Sheikh Amadu Bàmba’s Murīd Resistance to French Colonial Oppression


Bàmba sought to cast off the shackles of French colonial oppression by calling the Murīds to a singular devotion to God as manifest in the slogan, "God and Muḥammad suffice me, I have no need of minor kings and auxiliaries."

Time period notes

The heart of the movement took place between the killing of king Dammel Lat Joor Joop in 1886 and ended with Bàmba's final return from exile in 1912, though it continued until he died in 1927 and vestiges of the movement remain alive in the 21st century.



Location City/State/Province

Bawol region

Location Description

Movement took place in a larger sense throughout Sénégal and other parts of French West Africa
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Disciplined Islāmic practices including hard work and nonviolence
  • Refusal to recognize any authority besides God, the Prophet, and the Sheikh

Methods in 2nd segment

  • While in exile in Mauritania, Bàmba refused acede to the French re-education tactic

Methods in 3rd segment

  • Murīds hailed the returning Bàmba as the mujaddid (a reformer sent by God once every century to revive Islām)

Methods in 4th segment

  • Refused to allow Western schools to be built in Bawol

Methods in 5th segment

  • After returning from his final exile Bàmba was the unquestioned leader of the Murīds
  • Treatment of Bawol as dār al-Murīd rather than as part of French West Africa

Methods in 6th segment

  • Especially after Bàmba's death his image was used as a cultural symbol of Sénégalese independence and nonviolence
  • The Murīd economy began to treat the French colonial machine as an equal partner rather than as an overlord
  • Bàmba functioned as the de facto governor of the Murīds

Segment Length

6 years


Sheikh Amadu Bàmba Mbàcke


Wolof religious leaders

Involvement of social elites

After 1912 an entente existed between the Murīds and the French governors which maintained social peace and relative autonomy for native Sénégalese.


French colonizing profiteers, assimilating Wolof tribal leaders

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Shift from coercive to cooperative approach to indigenous Sénégalese

Campaigner violence

Bàmba's encouragement of enlistment in the French army during World War I (Murīds were known to have been valiant in battle and to have withstood heavy losses; Bàmba received the French Legion of Merit for his war efforts)

Repressive Violence

Exile / imprisonment / cruelty directed at Bàmba


Economic Justice
National-Ethnic Identity



Group characterization

Wolof Sénégalese Murīd Ṣūfīs

Groups in 1st Segment


Groups in 2nd Segment


Groups in 3rd Segment

French governors

Groups in 4th Segment

French governors

Groups in 5th Segment

French governors

Groups in 6th Segment

French economic networks

Segment Length

6 years

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

2 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

5 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

As the campaign did not have a definitive ending, the last eight decades of Sénégalese history can be said to be in some sense the continued unfolding of Bàmba's movement. While a great degree of cooperation with the French may seem assimilationist, the dignity with which the Murīds maintained their relative autonomy and the relatively smooth transition into a democratic nation-state speak to the lasting success of the movement.

Database Narrative

Born into a family of well-to-do Ṣūfī marabouts (clerics), Sheikh Amadu Bàmba Mbàcke – whose Arabic name was Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad
Ibn Ḥabīb al-Lah – lived from roughly 1854 to 1927.  Through his emphases on piety, hard work,
singular devotion to God, the corrupting potential of governmental power,
mystical pedagogy, and principled nonviolence, Bàmba effectively (and of
secondary interest if not unwittingly) led the black Sénégalese population to de facto political and economic
independence from French colonial rule more than three decades before de jure independence came about.  Bàmba’s Ṣūfī brotherhood, the Murīds
(“novices” or “those who desire”) are today the most influential and largest Islāmic
sect in Sénégal –  constituting nearly
30% of the population – and Bàmba remains a national hero.  The only known photograph of Bàmba has become
perhaps the most iconic cultural symbol in Sénégalese historiography and is
especially ubiquitous in the capital of Dakar.  The Murīds – Bàmba’s nonviolence and
noncooperation with coercive power remains among their central tenants – have
been credited as being integral to Sénégal’s relatively (by west African
standards) peaceful transition to democracy, and since 2000 the Murīd Abdoulaye
Wade has served as Sénégal’s peacefully elected President.  Bàmba’s pacifist Ṣūfī ideal, which was
disinterested in coercive power, ultimately transformed the political landscape
of colonized Sénégal and led to a period of entente with the French overseers.

French involvement in Sénégal dates to the fourteenth
century, though the economic link only translated into imperial colonialism in
the mid-1800s.  For centuries Sénégal had
been an important market for European purchase of African slaves, but with the
steady decline in the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the nineteenth century
peanut cultivation became increasingly integral to Sénégalese economics.  Because the center of peanut production was
inland while the hubs of commerce were along the Atlantic coast, the French
constructed a railway linking the ports of Dakar
and Saint-Louis with the fertile agricultural region
between the Gambia
and Sénégal rivers, effectively consolidating the region into one
economic-political unit.  The
predominantly Muslim indigenous population, including Bàmba’s own Wolof ethnic
group, did not assimilate easily to their new colonial status because
submission to Christian coercive power was an affront to both tribal and
religious sensibilities.  Nonetheless, Sénégalese
political attempts in the mid-1800s to resist the French were largely
unsuccessful.  One of the most celebrated
figures in the opposition to colonialism, the Wolof-Kajoor King Dammel Lat Joor
Joop, was killed by French soldiers in 1886 – a year after the railroad began
running.  France would go unchallenged
militarily, but in their clumsy handling of Amadu Bàmba the colonizers would
ultimately be stripped of their monopoly on economic and political dominance of
the Sénégalese.

