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African

Diaspora
African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 brill.nl/afdi

A West African Sufi Master on the Global Stage:


Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye and the Khidmatul Khadim
International Sufi School in France and the
United States

Cheikh A. Babou
Associate Professor of History University of Pennsylvania, USA
cheikh@sas.upenn.edu

Abstract
The recent wave of West African Muslim migration to the West started after the Great War
and gained momentum in the 1960s. Sub-Saharan Africans have been particularly successful in
finding a niche in Europe and North America partly because of the connection between immi-
grants and centers of Islamic spirituality and knowledge in Africa provided by a dynamic lead-
ership that straddles the three continents. Based on extensive interviews in the United States
and in France and on the examination of Murid internal sources and scholarly secondary litera-
ture, this article investigates the efforts of the late Sufi sheikh, Abdoulaye Dièye, to expand the
Muridiyya Muslim tariqa in France and North America. I am particularly interested in examin-
ing the foundations of Dièye’s appeal, his struggle to earn legitimacy and relevance on the
global stage, and the response of diverse constituencies to his calling. I contend that the attrac-
tion of Dièye’s teachings to Europeans, Americans, and Africans in the diaspora, is rooted in
his dual cultural outlook as a Western educated and traditionally trained Murid.

Keywords
Muridiyya, Islam, globalization, Senegal, Khidmatul Khadim

Résumé
La récente vague migratoire de l’Afrique de l’ouest musulman vers l’Occident a démarré au
lendemain de la première guerre mondiale et s’est accélérée dans les années 1960. Les immi-
grants musulmans originaires de l’Afrique au sud du Sahara ont réussi à se faire une place en
Europe et aux Etats Unis d’Amérique grâce aux liens étroits qu’ils continuent d’entretenir avec
des foyers religieux situés en Afrique. Cette recherche s’appuie sur des entretiens oraux avec des
disciples mourides en France et aux Etats unis ainsi que sur des sources internes mourides et des
études d’universitaires pour explorer le rôle du cheikh mouride, Abdoulaye Dièye, dans
l’expansion de la Mouridiyya en Occident. Je place un intérêt particulier dans l’examen des
fondations de l’autorité spirituelle de Dièye, ses efforts pour acquérir une certaine legitimite dans
la diaspora, et les réponses que son prosélytisme a suscitées. Les enseignements de Dièye ont
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/187254611X566099
28 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

trouvé un écho favorable parmi les européens, américains, et africains de la diaspora, particulière-
ment à cause de son profil de chef religieux formé à la fois dans l’école occidentale et dans les
écoles coraniques traditionnelles.

Mots-clés
Muridiyya, Islam, mondialisation, Senegal, Kihdmatul Khadim

Introduction

Significant international migration from Islamic West Africa to Europe and


North America began in the aftermath of World War I and accelerated
between the 1960s and 1990s (Adams, 1977; Salem, 1981; Ebin, 1993;
Riccio, 2001; Diouf, 2004). West African Muslims have been particularly
successful in finding ways of accommodating Islam in the secular Western
world. This success was built on the continuous connection between immi-
grants and centers of Islamic spirituality, knowledge, and leadership in Africa.
More recently, this connection is provided by a new breed of religious brokers
for whom Africa and the diaspora constitute a single field of action (Soares,
2004). These new leaders display a strong entrepreneurial drive fueled by
their organizational skills, their spirit of innovation, and their capacity to
harness the language of modernity and the new technologies.1 Their work has
resulted in significant religious realignments and other socio-cultural trans-
formations. This article investigates the efforts of one of these religious entre-
preneurs, the late Sufi Sheikh, Abdoulaye Dièye, to expand the Muridiyya
Muslim tariqa (order) in France and North America.2 The Muridyya Muslim
order was founded by Amadu Bamba Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim saint, at
the turn of the 20th century in the context of intensifying French colonial
onslaught in West Africa. Shunning the use of violence and Muslim efforts
at state building to oppose imperial encroachment, Bamba promoted the idea
of greater Jihad or jihad of nafs (carnal soul), calling on his followers to purify
their own soul by combating the enemy within. He regarded education as

1)
There is a growing scholarship on African religious entrepreneurship but the focus has been
particularly on the savvy leaders of the thriving charismatic Christian revivalist movement in
Africa and abroad. (See for example Ukah, 2008 and 2003; Van Dijk, 2010).
2)
Previous studies of the expansion of the Muridiyya in France, Italy, and the United States
have focused on economic issues, the role of the ubiquitous Senegalese trading diaspora, and on
dahira networks rather than on the effort of a Sheikh. Not much attention has been given to
religion and spirituality, and the effort to proselytize the local population. (See Carter, 1997;
Diouf, 2000; Riccio, 2001; Babou, 2002; and Bava, 2003).
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 29

the main weapon to save the souls of the masses. This system of education was
based on the Sufi concept of tarbiyya (education) that combined instruction,
work, and prayers to keep the body, mind, and spirit of disciples permanently
busy with actions pleasing to God. Amadu Bamba gained a considerable fol-
lowing in West and West-central Senegal, and his numerous arrests and
deportations by the French between 1895 and 1912 only enhanced his popu-
larity, turning a humble teacher into a saint and wali Allah (friend of God)
credited for numerous miracles. Because of his reputation for higher learning
and closeness to God and his martyrdom under French colonial rule, Bamba
garnered substantial baraka (God given gift of grace) and the Muridiyya
became a magnet for many Senegalese confronted with existential and spiri-
tual anxieties. Today the Muridiyya Muslim order accounts for over 4 million
disciples in Senegal and around the world. Elsewhere I have dealt extensively
with the spiritual roots and transformation of the Muridiyya (Babou, 2007a);
in this paper I am particularly interested in examining the foundations of
Dièye’s appeal, his struggle to earn legitimacy and relevance on the global
stage, and the response of diverse constituencies in France and the United
States to his calling.
Sufism started to garner influence in the West from the first half of the
twentieth century stimulated by the study of the philosophy of Ibn Arabi,
the translation of the poetry of 13th-century Persian Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi,
by renowned American poets such as Robert Bly and Coleman Barks, and
the popularity of Sufi music and art, especially from South Asia. This brand
of mystical Islam dubbed Euro-American Sufism was spread mainly by Euro-
pean converts and Asian Muslims. It found most of its followers among highly
educated White middle and upper middle class Europeans and Americans
disenchanted with Western materialism and longing for a universal spiritual
religion (Westerlund, 2004; Lawrence et al., 2005).
The movement pioneered in the 1980s by Dièye and other African Sufi
sheikhs, such as Sheikh Hassan Cissé was, in contrast, inspired by the thought
and teachings of Black West African Sufi masters, scarcely known in the
Muslim world beyond sub-Saharan Africa, let alone in the Western world.
While the calling of these African religious entrepreneurs was directed to
Americans and Europeans of all races and classes, they have been more suc-
cessful in attracting Westerners of African descent, and especially the less
economically privileged among them. I contend that the attraction of Dièye’s
teachings to Europeans, Americans, and Africans in the diaspora, is rooted in
his dual cultural outlook as a Western educated and traditionally trained
Murid. His relative success was predicated on his ability to link his teachings
30 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

