The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival

The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival

The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival

The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival

Synopsis

Until recently, academic studies of Sufism have largely ignored the multiple ways in which Islamic mystical ideas and practices have developed in the modern period. For many specialists, Sufism was "on the way out" and not compatible with modernity. The present study of a twentieth-century Sufi revival in West Africa offers critical corrections to this misconception. Seesemann's work revolves around the emergence and spread of the "Community of the Divine Flood," established in 1929 by Ibrahim Niasse, a leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order from Senegal. Based on a wide variety of written sources and encounters with leaders and ordinary members of the movement, the book analyzes the teachings and practices of this community, most notably those concerned with mystical knowledge of God. It presents a vivid and intimate portrait of the community's formation in Senegal and its subsequent transformation into a veritable transnational movement in West Africa and beyond. Drawing on letters, poetry, hagiography, and testimonies of opponents of the movement, the book traces Niasse's spectacular ascension as the widely acclaimed "Supreme Saint of His Era" and shows how the various stages of his career intersect with the development of his mystical teachings. Seesemann makes a compelling case for studying Sufis and their literary production in their social and historical contexts, throwing light on a little known chapter of the intellectual and social history of Islam.

Excerpt

A movement like Sufism, aspiring to a life of dedication and involving itself in social works
on a broad front, should not necessarily be judged by the literature it produces. Precisely
because its pretensions lay in other areas, a large part of its “true” history escapes us.
FRITZ MEIER, “Mystic Path,” 127

On his way home from the market, a man carrying a bag full of meat passed by the mosque of
Medina. As it was the time of the congregational prayer, he stopped and entered the mosque.
Fearing that someone might steal the meat if he left it at the entrance, he took the bag inside
and placed it next to his feet. Baye was leading the prayer, and after it was over, the man went
home to prepare his meal. But to his great amazement, the meat remained raw; in fact, it did
not change its consistency at all, as if it was not on the fire. Disturbed by this experience, he
went to inform Baye about the incident. Baye listened patiently and responded: “Everything
that is behind me in congregational prayer is immune against fire.”

BAYE MEANS “FATHER” in Wolof and is the affectionate epithet of Ibrāhīm Niasse (b. 1318/1900, d. 1395/1975), the main protagonist of this study. Medina is the name of the settlement Niasse founded in 1349/1931 a few miles outside of Kaolack, a provincial capital in Senegal; today it is one of the biggest neighborhoods in Kaolack and home to the headquarters of a transnational branch of the Tijānī path (ṭrīqa, often rendered as Sufi order), best known under the name Jamā at al-fayḍa (“Community of the Divine Flood”). It is no exaggeration to say that Niasse has left an enormous legacy. He was a leader for millions of African Muslims from between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea, a charismatic spiritual guide, a distinguished scholar of . . .

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