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Categorization of the Sufi Sects in Senegal and Sudan does not differ much from what it is in other African countries. Many Sufis in Africa are syncretic where they practise Sufism with traditional folklore beliefs which are incorporated "un-Islamic" with the real beliefs of Islam such as celebrating the several events, visiting the shrines of "Islamic saints", dancing during prayer (the whirling dervishes). The Tijaniyyah is the most popular Sufi order in West Africa, with a large following in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Gambia. Each tariqa is founded by an individual who has some particular teachings and ways of conducting a zikr, but all share common principles and similar practices. For all, the sheikh is important as the person who guides each devotee, or murshid, on the path of spiritual development. The sheikh leads the prayers and zikr but also gives personal advice to his followers on most matters, including career, marriage and family.


To the keenest of observers, the multitudes of Islamic sects or brotherhoods in Senegal can appear too complex to fully comprehend. The Tijaniyyah, Mouride, being the two main ones; however, the Tijaniyyah are sub divided into Niassene, Qadir, Layenne, Syenne and others


In Senegal, 95% of Muslims belong to a Sufi brotherhoods, more than any Muslim population in the world. The two largest orders are the Tijaniyyah and the Muridiyyah or Mourides, although the pan-Islamic Qadiriyyah and the smaller Layene brotherhood are also represented in parts of the country. In creating a brotherhood, each founder often has the objective of uniting all Muslims. However, in practice, those within a brotherhood often emphasize the superiority of their brotherhood's path over others. Mosques are created by specific brotherhoods, though individuals are free to attend whichever mosque they prefer. The Qadiriyyah is the smallest and oldest brotherhood in Senegal. It was introduced in the 18th and 19th century by missionaries from Mauritania and the Niger Bend.


More Senegalese Sufis identify with the Tijaniyya order than any other. This order was brought to Senegal by El Hadj Umar Tall (1780-1840), who attempted to create an Islamic empire and organize all Muslims. Though he largely failed during his lifetime, the order has since expanded greatly. The Tijanis place a strong emphasis on Koranic education, and have created schools for girls as well. There are three dynasties of Tijanis, depending on the marabout a following owes most allegiance to: the Sy and Niasse in Wolof and Serer, and the Tall in Tukulor. The Niasses are sometimes seen as radical and a threat to Senegalese national authority, but Tijanis have otherwise maintained strong relationships with the Senegalese government.


The Mouride order is the most tightly organized and influential of Senegal's Sufi brotherhoods. When first created, the Mourides proclaimed their superiority over the Tijaniyya, who in turn responded with violent repression of the Mourides. The Mourides were founded by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba (1850-1927) who strongly rejected the French colonial powers, and this position attracted many political leaders who lost their positions due to French occupation. Every year, thousands of Senegal make a pilgrimage to Touba for a religious festival held by the Mourides to honor Cheikh Bamba. Many have written of the Mourides because a deviationist faction of this brotherhood has become radical and at times dangerous.  This faction does not represent a majority of Mourides and a Pew Report on Senegalese religion revealed that 92% of Senegalese do not associate the word "violent" with Muslims.


The Layene are a small but growing Sufi brotherhood. They are often rejected by the larger Muslim population for beliefs some call un-Islamic, including their founder's assertion that he was a Prophet.


The Sufi brotherhoods or tariqas in Senegal are organized in elaborate hierarchies. The most powerful leader is the caliph-general, a term enforced by the colonial French and only used in Mouride and Layene orders. The founder of fellowship is its first caliph-general, and his position is inherited by successors. Secondary to the caliph-generals are sheikhs or marabous, who act as intermediaries and provide instruction for their adhenrents, or aspirants.


Similarly, in Sudan the oldest and most widespread of the turuq is the Qadiriyah founded by Abd al Qadir al Jilani in Baghdad in the twelfth century and introduced into the country in the sixteenth. The Qadiriyah’s principal rival and the largest tariqa in the western part of the country was the Tijaniyah, a sect begun by Ahmad at Tijani in Morocco, which eventually penetrated Sudan in about 1810 via the western Sahel. Many Tijani became influential in Darfur, and other adherents settled in northern Kurdufan. Later on, a class of Tijani merchants arose as markets grew in towns and trade expanded, making them less concerned with providing religious leadership. Of greater importance to Sudan was the tariqa established by the followers of Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris, known as Al Fasi, who died in 1837. Although he lived in Arabia and never visited Sudan, his students spread into the Nile Valley establishing indigenous Sudanese orders, the Majdhubiyah, the Idrisiyah, the Ismailiyah, and the Khatmiyyah.


Much different in organization from the other brotherhoods is the Khatmiyyah (or Mirghaniyah after the name of the order's founder). Established in the early nineteenth century by Muhammad Uthman al Mirghani, it became the best organized and most politically oriented and powerful of the turuq in eastern Sudan (see Turkiyah). Mirghani had been a student of Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris and had joined several important orders, calling his own order the seal of the paths (Khatim at Turuq—hence Khatmiyyah). The salient features of the Khatmiyyah are the extraordinary status of the Mirghani family, whose members alone may head the order; loyalty to the order, which guarantees paradise; and the centralized control of the order's branches.


The other includes the Samaniya, whose followers are distinctive in their white robes and brown belts and who attempt to reach God by repeatedly uttering the words ‘La Ilaha Illallah’ (‘there is no God but Allah’) as they bow.


Sudan’s Sufis make up the largest national Sufi community in the world. However, the various orders operate independently, dress differently, and adopt diverse chants. Each one is formed around a sheikh, although their emphasis is on finding a personal path to God. In addition, what unites them is the belief that this can be achieved through total absorption in worship during the practice of dhikr, and the annual gathering of all the orders on the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in Khartoum, during which prayers are held and stories from the prophet’s life are told.



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