to that of early European and South Asian Sufi masters but by infusing new
interpretations and by developing shifting meanings that made his message
more appealing to a cosmopolitan and changing audience. By re-interpreting
Amadu Bamba’s thought in a way that accommodates Western perceptions
of Sufism and contemporary socio-political and cultural preoccupations,
Dièye was able to develop a vision of the Muridiyya less bound by the local
Senegalese cultural context and more meaningful to outsiders.

A Short Biography of Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye

Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye was born in 1938 in Saint-Louis (Senegal) into a


family with a long tradition of Islamic learning.3 Dièye’s grandfather ran a
Quranic school in his house and he built and led as imam the first mosque in
the neighborhood of Get Ndar. Dièye’s grandmother is also said to have
memorized the Qur’an. Thus, religious education was a strong shaper of the
Dièye family identity.
Following his forebears’ traditions, Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye received all
of his religious education within the family, and principally from his father,
Ibrahima Dièye, who was also a teacher and Imam. Later on, he deepened
his training in Tasawwuf (Sufism, mystical Islam) with Sheikh Sidi Ahmad
Ismuhu (Sheikh S. Ahmad), his Mauritanian spiritual guide, and with some
early disciples of Sheikh Amadu Bamba such as Amsatu Jaxate and Ahmad
Lamin Joob Dagana.
Cheikh A. Dièye’s education was not however limited to religion as was
the tradition in his family. He went to a French school and joined Lycée
Blanchot, a prestigious high school, where many of the leaders of the colonial
and post-colonial francophone West African states were trained. He experi-
enced some difficulties at the Lycée and left to enter a school of engineering
where he graduated with a diploma of senior technician. In 1965 or 1966,
Dièye joined the newly founded Ecole Nationale d’Ēconomie Appliquée
(National School for Applied Economy, French acronym ENEA), which was
designed by Leopold S. Senghor and Mamadou Dia, the leaders of indepen-
dent Senegal, to train extension agents for the planning and implementation

3)
For information related to Dièye’s biography in this section and the following I rely on my
interviews with Abdoulaye Dièye’s elder son, Bamba Dièye in Dakar, 14 April 2006 and Mou-
stapha Thioune, a Murid disciple of Saint-Louis origin and amateur archivist, Dakar, 9 May
2006.
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 31

of their policies for rural development. In ENEA, Cheikh A. Dièye joined


the college of development planning.
Dièye’s professional career started in earnest after graduation from ENEA.
After an internship in Madagascar in 1971, he was appointed deputy prefect
of the districts of Gossas then Thiès. The prefect is a representative of the cen-
tral government in charge of coordinating and overseeing the implementa-
tion of policies at the local level in urban and semi urban areas. This position
allowed Cheikh A. Dièye, who had already discovered his vocation as a reli-
gious leader and disseminator of Amadu Bamba’s teachings, to better under-
stand the Senegalese system of administration and to horn his skills as a
communicator. He left Senegal for France in 1977 or 1978 to pursue train-
ing as an engineer at the Ēcole Supérieure de Paysage de Versailles (High
Institute for Landscape Architecture). Cheikh A. Dièye’s sojourn in France
provided him a platform for the development and dissemination of his teach-
ings and marked an important turning point in his spiritual growth.

Spiritual Itineraries

The Dièye clan was affiliated with the Muridiyya, but unlike most Senegalese
Muslims, affiliation to a Sufi order was not of paramount importance to their
religious identity. They built their reputation on the high value they placed
on Islamic learning. Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye was among the first members
of his family to openly claim and promote a Murid identity. At age 14, he
was a member of dahira (urban institution regrouping members of a Sufi
order in Senegal) Mbaboor, one of the earliest Murid organizations in Saint-
Louis, specialized in studying and singing Amadu Bamba’s spiritual poetry.
In later years, Cheikh Abdoulaye joined formally the Muridiyya by pleading
allegiance to Sheikh Usman Mbakke, a popular Murid Sheikh in the 1960s
and 1970s and son of Ibra Fati, the half-brother and close confident of
Amadu Bamba. Formal membership to a Sufi order like the Muridiyya
requires submission to a sheikh or spiritual master who is qualified to initiate
and guide disciples in the way of the tariqa. Dièye later switched to Sheikh
Abdul Khafoor, a son of Amadu Bamba’s older brother, Mame Mor Diarra
Mbakke. Dièye finally pleaded allegiance to Sheikh S. Ahmad, a Moorish
Murid sheikh from the Deymani family of Mauritania, who remained his
spiritual leader until his death in the early 1970s. The Deymani are a presti-
gious tribe of Muslim clerics that claim descent from Prophet Muhammad.
Dièye, very early on, became the favored disciple of Sheikh S. Ahmad who
32 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

elected him as a leader and advised new disciples to work with him (Diop
2010; Fall 2010). After his sheikh’s demise, Dièye became the head of his sil-
sila or spiritual lineage. In many of his writings and oral accounts, Dièye
explains the relationships between Amadu Bamba and Sheikh S. Ahmad and
argues forcefully for the strength and legitimacy of the latter’s spiritual lineage
and his own position as heir and continuator of this lineage (C.A. Dièye,
2002; C.A. Dièye, undated).
Sheikh S. Ahmad was a scholar in his own right. He owned one of the
largest Islamic private libraries in Saint-Louis and was highly respected by the
Muslim notables of the city (B. Dièye, 2006; Thioune, 2006). He divided his
time between his family compound in Trarza in southern Mauritania and
Saint-Louis where the weather was cooler and where he had many friends
among the politicians and business entrepreneurs. Sheikh S. Ahmad joined
the Muridiyya at a young age during Amadu Bamba’s exile in Mauritania
between 1903 and 1907. Unlike many of Bamba’s Moorish disciples who
took a distant attitude towards his successors, he remained faithful to the
Murid order and continued to entertain relationships with older disciples
and sheikhs in Senegal. With his prestige as a Muslim scholar and a member
of a renowned Muslim family with strong ties to the Saint-Louis elite, Sheikh
S. Ahmad was certainly seen by members of the Dièye clan as an appropriate
spiritual mentor for their son. There is evidence that they encouraged or at
least appreciated the fact that he was affiliated to a sheikh who shared the val-
ues championed by the family and who benefitted from the respect of the
Muslim community of Saint-Louis (B. Dièye, interview, Dakar, 14 April 2006).
Dièye’s affiliation to Sheikh S. Ahmad also made it easier for him to claim
spiritual authority. The door to the position of sheikh was closed in the
Muridiyya since the death of Amadu Bamba and his first companions, and
the only way to access this status was through inheritance. The Mbakke and
other lineages that monopolized the rights to ‘sheikhood ’ managed to keep
the door shut, denying legitimacy to any outsider who tried to access the
prestigious title.4 Since Dièye’s father was not a sheikh he had no chance of
becoming one. His chance of accumulating original spiritual power would

