Gambia: Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké - The Spiritual Leader of Mouridiyya Brotherhood

31 August 2023

Keeping a vibrant legacy thrumming with passionate faith and unrivaled loyalty 95 years after ascending from the world of the living is a miraculous happening that only a luminous soul who has toiled beyond ease for his faith, beliefs, and people would merit.

Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba's bequest coining something as majestic and timeless as the Magal Touba remains to be a physical and spiritual lore dictating factual accounts of what he and his disciples have crafted for the Muslim and Mouride communities across all regions.

At a time when Senegal was under the oppressive rule of French colonialism, born into a family of scholars in 1270AH (1853) in the humble village of Mbacké-Baol to mother Sohna Diarra Bousso Mbacké (buried in Porohane, Saloum) and father Serigne Mommar Anta Saly Mbacké (buried in Dekhalé, Kajor), Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké was said to emerge as a spiritual being who devoted the supple fragility of his youth to worship and wept bitterly at the mere sound of musical instruments. In 1882 subsequent to his father's passing, a well-respected Qā'di, Ahmadou Bamba at 29 years old founded the Mouridiyya brotherhood (the term an Arabic word meaning 'one who desires' used to identify disciples of a spiritual guide) with the ultimate purpose of the movement centered around the Qur'an, Sunnah and tenets of sūfism (an Islamic practice that focuses heavily on the renunciation of worldly things, purification of the soul and achieving an almost mystical connection with God through meditation). The creation of such an order goes on to permit his followers to call him AlMujaddid (renewer of Islam).

In 1883 he came across one of his most devoted disciples, Sheikh Ibrahim Fall who arose from an aristocratic Wolof family in 1855 in Ndiaby Fall, Cayor to mother Syenabou Ndiaye and father Amadou Rokhaye Fall with his initial name being Yapsa Khanth Fall (later changed to Ibrahim Fall by Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké). Ibrahim Fall outlived his youth studying the Quran in a neighboring village called Ndiaré achieving astonishing wisdom in theology, fiqh, tafsir, grammar, and rhetoric. The moment he met Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké he was immediately awestruck by the spiritual aura the man radiated and felt a calling like no other leading him to fall to the ground before the mystic and pledging his life to his cause (Diebalou) in search of nothing but nurture (Tarbiya).

Ibrahim Fall became Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké's 40th devotee, instituting the culture of work among Mourides with the now vastly popular concept of 'Dieuf Dieul' (you reap what you sow) essentially leading to the initiation and eventual growth of the Baye Fall movement (a group of Mourides that strictly lead all the labor work in the community) creating a symbiosis of values mostly synonymous to the Mouriddiya community (pray and work). The adherent also initiated giving money to the Sheikh, thus to this day Mourides imitate this practice of giving money to their Sheikhs for Barakah (blessings).

With that being said, Shiekh Ahmadou Bamba Mabcké's pacifist nature of calling people to worship, his adamance in stressing the earning of Halal (permissible) income, and his aversion to encroaching European powers seeking control of his home led to an inflow of steadfast followers that were beginning to look more like a threat to the French imperialism. Nevertheless, 5 years after he formed the Mouriddiya brotherhood, in 1887, the religious leader founded Touba (coined from the Arabic word 'Tawbah' which means repentance and is also identical to the name of a tree in paradise called 'Tūbā') a small, abandoned place in the wilderness, neighbour to Mbacké-Baol founded in 1796 by Mame Maram Muhammad Al-Khayri, his great-grandfather. The now visional paradise of a city bursting with rich faith and occupants was a calling that came in the manner of a cosmic vision during a moment of transcendence under the soothing shade of a lone tree in the area, where Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké experienced a dream-like reality in which thousands of pilgrims where marching towards the city to pay their respects to his legacy. From here on forth, the place began a gradual growth into a big religious city and knowledge center with people from all walks of life making their way into the community the Sheikh has built to benefit from his kind, humble religious teachings.

This tickled the French colonizers and led them to suspect an upcoming rebellion despite the fact that the spiritual leader was unmoved by the idea of reaching for independence and had his priorities primarily focused on inviting people to bask in the glory of worshiping Allah. Hence in 1895, they exiled him to Gabon (the place where he resided now called 'Holy Mountain') with exceeding hopes that without him and his religious teachings, the growth of the Mouriddiya will be snuffed out. This however, completely backfired as it fueled myths and legends of miraculous survival stories of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké.

The tale of him taming a lion that was starved for months and locked in the same room as him, the lore of him having tea with the spirit of Prophet (S.A.W.) after he was thrown into a furnace and the most prominent of all, when he broke out of his chains on the boat to Gabon, deified gravity and offered his prayers to Allah on the growling sea and walked right back to the boat after the French colonizers refused him time to pray.

After 7 years in exile, the French thought the atmosphere the religious leader created was calm enough to bring him back to Senegal. In 1902 Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké returned to his home country and introduced a unique coffee to his followers that is today called Café Touba, his devotees were beyond delighted at the sight of their leader and the Sufi order remained as powerful as the French dreaded. Only a year after being brought back, in 1903 the saint was exiled again this time in the deserts of Mauritania where he spent a large number of his time composing poetry in praise of Allah and his messenger, as well as writing books on Fiqh, Tafsir and the like. 10 years later, in 1912 after realizing that Bamba Mbacké's impact simply can't be washed away by making him disappear, the French sailed him home and kept him under house arrest in Ndjaréem, Diourbel.

Antoine J. Henry Lasselves, who was the administrator of Diourbel at the time was assigned to watch over the Sheikh's day-to-day activities and report it to his superiors. He later informed them of the mystic's innate spiritual power, purity of heart, and generosity, and described the love his disciples held for him as extraordinary. Realizing that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké had no intention of waging a war against them, in 1919, the French administration attempted to honor him by awarding him the title 'Knight of the Legion of Honor'. The religious leader humbly accepted the symbolism of the medal but refused the idea of wearing it as he did not want to be associated with any worldly content.

Despite this offering of an olive branch, the French continued to keep the religious leader under house arrest and in 1925 banned the construction of the Touba mosque, leading Ibrahim Fall (given the title Lamp Fall 'the light of Mourides' by 2nd caliph Serigne Fallou Mbacké) to enclose the area with timbers he carried from Ndjaréem to Touba. In 1926, the French relented and construction of the mosque began to take place.

After spending every intake of breath from birth to fulfilling adulthood serving Allah and his Messenger, composing an impressive 7 tons of Khassaids (religious poetry) devoted to them and reviving Islam amongst hundreds of thousands of people at a time when oppression was prevalent, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké departed from the world of the living on July 19th, 1927. His body was entombed at the great mosque of Touba according to his wishes. He was succeeded by serigne Mamadu Mustafâ Mbacke, his eldest son and the mosque continued construction until its completion and inauguration in 1963.

Today, the profound legacy of Serigne Touba is celebrated in the religious festive 'Magal DeTouba' which originated in a request where he asked his followers to celebrate his exile to Gabon. The celebration began a year after his death in 1928.

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