A popular legend relates a “passing the torch” moment
between King Lat Joor and Amadu Bàmba.  Bàmba,
whose father had been a well-paid cleric in the king’s court and who himself
was already a learned and popular cleric in 1887, is imagined to have meet with
the king the night before the latter’s death. 
King Lat Joor asked Bàmba for a blessing of support for his religious
and military ambitions, but Bàmba in reply offered only a blessing for the
king’s soul.  The military option would
no longer be the mode of resistance, and the Sheikh’s way of nonviolence would
thenceforth characterize the Sénégalese struggle.

Bàmba was, above all else, a devoted follower of Islām.  During his thirty-three years of exile and
imprisonment he devoted himself to developing his marabout pedagogy, and he was an avid pursuer of knowledge in the
sciences of ḥadīth (traditions of the
Prophet Muḥammad), Qur’ān, Arabic grammar, jurisprudence, poetry, and
didactics.  A pseudo-humanist love for
life and justice informed his ethic of nonviolence (Bàmba once said, “My
religion is the love of God”).  Two
traditions of the Prophet grounded both his own Islāmic character and that of
his Murīd followers.  First,
over-and-against the Tijānī (another Ṣūfī sect) declaration of military jihād against the French in the
mid-1880s, the Bàmba invoked the famous ḥadīth
marfuᶜ in which the Prophet, on greeting a group of Muslims returning from
battle, implored the warriors, “You have come from the lesser jihād [war] to the greater jihād – the striving of a servant
against his desires.”  From this
tradition, and from his own witness to failed military resistance, Bàmba came
to the conclusion that the pursuits of righteousness and power were
incompatible and that it was incumbent upon all Muslims to live nonviolent
lives.  The second Prophetic tradition
upon which Bàmba constructed his moral vision was the saying, “Work as if you
were going to live forever, and pray as if you were going to die
tomorrow.”  Industriousness thus became –
and remains – a hallmark of Murīd society. 
The Islāmic virtue of charity is incorporated into Bàmba’s doctrine of
hard work, so that Murīds tend toward philanthropy: they work so tirelessly
that they frequently amass great fortunes, but they share what they earn
communally and give liberally to the underclasses in society (across religious
and ethnic lines).  Salvation, according
to Bàmba, comes through a combination of hard work and submission to God, the
latter manifest in absolute obedience to the marabout and in giving oneself into the welfare of the community.

By the 1890s Bàmba had become the preeminent sheikh in
Sénégal, his influence deriving from a combination of his noble character and
his ties to the peanut trade.  As the
French struggled to consolidate their imperial power they targeted the Murīds
(and Bàmba in particular) for coercion.  In
1895 the government trumped up charges of sedition against Bàmba (ironically,
he was charged with subtly encouraging militant Islāmist jihād against the French) and he was exiled to Gabon.  This sentence backfired on the French,
however, as Bàmba went from being a popular cleric to a legendary hero.  One popular tale claims that while on the
ship taking him to exile, Bàmba asked permission to say his obligatory prayers
onboard.  When the French refused, Bàmba
took his prayer rug overboard; the rug floated on the surface of the ocean and Bàmba
performed his prayers to the amazement of the Christian onlookers.  To this day pilgrims to Bàmba’s tomb say a
special prayer while facing the Atlantic Ocean
in remembrance of this miracle.

While in exile and detained in a cell strewn with barbed
metal objects (to prevent his sitting or lying), Bàmba felt a brief temptation
to resort to the force of arms in his opposition to French rule.  In his Jaza’u
Shakur, Bàmba writes, “Each time I recall this night, this Governor and the
ignominy (of the conditions of this detention), I felt like having recourse to
arms, but Al-Mahi, the Eraser (of sins and pains), the Prophet (peace be upon
him) forbade me.”  Bàmba spent seven
years (1895-1902) in Gabon;
while there he developed his pedagogy, deepened his piety, and developed his
understanding of his special calling.

The French, impressed by the hardworking Murīds and hopeful
of tapping them as a resource through a show of benevolence toward their
leader, allowed Bàmba to return.  Their
plan was unsuccessful – rather than shore up Murīd servility, releasing Bàmba
actually weakened French control over Sénégalese economics.  Bàmba’s return was widely celebrated, and he
was hailed as the mujaddid (a
reformer sent by God once every century to revive Islām) of the thirteenth Islāmic
century.  His fame eroded the power of
the tribal chiefs (many of whom had sworn fealty to the French governors), thus
weakening the French vice-grip on Sénégalese economics.  At the request of these chiefs, the French
re-exiled Bàmba in 1903.  This time they
deported him to Mauritania
and placed him under the supervision of an ally, the Moorish Sheikh
Sadiyya.  The French hoped that Sadiyya could
convert Bàmba to imperial loyalty, but again they were to be disappointed.  While in Mauritania Bàmba had a vision after
which he declared the Murīds a separate Ṣūfī sect and began to think in terms
of political accommodation to French rule. 
The colonizers, realizing that Bàmba was not a military threat,
gradually let him return closer to his home until finally, in 1912, he was
allowed back into his home region of Bawol. 
While there he maintained a cordial relationship with the French
government, but from then until his death in 1927 that relationship was always
on his terms.