4)
The recent examples of Atou Diagne and Béthio Thioune illustrate the determination of the
Mbakke family to maintain its monopoly over the leadership of the Murid order and to vigor-
ously challenge any competition. Diagne, one of the founders and leaders of the Hizb tarqiyya,
a powerful Murid youth organization, incurred the wrath of Bamba’s grandsons when he
argued that any worthy disciple, regardless of his family origin, should qualify to lead the order.
Accused of disrespecting the caliph’s son, himself and his followers, he escaped lynching and
banishment from Tuba, the holy of the Muridiyya, only because of the personal intervention
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 33

have been even smaller had he chosen to remain affiliated to a member of the
Mbakke or any other Senegalese Murid spiritual lineages. These lineages were
dominated by a caliph or leader to whom every disciple equally owed obedi-
ence. The affiliation to a Murid sheikh of Mauritanian origin, living outside
the Murid heartland, with no contending heir or a massive following that
might be the object of competition, provided Dièye with the opportunity
to access spiritual power while minimizing a challenge to the legitimacy of
his religious authority. Although the authenticity of his status of sheikh was
contested in certain Murid milieus until his death, he was still successful in
recruiting disciples and presenting himself as one of the most visible leaders of
the Muridiyya in Senegal and particularly abroad.5

Intellectual Itineraries

Dièye’s unique profile as a traditionally trained sheikh with Western educa-


tional credentials provided compensation for his weak genealogical connec-
tions. He was one of the rare Murid sheikhs who could articulate in French
Amadu Bamba’s ideology in a knowledgeable and understandable way for
Muslim communities in Senegal and beyond. Very early in his career, Dièye
portrayed himself as a modern Murid intellectual and teacher. He was edu-
cated in the French colonial school system and could be considered a mem-
ber of the emerging elite of the Senegalese civil service. He was among the
small minority of Murid disciples to receive an advanced Western education.
But unlike most of his contemporaries in the civil service and in urban Sene-
gal, who played down their Murid identity, to fit into the francophone and
Francophile urban culture of newly independent Senegal, he forcefully show-
cased his Murid identity. Dièye carved out for himself a unique niche in the
Muridiyya, which was at the time mostly a rural organization of farmers and
seasonal traders educated in the traditional Qur’anic system and the Murid
rural working schools (daara tarbiyya). He mastered the French language, he
could read the writings of Amadu Bamba in Arabic, and he garnered much

of Sheikh Saliu, the Murid khalif. Béthio Thioune, a controversial self-proclaimed sheikh is
equally subject to the ostracism and hostility of the Murid leadership.
5)
One of Dièye’s disciples in Paris, Souleymane Diakhate [interview in Paris on 16 May 2010]
recalled a dispute he had in Paris with a grandson of Amadu Bamba who denied that Dièye was
an authentic Murid, affirming instead that he was a qadiri (a disciple of the qaridiyya order).
During my interviews in Paris, some Murids still continued to support the idea that Dièye was
indeed a qadiri because he had a Moorish Sheikh and not a Sheikh from the Mbakke family.
34 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

oral knowledge through his friendship with old Murid sheikhs and disciples.
Dièye also grew up in Saint-Louis where eloquence and civility were highly
valued. He was aware of the power of etiquette and adopted an impressive
style of dress, body language, and choice of words that forged him a unique
identity that served him well in his religious and political career.6 Dièye skill-
fully exploited his position at the intersection of the Muridiyya, Western cul-
ture, and urban sophistication, to gradually accumulate symbolic capital
which translated into religious authority.
As a sheikh, Abdoulaye Dièye began his career in the 1960s and early
1970s by creating an informal school in Saint-Louis for the dissemination of
Amadu Bamba’s teachings. His style of proselytizing at the time was quite
revolutionary. Rather than focusing on hagiography and oral narratives of
Bamba’s miracles and the use of Wolof, the lingua franca of Senegal, Dièye
favored an engagement with Bamba’s societal project and thought, compar-
ing it to major ideologies such as Marxism, capitalism, and Maoism. He sur-
rounded himself with young high school students, gave conferences in French
in the schools, organized tea parties, and made frequent visits to families in
the neighborhood of Get Ndar to talk about the Muridiyya.
While experiencing some difficulties and resistance in Saint-Louis, Dièye
expanded his activities to the other regions of Senegal, using high school stu-
dents as his favorite target. He was probably the first person to promote the
Muridiyya in the schools of Senegal.7 Now associations of Murid students
exist in almost all Senegalese high schools and universities. Before Dièye,
Khadim Mbakke (not to be confused with professor Khadim Mbakke of
IFAN) was touring Senegal giving talks about the Muridiyya and its history,
but he spoke in Wolof and Arabic about Murid religiosity and mysticism to
a mostly passively listening audience. His example may have inspired Abdou-

