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John Ralph Willis
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


The Tijānīyah movement arose out of controversy. From its very inception (c.1782 CE), its members challenged the accepted notions of monastic order. Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Mukhtār al-Tijānī (born AH 1150/1737 CE) at ʿAyn āḍī in southern Algeria was the founder of the brotherhood. He proclaimed himself the “pole of poles” (quṭb al-aqṭāb) and the “seal of sanctity” (khatm al-wilāyah), as the Prophet Muḥammad had averred himself the “seal of prophecy.” The leaders of the Tijānīyah were accused of prohibiting associates from visiting the tombs of the deceased saints (walīs) from other orders and of disturbing the conviction that spiritual benefit (barakah) could be obtained from walīs outside the brotherhood. Moreover, Tijānīs were condemned for alleged attempts, against accepted practice, to prevent their members from affiliating with other Ṣūfī organizations. Finally, at least in their North African context, Tijānīs stood accused of favoring wealth over asceticism (zuhd) and became noted for their abjuration of mysticism in place of which they encouraged a simplicity of belief and practice in their daily devotions.

Aḥmad al-Tijānī, as he came to be called, began life in the normal Ṣūfī pattern. Traveling throughout the Maghrib in the familiar peripatetic manner, he sought out learned men for knowledge, embraced walīs famed for their barakah, and affiliated himself with several religious orders, notably the Wazzanīyah, Darqāwīyah, Nāṣirīyah, and Khalwatīyah, and also espoused many of the tenets of the Shādhilīyah. It was a pattern he was to renounce dramatically around 1782 CE, when he broke the old chain (silsilah) of authority and linked piety and belief to his own powers of intercession.

The rapid proliferation of the orders posed an intractable problem to established authority in the Maghrib. Scores of religious brotherhoods had appeared, based on ethnic and occupational affinities. In Morocco, where the prophet Muḥammad and his descendants (sharīfs) were held in the highest favor, the organization of the orders came to be drawn tightly around their spiritual influence. By the middle of the nineteenth century, many of the educated affiliated with the Darqāwīyah (the chief competitors of the Tijānīyah for this constituency). Artisans, for example the shoemakers of Fez and the flax weavers of Tangier, inclined toward the Kattānīyah, while many butchers and practitioners of unclean professions embraced the Ḥamadshah (Ḥamdūshīyah) and the ʿIsāwīyah. Finally, the remaining merchants and proprietors not attracted to the Tijānīyah joined the Ṭayyibīyah ṭarīqah (order).

Coming as it did in the wake of the anti-Ṣūfī Wahhābī movement in the Hejaz, the proclamation of Aḥmad al-Tijānī arrived at an auspicious moment. The sovereign of Morocco, Mawlāy Sulaymān, became his patron and saw merit in his revolutionary message. The abundance of ṭarīqahs in Morocco and the high prestige of the zāwiyahs (lodges) of the sharīfs had compromised the authority of the Moroccan ruler, and he perceived an alliance with the Tijānīyah as a means of tightening his rein on political and economic affairs. The order received encouragement and was allowed to develop its retreat structure under Mawlāy Sulaymān 's protective hand. Despite claims to the contrary, Aḥmad al-Tijānī was not ranked among the illustrious sharīfs, and the appeal of the Tijānīyah drew the attention of wealthy non-sharīfs of the urban governmental class (including many converted Jews whom Mawlāy Sulaymān retained as advisers and financiers). These individuals, together with makhzan (government) officials, merchants, and influential families, held a considerable share of economic power, especially in Fez.

Tijānī Practices and Positions.

From the outset, the Tijānīyah espoused a much simplified corpus of ritual and system of organization, in contrast to the requirements of prayer which tied their rivals to the rigors of convention. Tijānīs set much store by their epithet, “the way of Muḥammad” (al-ṭarīqatal-Muḥammadiyah or al-ṭarīqatal-Aḥmadīyah), and prided themselves on their devotion to Sunnī practice. Both the wirds (collected prayers) and the waẓifāh (daily office) of the order were characterized by a streamlined simplicity, sharply reducing the number of prayers required, and the pattern of recitation. The old rigor of progression through the Ṣūfī stages of perfection retained only a faint echo of past tradition. The most efficacious prayers and rituals commended by the founder were entrusted to those who comprised the inner circle.

