The Journal of African History

Identity and Accommodation in Western Africa


a1 Michigan State University


At the beginning of the twentieth century Muslim societies of northern Senegal and southern Mauritania moved slowly but surely into relations of accommodation with the French colonial regime. The process was led by marabouts, persons who combined various forms of Islamic learning and saintliness. It took the form of Sufi orders, often called ‘brotherhoods’, that became anchored in the emerging economy of the peanut basin in central Senegal. The accommodation permitted the marabouts and brotherhoods to develop considerable autonomy in the religious, economic and social spheres while surrendering the political and administrative domain to the French.

Of all these ‘paths to accommodation’ between Muslim societies and French colonial authorities, the one followed by Amadu Bamba Mbacke and the Murid movement is ostensibly the longest, the hardest, the most complete, and the most enduring. For these reasons the Murid movement has been much more fully studied – by Paul Marty of the colonial Muslim Affairs Bureau in the early twentieth century and by social scientists in recent decades.


1 For helpful criticisms of the drafts of this article, I would like to thank Cheikh Anta Mbacke Babou, Louis Brenner, Tim Carmichael, Ghislaine Lydon, Allen Roberts and an anonymous reader of the journal.