6)
Many of the European and American disciples of Sheikh Abdoulaye Dièye that I interviewed
emphasized his impressive physical appearance, especially his body language, his warmth, and
his charm. (Interviews with Chuck Abraham, a white disciple of Dièye in Santa Barbara,
19 March 2006; Rashiida Akbar and Dr. Mark Perrot, African American members of Khid-
matul Khadim in Los Angeles, 22 March 2006). Besides being a Murid Sheikh, Dièye was also
a politician and chief of a party. He sat for years on the Municipal council of Saint-Louis and
eventually held the position of deputy mayor. He also served as a member of the Senegalese
parliament. Today, his son, Bamba Dièye, sits at the Senegalese National Assembly to represent
the party that Dieye founded.
7)
Serigne Mbakke Babou, who was a high school student in the city of Kaolack in east-central
Senegal in the mid-1980s, recalls that they had tried to bring Dièye to give a conference at their
school for many years but were only successful in bringing him there in 1985-86 because of his
busy calendar. (Telephone conversation 22 June 2008).
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 35

laye Dièye, but given his skills and profile, Dièye’s effectiveness and lasting
influence far outweighed those of Khadim Mbakke. Dièye’s focus on high
school students paid off because when these students joined the University in
the 1970s, they became a major factor in reshaping the cultural life of the
campus. The University of Dakar, the single institution of higher education
in Senegal at the time, was a temple of leftist ideas off limit to religion. But
the arrival in the university of students influenced by Dièye gradually helped
the entrenchment of the Muridiyya in this institution soon followed by that
of rival Sufi orders such as the Tijaniyya.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Dièye traveled widely across Senegal, giving lec-
tures in French and Wolof about Amadu Bamba, and particularly about the
latter’s confrontation with the French colonial government. He portrayed
Bamba as a great Muslim thinker whose societal project when well under-
stood rivaled that of Western philosophers so admired by the Senegalese and
African youth. He touted the universal validity of Bamba’s thought, his
nationalist credentials, and his resistance to both Arab acculturation and
French colonization. His discourse resonated well with his youthful audience,
particularly those that in the words of A. Dramé, an early disciple of Dièye in
France, was on the quest of a ‘real African hero’ (A. Dramé, interview, Paris,
30 May 2010). These young men most of whom were fired up by the leftist
and anti-establishment fervor of the late 1960s and early 1970s admired
Amadu Bamba but were uncomfortable with the image of the Muridiyya con-
veyed through popular discourse, and colonial and scholarly literature. This
image was that of a conservative, parochial, and backward organization, only
fit for the benighted Wolof farmers and traders of Kajoor and Bawol. In 1977
during the first cultural week dedicated to the founder of the Muridiyya by
Muslim Cultural Union (UCM, French acronym), an Islamist organization
led by Arabic speaking teachers, Dièye gave a well received public lecture on
Sheikh Amadu Bamba at Cinema Vox in Dakar. This was probably the first
event of its kind in the history of the Murid order.
Dièye’s lectures were among the first attempts to use the French language
and the format and setting of a scholarly meeting to disseminate Amadu
Bamba’s teachings. In the words of one of his senior disciples this was a “sci-
entific approach” to Mouridisme (Ale Fall, interview, Paris, 16 May 2010).
The first stage of this approach was research conducted both through the
exploration of the internal Murid sources (Bamba and his disciples’ writings
in Arabic and Wolofal, Murid oral history, and oral tradition through credible
sources, and field trips) and through a perusal of the colonial and postcolonial
literature. The second stage was the delivery of the findings in journal articles
36 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

and speeches but also through discursive sessions open to the public where
Dièye was ready to take on the challenges of his audience. The third stage was
the creation of tools (a journal and institutions) to promote the approach
pioneered by Dièye.
One major feature of Dièye’s calling was his belief in the power of knowl-
edge as an instrument to accumulate spiritual authority. Students of Sufism
in Africa and elsewhere influenced by Marx Weber have mostly focused on
the role of personal charisma as a major source of religious power (Crusie
O’Brien et al., 1988). Others, especially those influenced by the work of Spen-
cer Trimingham and cultural anthropologists have emphasized the role of
genealogy and particularly blood relations to the sheikh founder (Schmitz,
2000). Dièye’s insistence on the preeminence of knowledge and faithfulness
to the teachings of Amadu Bamba as a legitimate source of religious author-
ity challenged both views. He believed that merit trumped blood relations
and that learning and disseminating Amadu Bamba’s teachings was more
valuable than submission to a member of the Mbakke family whose authority
was founded on mere genealogy (Fare Gaye, personal conversation, Philadel-
phia, 17 October 2007). Dièye emphasized the concept of deggel (from the
Wolof word deg; truth). This means that the authentic heirs to Amadu Bamba
are those who truly embody his teachings and sincerely model their behavior
on his.8 In his view, faithfulness to Bamba’s teachings, spiritual fraternity, and
brotherhood take precedence over biological relationships. Dièye assigned
himself the mission to reconstruct and disseminate the ‘authentic’ thought
and history of Amadu Bamba, which from his perspective had been clouded
by misleading European interpretations and disciples’ obscurantism (B. Dièye,
interview, Dakar, 14 April 2006).
Dièye considered the confrontation between the founder of the Muridiyya
and the French colonial administration of Senegal, and particularly the exiles
in Equatorial Africa and Mauritania, to be a particularly important issue. He
endeavored to set the record straight by conducting field and archival research
and by publishing his findings in French and in a form that could compare
to scholarly work. From 1984-1985, he traveled to Gabon following the itin-
erary that Amadu Bamba took during his exile of 1895-1907. He was the
first researcher to visit the archives of Gabon and the different places where
Amadu Bamba was confined during the seven-year exile in Equatorial Africa.
He also visited Mauritania and Ceyeen in Senegal, where the founder of the

8)
My informants in Paris, mostly composed of university graduates and early disciples of
Dièye, particularly insist on this aspect of his discourse.
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 37

Muridiyya spent years of confinement. Dièye took pictures, made slides and
films, and drew maps and diagrams that he used as supporting materials in
his lecture tours on Bamba’s conflict with the colonial administration. He
wrote two books about the exiles, one based on his research and another
based on hagiographic works by Murid sheikhs (Dièye undated). Dièye was a
prolific writer. He authored dozens of booklets, pamphlets, proclamations
and journal articles, and even an illustrated biography of Amadu Bamba for
children. He used his training as a landscape architect and his ability to access
Sufi literature in French to deal with topics ranging from the ‘semiotic of
Murid use of space’ to ‘divine non-violence’ and spiritual healing, quoting
from writers as diverse as Jalaluddin Rumi, Abu Hamid Ghazali, Amadu
Bamba, and the famed Pakistani poet and philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal.
Dièye conceived of his ministry as khidma or service. The concept of
khidma is an important element of Murid doctrine. In fact, the name that
Amadu Bamba coined for himself – Khaadim ar-Rasul, Servant of the
Prophet – was derived from this concept. Khidma is often translated as work
in the literature on the Muridiyya but it carries deeper spiritual meanings.
For the Sufi and for Amadu Bamba it means the performance of service for
the sake of godly rewards in the hereafter. The name khidmatul Khadim that
Dièye used for the organization he founded reflected his belief that dissemi-
nating the teachings of Amadu Bamba was a way to render him service in
this world, which ultimately would earn him salvation in the next.
However, Dièye’s innovative style of khidma did not proceed unchal-
lenged. He first faced the skepticism of Murid disciples in Saint-Louis who
reproached him for imitating the French practice of conference instead of
reading and singing Amadu Bamba’s khasaayids (devotional poems). When
planning to organize the first Murid culture week at the headquarters of
UNESCO in Paris in 1979, he confronted the opposition of Murid disciples
and the skepticism of the government of Senegal who suspected him of polit-
ical maneuvering.9 To move forward with the project, he had to travel to
Tuubaa to secure the endorsement of Caliph Abdu Lahad, head of the
Muridiyya order. The Murids were familiar with Diwaan, an informal public

