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Sheikh Ahmad Bamba (Wolof: Ahmadu Bamba Mbàkke, Arabic: أحمد بن محمد بن حبيب الله Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb Allāh, 1850–1927) also known as Khādimu 'r-Rasūl (خادِم الرسول) or "The Servant of the Messenger" and Sëriñ Tuubaa or "Sheikh of Tuubaa", was a Sufi saint (Wali) and religious leader in Senegal and the founder of the large Mouride Brotherhood (the Muridiyya).
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba was a religious leader who produced a prodigious quantity of poems and tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Quranic study. He led a pacifist struggle against the French colonial empire while not waging outright war on the French like several prominent Tijani marabouts had done.
Foundation of Mouridiyya and Touba
Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the Mouride brotherhood in 1883, and its capital is Touba, Senegal, which also serves as the location of the sub-Saharan Africa's largest mosque, which was built by the Mourides.
Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba's teachings emphasized the virtues of pacifism, hard work and good manners through what is commonly known as Jihādu nafs which emphasizes a personal struggle over "negative instincts." As an ascetic marabout who wrote tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Quranic study, he is perhaps best known for his emphasis on work and industriousness.
Bamba's followers call him a mujaddid ("renewer of Islam"), citing a hadith that implies that God will send renewers of the faith every 100 years (the members of all the Senegalese brotherhoods claim that their founders were such renewers).
Cheikh Abdoul Ahad Mbacke, the third Caliph (Mouride leader) and son of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, declared that Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba had met the prophet Muhammad in his dreams, a tale that has become an article of faith for Mouride believers. During the month of Ramadan 1895, Muhammed and his companions appeared to him in a dream in Touba to confer upon him the rank of mujaddid of his age, and to test his faith. From this, Bamba is said to also have been conferred the rank of "Servant of the Prophet."
He founded the city of Touba in 1887. In one of his numerous writings, Matlabul Fawzeyni (the quest for happiness in both worlds), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba describes the purpose of the city, which was intended to reconcile the spiritual and the temporal.
Facing colonial rule and exile
As Bamba's fame and influence spread, the French colonial government worried about his growing power and potential to wage war against them. He had stirred "anti-colonial disobedience" and even converted a number of traditional kings and their followers and no doubt could have raised a huge military force, as Muslim leaders like Umar Tall and Samory Touré had before him. During this time, the French army and French colonial government were weary of Muslim leaders inciting revolts as they finished taking over Senegal.
The phobia of the colonial administration at the place of any Islamic movement made the judgements given to the Privy Council often constitute lawsuits of intention to religious leaders. Stopped in Diéwol, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba was transferred to the office of the Governor of the colonial administration in Saint-Louis (Senegal). On Thursday September 5, 1895, he appeared before the Privy Council (Conseil d'Etat) of Saint-Louis to rule on his case. Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba prayed two rakkats in the Governor's office before addressing the Council, declaring his firm intention to be subjected to God alone. With this symbolic prayer and stance in the sanctuary of the deniers of Islam, Bamba came to embody a new form of nonviolent resistance against the aims of colonial evangelists. Proof of Bamba having recited these prayers is not included in colonial archives, rather it is based on the testimonies of his disciples. As a result of Bamba's prayers, the Privy Council decided to deport him to "a place where its fanatic preachings would not have any effect". and exiled him to the equatorial forest of Gabon, where he remained for seven years and nine months. While in Gabon, he composed prayers and poems celebrating Allah.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the imperialist policy of France ended with the defeat of all the resistances armed to Senegal and the installation with a policy of Christianization and assimilation of the new colony to the cultural values of the metropolis. This led to a policy of distance or systematic elimination of the Muslim spiritual guides who dared to mark their distrust. Thus, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, whose only wrong was to have dared to persist openly in the sermon for his religion (Islam) was, for 32 years, subjected to all manner of deprivations and tests. In exile for seven years in Gabon and five years in Mauritania and placed under house arrest in Diourbel, Senegal for fifteen years, Ahmadou Bamba nevertheless did not cease to defend the message of Islam until his death in 1927.
