Mystic Leader

A very peculiar face of Islam in Senegal

“The Greater Jihad is not war by force of arms, but the fight against one’s inner demons. Whoever conquers his inner enemies will also succeed against his worldly enemies”. This is what the Senegalese Sufi saint (Walī) Sheikh Amadou Bamba Mbacké (1853 – 1927) taught his followers, when tribal leaders called for armed revolt against the French. Even today, many Senegalese are fervent supporters of Bamba’s pacifist teachings. Never has the West African country experienced an attack in the age of international terror in contrast to the country’s neighbours. In Senegal, 95 percent of the population adheres to Islam and the overwhelming majority are committed followers of Sufism.

The Sufis are mystics that are less concerned about the dogmas of their religion and more interested in striving to achieve unity with God. They are obliged to submit to the spiritual guidance of a religious leader and teacher, in Senegal called a Marabout, to whom followers pay a portion of their income. Although Senegal has had secular governments since its independence in 1960, the more highly revered Marabouts rank among the most powerful and richest men in the country. They preach tolerance, pass part of their wealth on to the needy and build many mosques in order to prevent other Muslim countries from gaining influence by building mosques and sending their preachers to Senegal.

The Senegalese are grateful for their religious independence. Women are not considered the property of their husbands; the choice to wear headscarves is up to them. In one brotherhood, a woman can become a spiritual leader with the title of Muqaddam and and have male and female followers. Critics argue that Senegal is one of the least developed countries in the world because of the strong political influence of the Marabouts. There is also talk of the exploitation of the faithful and of mafia-like business practices. Nevertheless, the Senegalese are very proud of their religious culture. Some believe that Islam will be reformed from Senegal to return to its original meaning.