Ahmadou Bamba: The Senegalese Leader Exiled by the French for Inciting “Anti-Colonial Disobedience” in 1895

Ahmadou Bamba, also known to followers as “The Servant of the Messenger” and Serigne Touba or “Sheikh of Touba,” was a religious leader in Senegal and the founder of the large Mouride Brotherhood (the Muridiyya) who was exiled by the French colonial government in for inciting anti-colonial disobedience.

Ahmadou Bamba: The African Leader Exiled by the French for Inciting Anti-Colonial Disobedience in Senegal in 1895

Bamba was the founder of the Muridiyya, one of the largest Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal, emphasizing hard work, discipline, and devotion to God. His teachings attracted a significant following, empowering the local population both spiritually and socially. However, his popularity and influence also posed a threat to French colonial authorities who sought to maintain control over the region.

Born in 1853 in the village of Mbacké, Senegal, Bamba was raised in a family with a strong Islamic tradition. His upbringing laid the foundation for his future role as a religious leader and reformer.

In 1883, amidst a period of socio-political upheaval in Senegal, Bamba founded the Mouride brotherhood, with its capital established in Touba. This marked the beginning of his mission to promote pacifism, hard work, and devotion to God among his followers. Touba, now home to sub-Saharan Africa’s largest mosque, became the epicenter of Mouride spirituality and economic activity.

Bamba’s teachings emphasized the concept of “Jihādu nafs,” or the personal struggle against negative instincts. He advocated for a purer practice of Islam insulated from colonial influence, leading a pacifist resistance against French colonialism. He also taught what he called the jihād al-‘akbar or “greater struggle,” which was fought not through weapons but through learning and fear of God.

As Bamba gathered followers, the Mouride order built a vast economic organization based on his teachings, engaging in various sectors of the Senegalese economy. Groundnut cultivation, the primary cash crop of the colonial period, served as an early example. Young disciples were enlisted to settle marginal lands in eastern Senegal, establish communities, and cultivate groundnut plantations. With support from the Brotherhood, a portion of the proceeds was reinvested in Touba, while workers eventually gained ownership over the plantations and towns.

Ahmadou Bamba: For Being Too Influential, This African Leader Was Exiled by the French in 1895

At the end of the 19th century, French colonial authorities began to worry about the growing power of the Mouride brotherhood and its potential to incide a rebellion. Bamba, who had converted various kings and their followers, could probably have raised an army against the French had he wanted.

Fearful of his power, in 1895, Bamba was arrested after being accused of stirring “anti-colonial disobedience,” and subsequently exiled first to the equatorial forest of Gabon for seven years and nine months. Later, Bamba was relocated to Mauritania for another five years before being placed under house arrest in Diourbel, Senegal, for fifteen years.

Despite his exile, Bamba’s influence continued to grow, with his followers spreading his teachings throughout Senegal and beyond, with stories of his miraculous survival inspiring thousands more to join his movement.

By 1910, the French realized that Bamba posed no direct threat to their interests and allowed him to return to his community in Touba. Upon regaining his freedom, he resumed his leadership role within the Muridiyya, guiding his followers until his death in 1927.

Shaikh Amadou Bamba was buried at the Great Mosque in Touba, the holy city of Mouridism and the heart of the Mouride movement. After his death, Bamba was succeeded by his descendants as hereditary leaders of the brotherhood.

Today, Ahmadou Bamba has an estimated following of more than 3 million people. Every year, millions of Muslims from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Touba, worshipping at the mosque and honoring the memory of Ahmadou Bamba. His pictures are venerated and reproduced in paintings on walls, buses, taxis, etc. all over Senegal.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.


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