought and teaching. Here we find several kinds of material: Cerno's catechism known as mâ'd-dîn or “What is religion?” (reproduced in Appendix 1); his discourses; and a wide range of anecdotes about, and quotations attributed to, Cerno Bokar which are found in various of Hampaté Bâ's writings and in my interviews with him. Themâ'd-dîn was definitely Cerno's invention and was taught by him in Bandiagara; this has been confirmed by numerous informants, although the only complete text available to me is that published by Hampaté Bâ. The content of the discourses has not been corroborated by any other source, but I have concluded, with minor reservations, that these are accurate accounts of Cerno Bokar's comments and observations recorded in special conditions by Hampaté Bâ in 1933. My evaluation of them as a source appears in detail in the introduction to Part III. I have employed themâ'd-dîn and the discourses almost exclusively as evidence of Cerno Bokar's ideas, but I have generally avoided using any other scattered and more recent materials, not because I have any specific reason to believe that these are necessarily not accurate accounts but because Hampaté Bâ has made it clear to me that with time even he is no longer certain which ideas came from Cerno and which are his own. Themâ'd-dîn and the discourses were written down in the 1930s and do not seem subsequently to have been modified, except to be put into more correct French. On the few occasions when later anecdotes or attributions do appear in this book, the reader will easily recognize them for what they are: evocative illustrations of Cerno Bokar's characteristic behaviour, already evident from other sources.
Hampaté Bâ's historical accounts have been evaluated even more rigorously and subjected to severe critical examination whenever other sources allow for comparison. In virtually no instance have they been used on their own to establish specific facts about Cerno Bokar's life or about other events described in this book. But if Hampaté Bâ's accounts generate one kind of problem, other sources produce other problems. The French took almost no notice of Cerno Bokar until his submission to Shaykh Hamallah; then he became a major preoccupation in official reports. They knew virtually nothing about him but feared his possible influence and placed him under close surveillance for alleged “weakness of character.” Their fear and ignorance contributed to producing the tragedy of Cerno Bokar's final years. Between the disparate views of devoted disciple and fearful authorities there is some, but not much, middle ground of evidence about the details of Cerno's life, gleaned from interviews with a few surviving persons who knew him and from other scattered references.
To reiterate, then, the aim of the present book is to study the interaction between Cerno Bokar's personal spiritual quest and his social and religious environment. An understanding of this interaction has necessitated an examination not only of Cerno Bokar's ideas and teachings, but also of the more comprehensive themes of religious structures, practices and thought as well as of general political evolution and conflict.
The book is divided into three parts: the first describes the relevant religious and political developments in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century Soudan which form the background to a more specific discussion, in the second part, of Cerno Bokar's own life and teaching. The third part is a translation of a selection of Cerno Bokar's discourses. This progression from general to more specific themes is designed to illustrate the historical continuity and internal consistency of Cerno Bokar's own religious thought, as well as to reveal the forces which ultimately brought him into confrontation with the political world in which he lived. Indeed, considerations about conflict, continuity and change regularly intruded into my thoughts as I proceeded in my research. Nothing struck me more profoundly than my realization of the ephemeral and vulnerable nature of man's intellectual and cultural heritage. The scattered fragments of Cerno Bokar's thought which are contained in his discourses and in themâ'd-dîn are but one tiny window which opens on to an extensive and expansive religious and intellectual tradition. These fragments only exist today because Amadou Hampaté Bâ acted to preserve them; the French and African authorities who crushed the small group of Hamallist Sufis which centered upon Cerno Bokar and who consequently terminated Cerno's active intellectual life harboured not the slightest suspicion that they were at the same time destroying a rich and vital growth-point in Africa's cultural heritage. This event represents more than the tragedy of one man; writ large, it is a tragedy for the whole of Africa where the forces of recent and contemporary change tend to run roughshod over the more vulnerable elements of the continent's ancient culture. If the present study does not achieve as full a description or as profound a comprehension of its subject as one would like, at least one would hope that other students might be encouraged by it to undertake similar studies which will aid in our general appreciation of the history and dynamics of the African religious and intellectual heritage.

1. Interview with Amadou Hampaté Bâ, 12 May 1978.
2. Tierno Bokar, le Sage de Bandiagara (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1957), abbreviated in all following notes as TB; revised edition published as Vie et Enseignement de Tierno Bokar. Le Sage de Bandiagara (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1980), abbreviated as VE.
3. “Separate Realities: a Review of Literature on Sufism,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, v, 4(1972), 637-58.
4. “The Sufi Teaching of Tierno Bokar Salif Tall,” Journal of Religion in Africa, viii, fasc. 3(1976), 208-26.
5. Lansiné Kaba, The Wahhabiyya. Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa (Evanston, 1974), 22 - 3.
6. Le Monde non-chrétien, no. 2 (1947), 217-28.
7. Présence Africaine, 8 - 9(1950), 149 - 57.
8. A. Gouilly, L'Islam dans l'Afrique Occidentale Française (Paris, 1952), 147-9.
9. VE, 7-11.
10. See VE, 127 and the introduction to L'étrange Destin de Wangrin (Paris, 1973).
11. In this regard, see J.-P. Gourdeau, “Une Lecture de L'étrange Destin de Wangrin d'Amadou Hampaté Bâ,” Annales de l'Université d'Abidjan, Sér. D., 8(1975), 153-84.

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