A Brief Biography of Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, the founder of the Muridiyya of Senegal
Ahmadu Bamba, the founder of the Muridiyya of Senegal, was born in the early 1850s to a family of Wolof Ulama (Muslim learned men) in the pre-colonial
kingdom of Bawol in West Central Senegal. He grew up in a period of turmoil in the Wolof states marked by the intensification then suppression of the slave trade, civil wars and French colonial encroachment. He left his native land at age 12 to follow his father who was a qadi (Muslim judge) and adviser to Wolof kings in the states of Saalum and Kajoor. Bamba was attracted to Sufism or mystical Islam at an early age and he grew increasingly critical of his father’s involvement with local rulers.
After his father’s death death in 1883, he inherited the family school, left Kajoor, moved to Bawol and engaged in a new kind of teaching strongly influenced by Sufi ideas. In the tradition of Muslim mystics, he emphasized social and geographical distance from temporal power holders, education of the soul, hard work, and strict submission to the Shaykh or spiritual guide.
By 1889 he had attracted a large following and his increasing popularity in the newly conquered provinces of Bawol of Kajoor made the French and their African auxiliaries increasingly nervous. In the same year he started to build a school and religious community in Tuubaa, a village he founded at a strategically located site bordering the kingdoms of Bawol, Kajoor, Jolof and Saalum, and which has now become the holy city of the Muridiyya. Between 1895 and 1912, Bamba was the target of increasing French repression that sent him to exiles in equatorial Africa and Mauritania and to house arrest in Senegal.
The Muridiyya grew dramatically during this period of political conflict and tensions and its popularity was further enhanced when the leader was sent back to his native land of Bawol in 1912. Furthermore, Murid farmers soon became major pillars of the colony’s economy as they made a substantial contribution to the production of millet and peanut, which was the single colonial cash crop produced in Senegal.
By 1912, the French had worked out a policy of accommodation with the Murids as they understood that the cost of suppressing the organization far outweighed the benefit they could earn by establishing stable and peaceful relationships with Bamba and his disciples. By the end of 1912, the Muridiyya had gained some recognition from the French although its leaders had remained under close surveillance.
Despite French pressure the order’s following continued to grow. By the eve of WWI, French sources numbered the Murid disciples at over 70,000 people, in the early 1950’s colonial estimations put the number of Amadu Bamba’s followers at 300,000, now over one third of the 11 million Senegalese are Murid and Murid disciples, most of them immigrant workers, are found in all four corners of the world.
This article was written by Professor Cheikh Anta Babou. Please see other references below:
For more on the history and development of the city of Tuubaa see Eric Ross, Sufi City : Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba,( Rochester U Press, 2006) and Cheikh Guèye, Touba, la capitale des mourides (Karthala, 2002)
See David Robinson,“The Murids: Surveillance and Accomodation.” JAH 40(1999): 13-21.
French estimates of the number of Murid disciples come from Paul Marty Etudes sur l”Islam au Sénégal,T I et II (Paris: Leroux, 1917) and Lucien Nekkach, “Le Mouridisme, depuis, 1912,” Rapport au Gouvernement du Sénégal, (1952), Archives Nationales du Sénégal, sous-série, 2G. The latest estimates are based on the Senegalese national census of 2002 which indicated that 31.70% of the Senegalese population that is estimated now at 11 millions claims to belong to the Murid order. This pourcentage translates into 4, 417,000 personnes. See Tableau de la population résidante selon la confrérie et la région par milieu de résidence : Agence Nationale de Statistiques et de la Démographie. Non dated.