His father was the most well-respected Qa’di in his kingdom, erecting several Islamic schools and his mother was known for her effortless service to the community as well. As a child, he preferred imitating his father in his devotional acts while having no desire to play with other children. He spent the entirety of his youth in worship, studying the various Islamic sciences and teaching others. With his father’s passing in 1882 and the end of the armed resistance against the French, Amadou Bamba founded the Mouridiyya brotherhood/order focusing on the Qur’ān, sunnah, and tenets of Sūfism; a calling of society back to traditional Islam. This movement would slowly become the most effective weapon in battling the devastating social effects of imperialism.
The might of the Mouridiyya
Sheikh Amadou Bamba’s newly-founded group calling to traditional and prophetic Islamic ideals, the Mouridiyya, united the Senegalese under a common banner of faith with emphasis on spiritual rectification and love of Allah and His Messenger. He also stressed the importance of earning permissible incomes in the lives of Muslims, to counter the beliefs of some of the Muslims of the time who deemed working for an income unnecessary. The Senegalese began to flee in larger and larger numbers every year to take from Amadou Bamba. Being a spiritual visionary, Sheikh Amadou noticed the failure of the majority of military resistance against the encroaching European powers seeking control of Africa. Like all the major Sūfi luminaries of the past, he found the oppression of the Senegalese as a symptom of the spiritual diseases that were present among the Muslims. As the Sheikh’s Mouridiyya brotherhood continued to attract large numbers, it emerged as a formidable resistance to French imperialism. The Mourids were no longer just a religious revivalist movement, but a social revolution.
In 1887 Sheikh Amadou Bamba founded Touba (Arabic for ‘Felicity’ and the name of a tree in Paradise) in a state of transcendence while sitting under a lone tree in the desert. He envisioned a pilgrimage of his followers to this city that would mimic the hijrah of the prophet’s followers to Madinah so that Islam could flourish. Here, the return to traditional Islamic life from colonial alienation and centralisation of the Mouridiyya movement would occur. With the principles he established, Touba soon became a flourishing spiritual and financially-bustling city, exporting crops and the now-famous Cafe Touba coffee. It would be from this West African ‘Madinah’ that the Sheikh’s teachings would spread to the rest of Senegal.
The Gandhi of Senegal
Sheikh Amadou Bamba Mbacke is most well remembered by his “Sūfi Resistance,” against the French. While some of the Tijani leaders of Senegal were calling to arms against the intruding French, Sheikh Amadou Bamba maintained an ‘unfazed’ approach where he continued inviting the people to Allah, rather than struggling for ‘independence.’ The Mourids were to focus on their worship, reading of sacred texts, and Amadou Bamba strongly emphasised grudge-less and prophetic interactions (ihsan) with the colonisers.
Finding Amadou Bamba’s followers growing at an alarming rate, the French considered him a threat to their rule over Senegal. They feared a rebellion. In 1895, The French took Sheikh Amadou Bamba to trial on accounts of raising an army against the state. Although adamantly against violence, Amadou Bamba made his desire for a Muslim Senegal clear. As a result, he was exiled to Gabon in Central Africa in the hope of quelling the growth of the Mouridiyya. The French believed that doing so would help the Senegalese forget the impeccable service of Amadou Bamba.
However, his exiles only fueled legends of miraculous survival stories of escaping torture, deprivation, and attempted executions at the hands of the French. He returned in 1902 only to soon be exiled again for another four years to the deserts of Mauritania where he was honoured by the ascetics and scholars. During his exiles, he continued composing poems in praise of God and the Messenger and writing books on fiqh, ‘aqidah, tafsir, and the like. The French, realising their attempts to destroy Sheikh Amadou Bamba had backfired, brought him back to Senegal in 1907. To their dismay, his popularity, influence and amount of followers were greater than ever. Still considering him a threat, the French kept him under house arrest for the remainder of his life, away from his family and the city he created. In 1919, he was accepted by the French administration and given award of “Knight of The Legion of Honour.” He refused to wear the medal on account of materialism.
Sheikh Amadou Bamba passed away in 1927 without having seen the French leave his country. He was successful, however, in his pacifist revival of the Senegalese Islamic identity. He was buried in Touba where the Great Mosque of Touba was built.
Today, the city of Touba is home to more than a million inhabitants. All avenues of sins are prohibited in the city. The city attracts millions more during the Grand Maagal, a celebration of the beginning of the exile of Sheikh Amadou Bamba, that helped the Senegalese Islamic revival to boom. During this several-day celebration, lectures are given, the Qur’ān is read, and group recitations of his poems are performed, similar to Mawlud celebrations. A large portion of Senegal follows the Mouridiyya order and Mouridiyya communities exist all around the world today. In a poem dedicated to Touba, Sheikh Amadou Bamba wrote:
“My Lord has blessed me with a place
That rids me with of all obstacles the minute I entered it.”]]>