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The Toucouleur People
of West Africa
The Toucouleur people are Muslims at heart, and are known as 'the defenders of the faith'. It was by ‘holy war’ that Toucouleur religious leaders exported Islam through most of West Africa. The tenets of Islam are an integral cultural value that permeates all aspects of Toucouleur society. It is also said with pride, that to be born Toucouleur, is to be born Muslim. However, Islamic practices are inextricably mixed with traditional animistic ideas and occult folk rituals. Divination, witchcraft and magic (often practised by the Islamic cleric - the midibbo) are widespread. Amulets and charms are made and sold by religious leaders. A belief in "baraga" (supernatural power) is common and religious leaders thought to possess it are sought after for the miracles they can work.
In Senegal, a secular country open to evangelism, Christians have been reaching out to the Toucouleur for at least 30 years. While there are already more than 50 Pulaar Christians, only about 18 Toucouleur are reported to have become Christians thus far. These Christian believers are widely scattered, and growth in their faith is slow and uncertain. One could be a bad Muslim and never pray – that’s OK, but there is no acceptance for Christians in Toucouleur society, not yet.
Religious adherence: -
Primary Religion: - Islam / Folk Islam
Adherents: - Nearly 100%
% Practising: - Nearly 100%
Mauritania is an Islamic state, 99.6% are Muslim of the Sunni school. Mauritania's legal code, inspired by the universal principles of Islam, was adopted officially in 1980. By terms of the 1961 constitution, Islam is the religion of the Mauritanian people. The republic guarantees freedom of conscience and religious liberty to all. Nevertheless no proselytising or converting of Muslims is permitted.
Senegal is a secular state with freedom of religion. Islam has grown over the past 50 years and Islam has increased to 90.8% (Muslims claim 95%), yet the land is wide open to the gospel! To this point tolerance of other religions has been a point of pride. Moslems in Senegal are adherents to Sunni Islam, but over 85% of Muslims are members of the three Muslim Sufi brotherhoods -- the Mouride, Tidjane, and Qadiri -- who are very influential in political and economic life in Senegal. The "Brotherhoods" are the strongest amongst the Fula, Toucouleur and Wolof.
Mali is a secular state with freedom of religion despite the Islamic majority. The progress of the gospel has been praise worthy. Islam has proved a disappointment to many resulting in great openness to Christianity.
Gambia is still open to the Gospel even though Islam has steadily grown in influence. Christian missionaries are restricted to development programmes, but they have considerable freedom to share their faith.
Standard Muslim ceremonies and practices are kept, but the real spiritual life is the occults spiritism involving sorcery, magic, charms, etc. often performed by the Muslim holy men who double as fetishers or witch doctors.
Islam came to the Toucouleur in the eleventh century with the conversion of the ruling class. The common people followed during the next few centuries and today nearly all Toucouleur are Muslims.
The Toucouleur are very proud of their Islamic heritage - of being the first West African group to embrace Islam. They belong to the strict Tijaniya Brotherhood and have been hard to evangelise due to the strong Islamic influences in every area of their lives.
Yet despite the great length of time that Islam has been present, and in spite of the popularity of the strict Tijaniya brotherhood, traditional animistic ideas and practices inextricably permeate Islam. Divination, witchcraft (often practised by the Islamic cleric - the midibbo), and magic are widespread. A belief in "baraga" (supernatural power) is common and religious leaders thought to possess it are sought after for the miracles they can work.
Traditional beliefs in the nature of man and his destiny after death play a significant role in the Toucouleur outlook on life; the animistic stratum in which they are imbedded is tenacious. The impersonal vital force, "fittandu", is upon death absorbed into deity, while the shadow soul, "belu", is the personal spirit, subject to reward in heaven or punishment in hell. The distinction between these two spirits, however, is not as clear as might be expected, and they are often confused.
Islam has brought no significant change in psychological attitudes toward magic. Supernatural power, or "Baraka", may be possessed by a renowned cleric, or it may simply emanate from him, reflecting a strong Berber Islamic influence.
The Toucouleur people fear evil spirits. Certain actions are tabooed to avoid offending the spirits, and amulets and charms - leather pouches in which are sewn scraps of paper bearing Koranic verses - are worn around the upper arm or around the neck or waist to fend of all sorts of evil.
In the Senegal River Valley the fabrication and sale of charms and amulets are the preserve of Toucouleur clerics. Unfortunately even the high price of these charms can never quite buy peace of mind or security.
Witchcraft persists in spite of Islam. In the Futa each village has its own recognised witch family. Toucouleur believe that the witch substance is inherited through women, but that it does not necessarily affect all the children.
The people also make uninhibited use of exorcists who may also act as herbalists and rainmakers. Divination flourishes with people more concerned about the diviner's power than with Islamic prescription; in fact, in most cases, the diviner is a Muslim cleric.
The spiritual authority centres in the "Marabouts" - the religious leaders and teachers. It is through these men that the lives of the people are controled. From the cradle to the grave, a person lives under the shadow of the Marabout. Whether for giving a name at birth, for education, for celebrating a marriage, for burial, for healing or cursing - the Marabout is ever present.
Toucouleur differentiate among their clergy according to whether they lead prayer, teach, specialise in the study and interpretation of the canon law, or head a parish. The common word for a cleric is "midibbo"; the teacher is the "tyerno", while the jurist and the high priest are the "fodyo". The parish head, often also the chief administrative officer in a village, is called "almami".
Some of the most famous Marabouts (Muslim teachers) originate from the Podor area of the Senegal River Valley. Their involvement with the supernatural realm does however make a "Power Encounter" a likely way of demonstrating the Gospel.
In the past the Toucouleur have been associated with various Sufi "tariqas" (brotherhoods). Early in the 19th
century the Shadhiliya tariqa was introduced among them by a Fulani cleric, Ali As-Sufi.
Ultimately the Toucouleur adopted the Tijaniya tariqa upon the rise of Al-Hajj 'Umar Tall.
Practices, tendencies, and devotion vary greatly within this "tariqa", depending on the training of the clerics.
The third major western African jihad of the 19th century was that of al-Hajj 'Umar Tal (c. 1797-1864), a Tukulor cleric of the austere Tijaniyah brotherhood from the Fouta-Toro.
After arrived in the Fouta-Toro in 1838, 'Umar quickly became estranged from the local clerics and in 1848 he moved away with
such followers as he had to Dinguiraye (now in Guinea), on the borders of the Fouta Djallon region, to prepare the founding of a
new state that would conform to the stringent moral requirements of his Tijaniyah order.
By 1850, equipped with European firearms, Tal and his Toucouleur force were ready to embark on a jihad, or holy war, against
After 1859 'Umar Tal sought to join with the Fulani of Macina in the conquest of the more powerful Bambara kingdom of Segu.
In 10 years of 'holy war', al-Hajj 'Umar Tal's armies had conquered an empire almost as large as that of the Sokoto Fulani.
To know much, much more about " The Holy War of Umar Tall ", you may click on this external link that will take you out of the Toucouleur web.
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