A Journey into Islam in Senegal.

More than 90% of the population of Senegal, an officially secular country, profess the Islamic faith. Besides being Sunnis (like the majority of Muslims), the dominant form of Islam is Sufi: this means it belongs to the mystical trend whose adherents (talibé) of the brotherhoods (tariqa) follow the directives of the spiritual guides (sheikhs, better known as ‘marabouts’) to follow correctly the ‘Path that will lead them to God’.

This path, apart from some small differences in the practice of the cult, is based on the Koran and the Sunnah (traditions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) and the central rite of Zikir (or Dhikr), repetition of the principle of the unicity of God, “ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu.Senegalese Sufism has, however, its differences in understanding the meaning of ‘adherent’ who was traditionally a hermit who renounced material life but is now a disciple in search of God, immersed in ordinary daily life.

The specific element of Senegalese Islam, both of the brotherhoods and the Marabouts, lies in the importance acquired by the religious leaders who are spiritual guides but also masters of life, who introduced Islam to the area but adapted it to cultural context. The result: a sort of Islam which is living and variegated, moderate and open, based upon peace, tolerance and traditional African values and on relationships of co-existence with Christian and animist minorities.

There are four Senegalese brotherhoods: Qadiriyya, Tijaniyyah, Muridiyya and Lahiniyyia. The first two, which are more ancient and exogenous, are schools of Islam that helped to Islamise Senegal between the XVIII and XIX centuries; the others are more recent and autochthonous, having been founded at the end of the XIX century. While the Qadiriyya may boast of being the oldest brotherhood, the Tijaniyya is the one with the largest number of faithful; the Muridiyya is the better known while the Layene is the only one to tie itself to a single ethnic identity, Wolof. Some are internally fragmented but each tariqa (brotherhood) has its General Caliph, its wird (a collection of prayers and invocations said using beads), places of worship and pilgrimages, as well as its own means of diffusion and iconography: the images of their holy founders and Caliphs are to be seen everywhere, painted on walls and in shops and hanging
in buses and taxis.

The Qadiriyya Brotherhood. One way, two souls.
In the XIV century, the Qadiriyya spread to other countries besides Arabia, North Africa, Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal. It was founded by Abdul Qādir al-Jilani (1077-1166), a learned Sufi ascetic who preached at the then renowned Islamic centre of Bagdad. In Senegal, the propagation of the first and oldest brotherhood came about through two personalities who gave rise to two groups of Qadiri.

Abdul Qādir al-Jilani, founder of the Qadiriyya Brotherhood.

The largest group of Qadiri faithful in Senegal has its centre of worship in Mauritania, at Nimzatt. The faithful refer to the Fâdil dynasty whose initiator was a direct descendant of the Prophet, Sheikh Muhammed Fâdil; the existence of so many groups of Qadiri scattered throughout Western Africa is explained by the fact that he had sons. The spread of different ethnic groups in Senegalese territory came about through his son Sheikh Saad-Bouh, whose descendants became not only the Caliph of Nimzatt but also the Qadiri families in various parts of Senegal. Even though the Senegalese locality of Guéoul (North) may consider itself the national reference point, the capital of worship and the residence of the Caliphate nevertheless remain at Nimzatt.
Another branch of the Qadiri disciples, whose adherents describe themselves as ‘Qadiri of Senegal’ or ‘of Ndiassane’, traces its origin to the Kounta family. The initiator of the dynasty was Sheikh Sidy Moctar Al Kountiyou (1724-1811), a sapient who was stationed on the present border between Mali and Mauritania, but it was Sheikh Bou Kounta who settled in Senegal and founded Ndiassane, in the north of the country a few kilometres from Tivaouane, built a mosque there together with schools for the formation of disciples and set up the Caliphate.

Worship and Pilgrimages
After each of the five daily prayers, the Qadiri order requires the recitation of a series of formulas asking God’s forgiveness and prayers of the Prophet that are repeated 200 times, ending with the Zikir.
The Senegalese Qadiri are also noted for the traditional musical accompaniment of five different drums that are used during the various ceremonies. Even though the two groups of Qadiri in Senegal are united by the wird (a collection of prayers), they are distinguished by their different ascetic styles and daily life. In fact, the Qadiri of Ndiassane respect the autochthonous dress and customs; the members of the Fâdil family bring together the Senegalese and Mauritanian cultures of dress, furnishings and their way of making tea.

Places of pilgrimage indicate certain differences. Each year the Qadiri Fâdil go to Nimzatt to receive the blessing of the Caliph on the day of the korité (the feast of the end of Ramadan). At the same place, the faithful gather on 22 July each year to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Sheikh Saad-Bouh.
In Senegal, the Qadiri Fâdil celebrate the Gamou (the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet) at Guéoul, on the same day that it is celebrated by the Tijane at Tivaouane. The Qadiri of Ndiassane, instead, celebrate the baptism of the Prophet a week after the Gamou in their own villages, which become, on that day, the goal of their pilgrimage. At the present time, 8% of Senegalese belong to the Qadiriyya Brotherhood. (L.d.M.)


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