In the political sphere, Ahmadou Bamba led a pacifist struggle against French colonialism while trying to restore a purer practice of Islam insulated from French colonial influence. In a period when successful armed resistance was impossible, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba led a spiritual struggle against colonial culture and politics. Although he did not wage outright war on them as several prominent Tijaan marabouts had done, he taught what he called the jihād al-'akbar or "greater struggle," which fought not through weapons but through learning and fear of God.
As Bamba gathered followers, he taught that salvation comes through complete submission to God and hard work. The Mouride order has built, following this teaching, a large economic organisation, involved in many aspects of the Senegalese economy. Groundnut cultivation, the primary cash crop of the colonial period, was an early example of this. Young followers were recruited to settle marginal lands in eastern Senegal, found communities and create groundnut plantations. With the organisation and supplies provided by the Brotherhood, a portion of the proceeds were returned to Touba, while the workers, after a period of years, earned ownership over the plantations and towns.
Fearing his influence, the French sentenced him to exile in Gabon (1895–1902) and later in Mauritania (1903–1907). However, these exiles fired stories and folk tales of Bamba's miraculous survival of torture, deprivation, and attempted executions, and thousands more flocked to his organization.
By 1910, the French realized that Bamba was not interested in waging violent war against them, and was in fact quite cooperative, eventually releasing him to return to his expanded community. In 1918, they rewarded him with the French Legion of Honor for enlisting his followers in the First World War: he refused it. They allowed him to establish his community in Touba, believing in part that his doctrine of hard work could be made to work with French economic interests.
His movement continued to grow, and in 1926 he began work for the great mosque at Touba.
After his death in 1927, he was buried at the Mosque in Touba. He was succeeded by his descendants as hereditary leaders of the brotherhood with absolute authority over the followers. Currently, Khalifa-General, Ahmadou Bamba's oldest living son, holds the brotherhood's highest office.
As the founder of Mouridism, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba is considered one of the greatest spiritual leaders in Senegalese history and of the biggest influences on contemporary Senegalese life and culture. Mouridism is today one of Senegal’s four Sufi movements, with four million devotees in Senegal alone and thousands more abroad, the majority of whom are emigrants from Senegal. Followers of the Mouride movement, an offshoot of traditional Sufi philosophy, aspire to live closer to God, in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad's example. Today, Ahmadou Bamba has an estimated following of more than 3 million people and parades occur around the world in his honor, including in various cities in the USA. One such city is New York, where Muslims of West African descent have ordanized an "annual Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Day parade" for over twenty years. Celebrations like these create platforms to "redefine the boundaries of their African identities, cope with the stigma of blackness, and counteract an anti-Muslim backlash".
Every year, millions of Muslims from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Touba (known as the Magal), worshipping at the mosque and honoring the memory of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. On one occasion during the pilgrimage, Mouride believers honor Ahmadou Bamba by facing the Atlantic Ocean, to commemorate Bamba's legendary prayer on the water.
Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba has only one surviving photograph, in which he wears a flowing white robe and his face is mostly covered by a scarf. This picture is venerated and reproduced in paintings on walls, buses, taxis, etc. all over Senegal. This photo was originally taken in 1913 by "French colonial authorities". As an art form and spiritual object, Bamba's photograph functions as more than a mere image, rather it is also "a living presence" through which his baraka flows.
Modern Mourides contribute earnings to the brotherhood, which provides social services, loans, and business opportunities in return.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ahmadou Bamba.|
- (in French) The wird, its role and purpose by Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba (at-tawhid.net)
- Toubatoulouse.org to download khassaides, audio sounds and pictures
- The Online Murid Library (DaarayKamil.com)
- Passport to Paradise: Sufi Arts of Senegal and Beyond: exhibition and educational program from the Fowler Museum of Cultural History of the University of California at Los Angeles.
- La Non Violence de Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba
- International Sufi School Khidmatul Khadim
- Article on Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba as Peacemaker
- Official Home Page of the Muridiyya Khidmatul Khadim School
- A modest tribute from Tidjani Négadi (Oran University, Algeria)
- A rare book bridging NY and Touba, Senegal by Peter Bogardus.
- Ways Unto Heaven by Ahmadou Bamba, translation by Abdoul Aziz Mbacke
- Jihad For Peace, about Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, by Abdoul Aziz Mbacke