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Three Ibrāhīms: Literary Production and the Remaking of the Tijāniyya Sufi Order in Twentieth-Century Sudanic Africa

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In terms of the number of followers, the Tijāniyya is the largest Sufi order in sub-Saharan Africa. Geographically, it is strongest in West Africa, but also plays a significant role in the Maghreb and Eastern Sudanic Africa. This article highlights the development of the Tijāniyya in three locations during the twentieth century by focusing on three of its leading figures, who all happen to be called Ibrāhīm: Ibrāhām Niasse (1900-1975) from Kaolack (Senegal), sharīf Ibrāhīm Sālih (born 1939) from Maiduguri (Nigeria), and sharīf Ibrāhīm Sīdī (1949-1999) from El Fasher (Sudan). Through a comparative analysis of their biographies and some of their writings, the paper shows how these three personalities were instrumental in adapting Tijānī doctrines and practices to changing contexts and circumstances that reflect both local conditions and global influences. The study is based on extensive fieldwork conducted by the author over an extended period of time and proposes to view Sufi communities as dynamic entities, rather than static expressions of “traditional Islam”, in order to explain the continuing relevance of Sufism in African Muslim societies. As the paper demonstrates, the process of remaking the Tijāniyya can lead to rather contradictory results.

Affiliations: 1: Evanston, Illinois


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