Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke commonly known as Amadou Bamba was a Sufi leader who founded the Mouridiyya. In Arabic he is known as Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Habīb Allah, or Khadimu Rassul, "Servant of the Prophet". In the Wolof language he is called Serigne Touba, "Holy Man of Touba".
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba was born in year 1271 (A.H.), that is in 1853 in the village of Mbacké in the Kingdom of Baol. Founded by his grandfather, Baol carries the name of the family Mbacké whose widely-known sanctity earned them respect throughout that region. Men of high Islamic culture and a strict obedience made the village of Mbacké an academic center and a spiritual capital. The Sheikh’s father, Mohammed MBACKE, namely Mame Momar Anta Saly, was an eminent jury’s consultant who taught the Quran and the religious sciences. His mother, Mariama Bousso, thanks to her loyalty, her virtue and her piety, had the privilege to answer in the name of “Jâratu-l-lâh" (Neighbor of GOD).
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba was a Muslim visionary, a spiritual leader who dedicated his life to writing poetry on meditation, rituals, and Qur'anic study. The parents of the Sheikh have discovered very early in him an innate perfection that resulted in attitudes and habits of piety, of good moral conduct, of devotion, of solitude, and a behavior that exhibited strength to fulfill religious obligation. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba's teachings emphasized the virtues of pacifism and the importance of hard work. He taught his followers that salvation comes through submission to Allah and hard work, a departure from conventional Islamic teaching. The life of the Sheikh is a testimony of his commitment to the revival of authentic Islam, the religion of Peace.
By the end of the 19th century, wars between neighboring kingdoms and the French military operations to control the territory, had annihilated most social values and destroyed the traditional social organizations in Senegal. This period coincided with the birth of the Mouridiyya. Mouridiyya was founded in 1883, one year after the end of the military resistance in Senegal and two years before the Berlin Conference, where the African continent was sliced-up in individual countries by the European powers. Senegal officially became a French colony.
At the end of the armed resistance, the French decided to reorganize the society to fit their programs in order to better exploit the potentialities of the new colony. Mouridiyya appeared as a new force against French imperialism as it aimed to restore and re-organize the society under Islamic values. More than a religious phenomenon, Mouridiyya is a social revolution, an uprising against the French colonizer, and a cultural project that aimed at challenging the French colonial system through its policies of assimilation. In that context, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, like numerous religious leader, decided to oppose the Western social and political organizations proposed by the French with a new weapon: Islam. In fact, since the military confrontations that resisted the European colonial enterprise failed, Islam became the next form of resistance against the oppressor in Senegal.
A charismatic personality, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba aided in the mass conversion of many people from different ethnic groups, from tribal paganism to Islam. As his fame spread, the French colonial government worried about the sheikh's growing power and potential to wage war against them. With a daily increase in followers the French colonial accused him of raising an army. But the answer was straight forward. "If you accuse me of waging a holy war, I declare you right. I do it to please Allah. I do it by means of science and reverential fear: the Lord by excellence is my witness. The Sheikh never felt threatened because he believed in a much higher power.
On September 5, 1895, the Sheikh was brought before the Private Council, animated by such courage that only a man of God could be capable of showing. In fact, he dared spread out his mat and prayed two rakas (a unit or section of the prayer) before the Governor to exalt the Majesty and glory of the Master of the World. Those two rakas are today the object of an annual commemoration of the Murid community living in St. Louis in Senegal. Following a mock trial, the Council took the decision to exile him to Gabon, a country located in central Africa, in the rain-forest where no one could survive a day due to the bad condition of the rain-forest.
He left Senegal on September 20, 1895 and did not return until November 11, 1902 (a period of seven years) during which time the French colonizers tried whatever they could to eliminate him, but they were not successful in their mission. The Sheikh was returned to Senegal and exiled again on June 3, 1903 to Mauritania (a country well known at the time for having great masters and scholars) with the intention of toning down his prestige and consequently the fervor of the masses, which flocked around him. His arrival in Mauritania drastically changed the script. Those whose popularity was supposed to eclipse that of the Sheikh threw themselves at his feet and offered him the best of hospitality, glorifying the Lord All Mighty for sending them a new enlightenment.
The Sheikh returned to Senegal on April 4, 1907 and was sent to Thieyene (a village north of Louga, a town located in northwestern Senegal). Then, he was moved to Diourbel, a town located about 90 miles east of Dakar on January 16, 1912 under house arrest until his passing on July 19, 1927.
By God's grace and the intervention of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba lived thirty-three years in the hands of the French colonizers without forsaking for a moment his engagement towards God, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the Murid brotherhood he founded.
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba inaugurated a new era in the history of Islam and of the black man. He shows us that all men are issued from the same soul and excel each other only by the reverential fear manifested towards their Creator.
The holy city of Touba
It is impossible to talk about Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba without mentioning the city of Touba the capital of Mouridiyya. Touba, the holy city, began as a vision brought to the Sheikh during a moment of transcendence, while sitting beneath a tree. The word Touba means “bliss” in Arabic, and also the name of a tree in paradise. This symbolic tree represents an aspiration for spiritual perfection and closeness to God. Sheikh Amadou Bamba founded Touba in 1887. It became a sacred place where the Sheikh could continue his mission of educating the masses under the precept of Islam. Touba is exclusively a place of Muslim practice and Islamic scholarship. The city has grown tremendously in the past few years. Starting with a relatively small number of people Touba was a village with few grots. Today, the city of Touba is home to nearly a million inhabitants, making it the second largest urban city in Senegal, behind Dakar.
The legacy of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba
After the passing of the sheikh, Serigne Mouhamadou Moustapha Mbacke, as well as further caliph after him, carry out the mission set forth by their father. They contributed in large part to the ongoing effort of spreading the Murid brotherhood around the world.
The continued expansion of the Murid Brotherhood is, in large part, a tribute to Sheikh Amadou Bamba. Those of us, who have continued under his direction and have carried the legacy he began, know the exceptional worth it has. More than 100 years after it began, the Murid Brotherhood has long expanded beyond its Senegalese borders. In every attempt to reinforce the brotherhood, Keur Serigne
Touba (Islamic centers) can now be found in every major city around the world. New York, Paris, Rome, Detroit, Raleigh, Los Angeles among others. Murids around the world are proud and willing to share their doctrine. Today, Murid communities continue with past teachings, and provide education, social services and business opportunities to their members. We strive to maintain a peaceful community where ever we are.
In today’s world, many bad things, unspeakable things, have occurred in the name of “Islam”. Sheikh Amadou Bamba’s leadership taught us the real face of Islam is a faith of non-violence. It is our right and our belief that Islam must remain as the prophet Mohamed (PBUH) envisioned. A faith founded on a peaceful existence and the respect for all life. And most of all, we need to protect one another and install a belief that our continued mission is to carry on the prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) legacy. This is the principle in which the Murid Brotherhood was founded upon. It is through us, the Muslim of today, that Sheikh Amadou Bamba’s spirit lives on. We must never forget why we hold true to ourselves the words he wrote, beliefs he shared, and most of all the struggles he endured for us.