9)
The objection of the Murid community of France dominated by the Wolof-speaking and
traditionally educated traders was related to the method and the leadership composed mostly of
students in the French institutions of higher education while the government objected to the
original list of speakers that included Cheikh Anta Diop and Abdoulaye Wade, both leaders of
political parties opposed to President Senghor and his government. (I refer here to my interviews
with Younouss Diop, Paris on 26 May 2010, Cheikh Sall, Paris on 26 May 2010 and A. Dramé,
Paris, on 30 May 2010).
38 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

gathering where public historians narrated in Wolof with much eloquence


and symbolic imageries the struggle that Amadu Bamba waged against the
colonial administration and the miracles he performed to defeat his enemies.
The Murids also practiced jang, a dusk to dawn public meeting to sing
Amadu Bamba’s spiritual poems, but they did not believe that a conference
was an appropriate means to convey their sheikhs’ teachings. As they made
clear to Dièye and his ‘intellectual” followers, his was not a proper way of
showcasing Amadu Bamba’s accomplishments.
While Dièye remained one of the most active Murid proselytizers in Sene-
gal, he was unable to build a substantive following there. His influence was
increasing among the youth in Saint-Louis and Dakar, two of the biggest cit-
ies of Senegal, but he had not succeeded in turning the khidmatul khadim
Sufi School project into a viable institution. Dièye’s fortunes as a Murid
sheikh, however, turned for the better when he left Senegal for France in the
late 1970s.

Globalizing the Muridiyya

From his base in Paris, Dièye gradually created a network of schools that
spanned Western Europe, especially France and England, the Indian Ocean,
and the United States of America in the mid-1990s. In the process he built
for himself the reputation of a global sheikh traveling the world to attend
international Sufi meetings and fostering relations with Sufi thinkers world-
wide. Dièye’s relative failure in Senegal and his success abroad is consistent
with a pattern that is also documented in other historical contexts. In fact, as
noted by Jorgen Nielsen (2004: 51), the geographical distance of a commu-
nity from its roots has often given space for individuals to build a following
on the basis of merit rather than appointment, especially when the people
targeted for recruitment belong to the fringes of the social networks. Dièye’s
case fits remarkably this description. His legitimacy was exclusively grounded
on his talent as a proselytizer and his calling, as we shall see in the following
pages, appealed especially to black Frenchmen and American converts and a
small group of middle class Westerners.
When Dièye arrived in Paris in 1977-1978 as a student sent by the gov-
ernment of Senegal to study landscaping architecture, there was already a siz-
able Murid community in the City (Salem, 1981; Diop, 1985). But this was
an introverted community of Wolof-speaking traders educated in the tradi-
tional Qur’anic schools or working schools in the Murid heartland of Bawol,
Kajoor, and Njambur, which maintained strong links with their sheikhs and
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 39

the holy city of Tuubaa in Senegal, but remained largely secluded from
French society. Murid disciples, mostly single young men, were confined to
the rundown neighborhood of Gare de Lyon where they formed a kind of
ethnic enclave. There were some dahiras,10 mostly specialized in fundraising
on behalf of specific Mbakke families, but no communal organization uniting
the whole community. Disciples supported each other, celebrated together all
the major Muslim and Murid holidays, but they limited their religious activi-
ties to their homes and refrained from proselytizing in the public sphere.
They used Wolof, their native tongue, as the medium of communication and
kept their distance from the Francophone Senegalese students and profes-
sionals living in France.
Abdoulaye Dièye took a radically different path. He proposed Amadu
Bamba’s teachings and the Murid ethic of cultural rootedness, worship, and
hard work, as an alternative to what he saw as the cultural alienation of Sen-
egalese students in France. Dièye also believed that the Muridiyya had a lot
to teach to the Muslim community of Europe, especially on questions related
to the true universal message of Islam, religious tolerance, and racial equality.
Dièye became a regular visitor of the House of French West Africa, better
known by its nickname Ponia and which, since the days of colonial rule, has
served as headquarters for West African student organizations in Paris (Guèye,
2001: 9-20; Cruise O’Brien, 2003: 85). Dièye’s attempt to make space for
Islam and the Muridiyya in this abode of leftist and radical thought led to
heightened tensions and conflicts with the students, who objected to what
they labeled an obscurantist and backward message. Dièye was accused of
serving the interests of the neocolonial state of Senegal by attempting to
undermine the students’ progressive movement. But Dièye was able to beat
the students in their own game, exposing what he saw as their duplicity.
Dièye criticized the students for never tiring from criticizing the West while
displaying in their everyday life their subservience to Western culture and
mores. He denounced the students’ love for French dress and manners, their
habit of drinking alcohol and their selfishness. He also criticized their adher-
ence to bankrupt Western ideologies (individualism, Marxism, and secular-
ism) that do not reflect the values of the African culture they pretended to
defend. Instead Dièye presented the Muridiyya as a system of thought and a
praxis invented by a black African and which is rooted in African culture. He
also underlined the universality of Amadu Bamba’s message by emphasizing
his anti-imperialist and nationalist credentials.11 The Iranian revolution, the

10)
Dahira is a faith based mutual aid organization among the Sufi orders of Sengal.
11)
Dièye’s proselytizing struck a cord among some students who were fascinated by his criticism
40 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

