Saint-Louis: Religious Pluralism in the Heart of Senegal
by David Robinson with assistance from Ghislaine Lydon, Kalala Ngalamulume and others
Muslim Education and Changing Sufi Identities
A third goal of the Muslim community, expressed with increasing intensity, was to develop the full range of Islamic education in Saint-Louis. In the mid-19th century, most of the schools in the town were Koranic schools, and serious students went to institutions in the interior for Islamic studies. By the late 19th century Saint-Louis was equipped with a number of Sufi lodges and educational centers. The Qadiriyya order was important among the Muslim elites of the island for much of the 19th century, especially the Moors or bidan, who controlled some of the most prestigious schools in the interior. By the end of the century the Tijaniyya affiliation was spreading in the town, under the leadership of al-hajj ("pilgrim") Malik Sy, so named because of the pilgrimage that he performed from Senegal to
Mecca in 1889. Malik took up residence in Saint-Louis for much of the 1880s and 1890s, before moving to Tivaouane in 1902, a smaller center set on the rail line between Saint-Louis and Dakar. By that time a third order, the Muridiyya founded by Amadu Bamba, was beginning to make inroads into the capital. The gallery that Cheikh Babou is organizing on this Sufi group will deal with the Murids in greater depth. The Tijaniyya order was the dominant Sufi persuasion in Saint-Louis in the early 20th century, and Malik Sy was its incarnation. Al-hajj Malik had a particularly close relationship with the administration and a number of Muslim colonial officials and merchants. The French sought out his advice on sensitive matters. They also asked him to endorse their war aims and recruitment during World War I, over against the Germans and the Ottoman Muslims. While he taught and worked out of Tivaouane after 1902, his oldest son Babacar resided in Saint-Louis until his father's death in 1922, when the family called upon him to move to the headquarters of the order. Tijaniyya allegiance remained strong among the Muslim community of Saint-Louis. At the same time the French were experimenting with a variety of forms of "franco-Arabic" education, which they usually called "medersa" after the Arabic expression for a place of learning, madrasa. They drew upon their experience, good and bad, in Algeria, and sought to find formulas that would work in the increasingly Islamic environment of Senegal.
This picture was taken by a colonial government photographer about 1912 in Tivaouane,the headquarters of the well-known Tijaniyya Sufi leader Malik Sy, and then published in Paul Marty, "Etudes sur l'Islam au Senegal," vol 1 (1917).