Bàmba’s response to colonialism became a significant third
way to the traditional Islāmic alternatives of taqiya (practicing Islām in secret) and hijra (emigration away from the colony).  For Bàmba and the Murīds, the nonviolent
choice was largely to ignore the French. 
They would not be swayed by coercion or threats, for they knew that it
was in the best interests of the colonizers for the peace to be kept.  Bawol became effectively autonomous: if
traditional Islāmic typology divides the world into dār al-Islām (the abode of Islām) and dār al-ḥarb (the abode of war), then it might be said (following
Sheikh Anta Babou’s model) that Sénégal became dār al-Murīd (the abode of the Murīds) located concentrically
within dār al-kufr (the abode of
apostasy).  For Babou, “Daar al-Murid did
not contest French political and administrative domination; rather, it
endeavored to achieve symbolic and cultural and, when possible, geographic
autonomy from the colonial realm.  [The
Murids stripped] daar al-Islam of its political content [and infused] it with
cultural meanings.”

Bàmba’s vision of Murīd society was permanently incarnated
when he founded the city of Touba
(Arabic: Ṭūbā, “felicity”), which remains the center of Murīd piety and
Sénégal’s second-largest city.  He
established this settlement with French backing – the French were both
impressed by Bàmba’s seeming patriotism in his support for volunteerism during
World War I (he even received the French Legion of Honor for his efforts in
encouraging Murīd enlistment) and hopeful that the industrious Murīds, if
properly incentivized, would prove an enormous asset in the pursuit of French
economic aspirations. 

Unlike many twentieth-century nonviolent resistance
movements, Bàmba’s Murīd society focused on principled living (specifically on
the Islāmic virtues of nonviolence and industriousness) and did not have
political power as its objectified telos.  By reframing the notions of success, power,
and autonomy, the Murīds radically subverted French ambitions toward dominance
and permanently ended attempts to rule Sénégal by coercion.  Bàmba’s legacy of nonviolence and disinterest
in political power facilitated the peaceful transition to national independence
and democratic stability, rarities among African nation-states – especially
those which have to manage the cohabitation of sizeable Muslim and Christian
populations.  Bàmba’s nonviolent
resistance might be seen as a failure when measured in the terms of the
colonizer – the political and military shackles were not cast off and the
French continued their economic profiteering for decades – but the genius of Bàmba’s
nonviolence is that it refused those very terms for measuring success.  Bàmba created a society-within-a-society in
which colonized Africans were endowed with dignity, relative autonomy, the
freedom to dictate the terms of their relationship to their colonizers, and
socio-cultural prosperity.  The movement
was an overwhelming success in terms of its fidelity to Amadu Bàmba’s vision
for an Islāmic society which could effectively bypass the authority of the colonial
government in sole allegiance to God.  Bàmba
declared at his father’s funeral that, “God is sufficient for me; I am content
in Him, and nothing satisfies me except the Religion and the [Islāmic]
sciences.  I fear none but God and put my
hope in none but Him – How could I also put my destiny in the hands of those
who are unable to determine their [eternal] fate?”  Together he and the Murīds who followed him
declared, “God and Muḥammad suffice me, I have no need of minor kings and


Bàmba’s focus on divine love was influenced by previous West African and pan-Islamic Ṣūfī saints including Ibn ʿArabī and al-Ghazzālī. (1)


(author’s translation from French or Arabic where appropriate in citations)
Babou, Cheick Anta . Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853-1913 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007)
Blunt, Elizabeth . “Senegal’s Powerful Brotherhoods” (BBC News, 22SEP2005: . “Of Non-Violence: Which Culture of Peace for the 21st Century?” (retrieved 30OCT2011:
Kimball, Michelle R. “A Muslim Peacemaker of the Twentieth Century – Shaykh Ahmadou Bàmba” (Santa Barbara, CA: International Peace Project, 2005, retrieved 30OCT2011: . “Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Khadimou Rassoul” (French text retrieved and translated 30OCT2011:
Roberts, Allen F. and Mary Nooter Roberts . A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal (Hong Kong: South Sea International Press, Ltd., 2003)
Robinson, David . “French ‘Islamic’ Policy and Practice in Late Nineteenth-Century Senegal” in Journal of African History (vol. 29, 1988) pp. 415-435
Robinson, David . “Senegal: Bamba and the Murids under French Colonial Rule” in Muslim Societies in African History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004) pp. 182-196
Touba Internet . “Cheikh Ahmadou Bàmba Mbacké” (French text retrieved and translated 30OCT2011:

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Tasi Perkins (05/11/2011)