Rushdie Affair, and the controversies over school girl veiling brought Islam to
the forefront of French politics and provided an atmosphere favorable to
Dièye’s calling. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s further
undermined his leftist opponents and boosted the popularity of his ideas.
Dièye labored to forcefully disseminate his message by adopting modern
forms of organization and communication, moving away from traditional
Murid institutions such as the dahira (Babou, 2002). He adopted the term
daara (school) to name sections of his organization and pushed for the cre-
ation of large institutions that bridged the geographical, gender, and ethnic
identities on which dahira were often based. He also gave an intellectual con-
notation to his movement, targeting Senegalese students and professionals
living in France and tackling issues that concerned the global Muslim com-
munity. In the words of sociologist Moustapha Diop, he turned the Muridi-
yya from a popular religion of Wolof-speaking traders into a religion of
French-speaking academics (1985: 12). From 1978-79, Dièye founded the
Association of Senegalese Murid Students and Interns in Europe (Association
des Etudiants et Stagiaires Murid d’Europe, AESME French acronym) and
launched the following year the first ever international Murid journal which
he named Ndigel (the recommendation) and which became the mouthpiece of
the Khidmatul Khadim international Sufi school. The editorial board of the
journal which was written in French, Arabic, and sometimes Wolofal (Wolof
written with Arabic characters), comprised disciples of different ethnicities,
nationalities, and professions, based in Europe and in Africa. At its fourth
issue, the journal editors claimed a circulation of 1,000 copies.12
In 1983, AESME became the Islamic Movement of the Murids of Europe
(MIME French acronym). This change that happened in the aftermath of the
Iranian Revolution and the controversy surrounding the Iraq-Iran war was
highly significant. The coupling of the words ‘Murid’ and ‘Islamic’ and the
dropping of the word ‘Senegalese’ was indicative of the willingness of Dièye
and his followers to place their actions in the framework of the broader Mus-
lim community or Umma. The precedence given to the adjective ‘Islamic’ in

of Western modernity and his modernist views about Islam and the Muridiyya. One of those
students was Fara Gaye who later became one of his closest disciples and son in law. Fara admit-
ted that he was lost and that it was Sheikh Dièye who rescued his Muslim faith and restored his
pride in Senegalese Islamic culture. (Personal conversation in Philadelphia, 17 October 2007).
12)
The concept of ndigel (order, recommendation, and admonishment) that Dièye used to name
his journal is central to Murid ideology. It is the instrument through which the leaders of the
Murid order or sheikhs administer their flock and transform their will into power. The disciple
is supposed to strictly follow and never second-guess his leader’s commands.
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 41

the naming of the organization further emphasized the idea that the Murids
were part of the global Muslim family and that Bamba’s message was
destined to Muslims of all nations at all times and not to the Wolof of 19th-
century Senegal alone, as argued by French orientalists. These changes also
signaled Dièye’s aspiration to expand beyond the narrow confines of the Sen-
egalese diaspora that formed the major constituency of the Muridiyya in
Europe. Alongside MIME, Dièye founded an organization exclusively
reserved for new converts to Islam, the International Islamic Association for
the support of the Dissemination of the Muridiyya in Europe (AIIDME,
French acronym). This organization was led by Ahmad Guy Pepin, a mem-
ber of Khidmatul Khadim and retired professional athlete from Antilles. The
founding of this last organization clearly indicated the innovative nature of
Dièye’s work. He was the first Murid sheikh to make the conversion of for-
eigners a major dimension of his dawa (calling). Murid sheikhs in and out of
Senegal have primarily directed their effort to nurturing and consolidating
the bonds between Senegalese Wolof disciples and between disciples and mas-
ters (Copans, 2010: 90).
Dièye’s message of universalism was not only reflected in the type of orga-
nizations that he promoted, it was also embedded in the symbolism of the
space where he held meetings and the themes he favored in his writings and
conferences. He was literally moving the Muridiyya from the confines of the
private rooms where it was kept for decades by its mostly non-Western edu-
cated Wolof-speaking followers to the public sphere13 where it was exposed to
the wider European audience. He convened a first cultural week devoted to
the Muridiyya at the headquarters of UNESCO in 1979. The following year
he held a conference at the College de France, a prestigious place of higher
learning in liberal arts and the sciences located in the famed French Latin
Quarter across from the Sorbonne. He also organized the second cultural
week devoted to Amadu Bamba at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris in
1981, then in Brussels in 1982. In 1981, Dièye led a delegation of his fellow
Murids to the international meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Con-
ference in Kuala Lumpur.
These meetings gave him the opportunity to express through exhibits,
film projections, and lectures, the universal message of the Muridiyya. This
message stressed solidarity and respect among Muslims regardless of skin
color, the recognition of Amadu Bamba as a resistant to colonialism and a
champion of Islam and finally, the necessity for Muslims to resist Western

13)
I emphasize here the geographic dimension of ‘public sphere’. (Babou, 2007b).
42 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

materialism by strengthening their faith. This view was forcefully articulated


by Dièye’s disciple and head of AESME who declared at the Brussels’ gath-
ering that “His association represented an Islam that escapes race frontiers”
(Quoted in Cruise O’Brien, 2003: 87). This orientation received later the
blessings of the leadership of the Murid organization through the actions of
the late Sheikh Murtalla Mbakke (d. 2004), affectionately nicknamed “Sheikh
of the diaspora”, then youngest living son of Amadu Bamba. The involvement
of Sheikh Murtalla helped rejuvenate the Murid movement which experienced
profound lethargy after Dièye’s graduation and return to Senegal in 1982-83
and the leadership dispute that his departure triggered (Younouss Diop, inter-
view, Paris 26 May 2010; A. Dramé, interview, Paris, 30 May 2010).
Sheikh Murtalla paid regular visits to the Murids in France, Italy, Spain,
and the United States, encouraging them to build schools and community
centers and to disseminate Amadu Bamba’s teachings to their Muslim neigh-
bors without discrimination. He worked closely with Dièye with whom he
traveled to Gabon and to other places. In the late 1980s and early 1990s,
Dièye opted for early retirement from the Senegalese civil service to devote
his life to proselytizing, paying regular visits to his disciples in Paris, in the
Indian Ocean Islands, and later on in the United States. He revived the khid-
matul Khadim school system but now with a narrower focus on worship and
training, and an emphasis on the production and dissemination of knowl-
edge about Amadu Bamba’s thought and the Muridiyya. He tasked one of
his disciples from The Antilles with leading the school.
Unlike in Senegal, Dièye achieved limited success among Senegalese in
France, especially among university graduates and intellectuals disenchanted
with Marxism and leftist ideas. But his message seemed to have been even
more attractive to black men and women from Martinique, Guadeloupe,
Antilles, Comoros, Mauritius, and Reunion Islands, where the Khidmatul
Khadim School is now headquartered, and in the United States. These mostly
black Frenchmen and Americans saw in Amadu Bamba a champion of the
black race and his teachings as interpreted by Dièye represented a form of
pan-Africanist ideology rooted in Islam. This is reflected in the opinion of
disciples such as Isoki Muhsein (2006) who expressed her pride knowing
about the existence and work of “a great black Muslim man” like Amadu
Bamba and Rashiida Akbar who, attending the Magal of Tuuba in Senegal,
noted that she had never seen in her life “so many black people gathered vol-
untarily in a place” to celebrate peacefully one of them (Rashiida Akbar, Los
Angeles, 22 March 2006). For disciples in the Indian Ocean Islands, more
specifically, Dièye’s ecumenical approach to Islam provided a bridge to over-
come the tensions between the different Muslim organizations there (Sufi
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 43

orders, Salafists) and the Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism). But despite
his apparent success, Dièye still faced the resistance of Murid traders who
objected to his proselytizing methods and members of the Mbakke family and
some disciples who contested his religious authority, given that his spiritual
guide was not a member of Bamba’s family but a ‘white’ Mauritanian. Some
contended that Dièye was in reality not a Murid but a member of the qari-
diyya order and others accused him of usurping his title of sheikh of the
Muridiyya.14 Another underlying complexity derived from the fact that Dièye
was wearing two hats. On the one hand, he was the leader of a large propor-
tion of Murid students and intellectuals in Paris who were not his disciples
but admired his knowledge, organizational skills, and oratory prowess; on the
other, he was the spiritual guide of a few of these followers who developed a
special bond with him as his disciples seeking spiritual guidance and enlight-
enment. The type of relationships that these two groups of disciples enter-
tained with Dièye informed the ways they responded to his leadership.
Gradually, it became apparent that Dièye’s objectives and his method of
proselytizing were incompatible with the practices of the larger Murid com-
munity of Paris dominated by the traditionally educated traders. This led to
the founding of the daara of Chanteloup where his Paris-based disciples,
mostly composed of people from Mauritius, Reunion Islands, and the Antil-
les, and Europeans held weekly worship sessions. During these sessions, the
Qur’an was taught to the youth and those who needed an education; each
nationality was given the opportunity to sing spiritual songs using their own
tunes and languages, and presentations were given on topics related to Islam
and Amadu Bamba’s teachings (Ale Fall, interview, Paris 16 May 2010). Dièye
placed great importance on the rituals of communal dhikr (psalmody of the
sacred names of Allah). All of this was accomplished with a great deal of disci-
pline and rigor unlike the informality that characterized events organized at
Gare de Lyon.
Dièye considered the non-Muslim population in Europe as the prime tar-
get of his dawa (calling). And to make the Muridiyya attractive to this popu-
lation one needed first to show that the order was an integral part of
mainstream Islam and not an African sect. This meant that the disciples had
to strictly follow Bamba’s orthodox teachings by abiding by Islamic norms

14)
Some years ago, a great grandson of Amadu Bamba, Moustapha Mbakke, circulated a mass
email denouncing Dièye. And during a visit of Sheikh Alé Ndaw, one of Dièye’s senior disci-
ples and successors in Philadelphia in the summer of 2005, one of his disciples, B.N., following
probably his instructions, made and distributed tracts accusing Ndaw and Dièye of usurping
their status of Sheikh.
44 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

and rituals. In addition, one needed to address this population in the West-
ern languages and in this regard the translation, exegesis, and dissemination
of Bamba’s writings was crucial. Two features of Dièye’s calling: his use of
spiritual music and his ecumenical view of Islam were particularly attractive
to his Western audience, white as well as black. As observed by Farah Kimbal
(2006), a white disciple from Santa Barbara and Rashiida Akbar from Los
Angeles (2006), Cheikh A. Dièye was a “musical genius,” who knew how to
blend tunes from the Indian Ocean, Senegal, the Middle East, Europe, and
North America, to make beautiful songs based on his own poetry or that of
Sheikh Amadu Bamba. Dièye’s ecumenism was equally appreciated. Already
in France in the 1980s he was an influential member of interfaith organiza-
tions such as l’Association des Gens du Livre (Association of the People of
the Book), l’Association Islam Occident (the Association of Western Islam)
and la Fraternité d’Abraham (Abrahamic Brotherhood) (Fall, 2010). All of
these organizations brought together Roman Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.
Later, particularly during his ministry in the United States, Dièye would
move his ecumenism beyond the realm of ideas to incorporate interfaith wor-
ship through Church and Synagogue visits, the sharing of food, and the sing-
ing of spiritual songs.
Khidmatul Khadim started to branch out of France thanks to the dyna-
mism of some of Dièye’s disciples that had connections in the French over-
seas territories. The first cell was implanted in Reunion Islands by Serigne
Saar Diop, a Senegalese disciple of Dièye who was married to a woman from
the Island. Reunion has a Muslim population of South Asian descent strongly
influenced by Islamic mysticism. The Qadiriyya and Naqshbandi orders had
followers on the Island. Dièye was then preaching to a people who were
already familiar with mystical Islam. In a few years he was able to build a fol-
lowing in Reunion Islands and from there chapters of Khidmatul Khadim
were implanted in Mauritius, Comoros, and South Africa.
The Khidmatul Khadim network reached the United States in the late
1990s. Dièye was invited to a meeting of the International Association of
Sufism that was held in the Bay area in San Francisco in 1997. It was at this
occasion that he visited Los Angeles and gathered his first disciples there.
From Los Angeles he traveled to Philadelphia invited by Jewish disciples of
Bawa Muhidiin, a Sri Lanka Sufi, who died and was buried there in 1986.
One of the leaders of the Bawa movement, a Jewish woman, joined Abdou-
laye Dièye’s organization and turned her house into the headquarters of the
organization. Dièye sent two among his closest disciples from Senegal to
Philadelphia to help build a chapter of Khidmatul Khadim in the city. Chap-
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 45

ters were also implanted in New Jersey and New York. But California
remained the nerve center of Khidmatul Khadim in the United States with
chapters or daaras in Los Angeles but also in Santa Barbara and some disci-
ples in San Diego and Fresno. Oregon also had a dynamic cell. Each of these
cells counted disciples that reached sometimes a couple of dozens.15
In the United States, Dièye continued to promote some of the ideas he
developed in Europe such as the universalism of Amadu Bamba’s message,
his nationalist credentials and his non-violence, but he particularly champi-
oned ecumenism and healing. These last two concepts were central to his
dawa (calling) in North America and were germane to the country’s multi-
culturalism and religious diversity, and its history of racial struggle. Dièye
welcomed disciples of all stripes, stressing the Qur’anic idea of People of the
Book, which conceives of Jews, Muslims, and Christians as worshippers of
the same God. He recruited disciples from the White as well as African-
American communities. Many among those who joined him had some expe-
rience of Islam or Sufism. Some were former followers of Elijah Muhammad
or readers of Ibn Arabi and Rumi, while a small number were former adher-
ents to the salafi brand of Islam.
In his writings translated into English destined for his disciples in the
United States and England, Dièye stressed that Amadu Bamba’s message was
addressed to the world as a whole and he cited extensively from Bamba’s
writings to support his arguments. His favorite quote was a verse where Bamba
called ‘those of the seas’ and ‘those of the Land’ to join him because he was an
ocean of blessings. Dièye did not ask those who came to him to convert to
Islam (Michelle Farah Kimbal, interview, Santa Barbara, 19 March 2006;
Mariam Judor, interview, Dakar, 24 June 2006). His approach in this regard
was consistent with that of promoters of Sufism in the West who favor peda-
gogy of gradual conversion. Some of his followers were Jewish, others
were Christians, and many were not interested in religion per se but in his
persona and in the rituals he performed. This attitude sometimes generated
controversies as some Muslim disciples believed that conversion and worship
should be imposed as conditions on those wishing to have access to the Sheikh
(Kimbal, 2006).

15)
Dièye’s death in 2002 and the leadership dispute that resulted have led to the weakening of
some of these cells. In the United States, Philadelphia along with Washington DC and New
York, may have now replaced California as the best organized and most dynamic chapters of
Khidmatul Khadim. The chapter of Los Angeles, which is led by a Nigerian physician disciple
of Dièye continues to function despite some tensions opposing the leadership and the disciples.
46 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

Dièye visited synagogues and churches, sung Murid spiritual songs with
worshippers, celebrated the Sabbath with Rabbi, and built links that are still
maintained with a Jewish community in Israel. One of his books was prefaced
by a Rabbi, another consisted of a dialog he had with a Rabbi and Jewish stud-
ies specialist at UCLA (Dièye 2002 and 2003). He met J.P. Coustaud, the son
of J.J. Coustaud, to discuss environmental issues and denounce the plight of
the Senegalese fishermen confronted by the unfair competition of interna-
tional fishing companies guilty of pillaging the Atlantic coast of Africa. Dièye
conceived of the protection of the environment as the third dimension of adab
or proper Muslim ethical behavior after the one that governs the relation of
the believer to God and the other that governs his relationships to his fellow
human beings. He wrote: “In my personal search, I have added a modern
aspect of ethics [adab], pertaining to the protection of the environment. This
is because of (sic) the time of my master Al Deymani, we were not aware of
the fact that to destroy the forest, is to destroy mankind” (Dièye, 1998: 2).
Dièye’s ecumenist approach and his reinterpretation of key Islamic concepts
to address environmental concerns clearly indicate his conscious effort to
make the message of Islam and the Muridiyya relevant to 21st century Amer-
icans and Europeans.
Along with ecumenism, non-violence and environmental issues, healing
was central to Dièye’s writings and activities in North America. The need for
healing was not only about individuals or people; society also needed his
help. At the occasion of his first visit to the United States in May 1997, he
wrote a pamphlet entitled “Healing of America” (undated brochure). In this
document primarily destined to African-Americans, Dièye advises his fellow
Muslims in the United States, to shun discrimination and competition, to
respect each others’ faiths, to promote higher education for the youth, to be
tolerant and compassionate to their wives, children, and to those among
them who had strayed away. In ways that are reminiscent of the Nation of
Islam and Evangelical Christian practices, Dièye made frequent visits to
young black inmates in prison and proposed Amadu Bamba’s spiritual
poetry, dhirk and meditation, the therapeutic application of the palms, and
the use of incense as remedies. He claimed to be a ‘spiritual surgeon’ and
addressing his American disciples, he wrote “I will free you by the power of
the divine light. You will be reborn as Murids and your songs will soothe
your hearts and heal the injustice and unfairness you have been subjected to.
These songs will replace the intoxicants that Satan has brought to your houses
to pervert your soul” (Dièye, undated: 8). In 2000, Dièye was a delegate at the
Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the
C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49 47

United Nations. After the events of 11 September 2001, he wrote articles


in the press in Senegal reaffirming the spirit of tolerance and peace in Islam
and criticizing Arab extremists whom he accused of distorting the true mean-
ing of Islam.

Conclusion

The establishment of a Senegalese Muslim immigrant community in Europe


and North America in the 1970s and 1980s provided space for the emer-
gence of a new crop of religious leaders whose legitimacy was based on the
mastery of new skills beyond genealogy and other credentials that formed the
traditional basis of religious authority. Cheikh Abdoulaye Dièye belonged to
this new generation of leaders. Through his education and spiritual itinerar-
ies, he presented a unique profile. Sheikh Dièye straddled traditional Sufi and
Western intellectual traditions. He was aware of the spiritual thirst in the
West and the struggle to reconcile man and the divine by making sense of,
and finding a cure for, the multidimensional crises (violence, inequality, and
environmental degradation) that befell the modern world. He was also intel-
lectually equipped to translate, adapt, and broker the message of the Muridi-
yya to people in Europe and North America, especially to those who had
some awareness and attraction to Sufi ideas or religious spiritualism.
Abdoulaye Dièye and the Khidmatul Khadim Sufi School provide a good
example to explore the many ways in which new forms of what Peter L. Berger
calls ‘alternative globalizations’ are being produced (2002:8). These forms of
globalization use the tools and language developed by neo-liberal global capi-
talism but they respond to needs not necessarily associated with the economy,
and produce values and a discourse often antagonist to Western liberal ethos.
They do not function either as subaltern forms of globalization but strive to
‘produce globality’ in their own terms. The increasing globalization of the
Muridiyya pioneered by leaders such as Dièye has resulted in a negotiated
process through which Murid teachings have been reinterpreted to respond to
Western and global cultural and political needs. His relative success shows
that confrontation is not a fatality and there are ways of accommodating Islam
in the Western public square. Dièye was able to play the role of an effective
mediator because he served as a link between his disciples abroad and the
center of Murid spirituality and authority in Senegal, but particularly because
of his ability to turn Amadu Bamba’s teachings into disembodied and portable
universal principles capable of bridging spatial and temporal boundaries and
48 C. A. Babou / African Diaspora 4 (2011) 27-49

flexible enough to respond to the changing spiritual needs of a cosmopolitan


constituency spread across three continents. Dièye’s example documents the
belief now shared by many scholars that cultures are not object-like phenom-
ena bound to discrete space but rather they consist of mutable and fluid enti-
ties that can transcend space and time. The fluidity of culture combined with
the blurring of geographical and temporal borders afforded by the new infor-
mation technology undermines the so-called assimilation theory that has for
long served as a lens for studying the culture of migration. Diasporas are now
increasingly perceived as social formations that evolve at the intersection of
multiple spaces and display multiple loyalties by remaining active participants
in cultural, economic, and political life straddling their countries of origin and
of adoption.

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