The claim advanced by Aḥmad al-Tijānī that he was the “seal of sanctity”—that he inhabited the eminence of light that lay between Muḥammad and the saints of Islam—rankled rival orders and provoked them to ridicule the Tijānīyah. This merit had its ancestry in the teachings of Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240 CE), who, it was suggested, had declined the title and left open the door for Aḥmad al-Tijānī to seize it. Such distinctions allowed the founder to trumpet his merit and abolish the line of virtuous teachers whose blessings sustained the spiritual nourishment of other orders. Moreover, these distinctions enabled al-Tijānī to cut the power of the Qādirīyah, the oldest Ṣūfī organization, and one sustained by the barakah of its ancient affiliations. Another charge uniting its rivals in disdain was the way in which the Tijānīyah discouraged its members from associating with other orders and from frequenting the tombs of their walīs. Tijānī spokesmen often defended this practice by declaring that a disciple could not hope to receive spiritual sustenance from two shaykhs simultaneously, any more than a woman could faithfully serve two husbands.

Before the rise of Aḥmad al-Tijānī, the most notable feature of the Shādhilī-Jazūlī tradition could be seen in the way in which charismatic power was harnessed and accessed in the path of Allāh (fī sabīl Allāh). Even the simplest adept could link with the spiritual past and feel the flow of barakah that charged his spiritual energy and gave shape and significance to his inward life. The recitation of the wird and other assigned litanies served to recharge his spiritual apparatus and redirect his energy in the path of Allāh. Thus, the ḥizb al-baḥr and the dalāʿil al-khayrāt (proofs of blessings) of al-Jazūlī must be understood as strong currents of charismatic power linked to overt action in the path of Allāh: prayer for the success of Islam, pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places, hijrah (exodus) from Islam 's enemies, and jihād.

Aḥmad al-Tijānī streamlined the charismatic links—condensed the currents of barakah into one powerful figure, discarding, as it were, all the bulky requirements of past generations. The Wahhābī movement fueled this revolution as it sought to concentrate veneration in the person of Muḥammad. It was a tendency that Aḥmad al-Tijānī was to recast in his own mold. Yet several other features of the Shādhilī-Jazūlī tradition were absorbed into the teachings of the Tijānīyah. There is a danger in emphasizing the differences among the ṭarīqahs at the expense of realizing the essential eclecticism and sharing of basic tenets that characterized the religious brotherhoods. Aḥmad al-Tijānī drank from the font of the Shādhilīyah. Indeed, even in the Tijānīyah, there is a strong compulsion to link with individuals of the Ṣūfī past and imbibe their barakah. Al-Shādhilī 's ḥizb al-baḥr (a powerful litany of supplication including the ninety-nine names of Allāh) became a touchstone of the Tijānī canon, and his relentless pursuit of the person of the quṭb found a strong echo in al-Tijānī 's fixation on this theme. In the Tijānī view, the old silsilah, with its long chain of intermediaries, generated a feeble if permanent current. Aḥmad al-Tijānī closed the circuit of charisma as he concentrated power between Muḥammad and himself. He claimed that the Prophet was near him always, even in waking, and allowed for a close, continuous, and increasing discharge of spiritual grace.

As it began to take root in the Maghrib, the Tijānīyah emerged as a force for stability and preservation of the status quo, at least during the lifetime of the founder. The Shādhilī-Jazūlī tradition, in retrospect, bequeathed a legacy of radical activity, forged on an anvil of opposition to the government of the day. Aḥmad al-Tijānī broke the mold of this radicalism and encouraged his followers to side with established authority. It was this shrewd and pragmatic policy that allowed the Tijānīyah, in the face of hostility from the sharīfs, to spread and prosper under the protection of the makhzan. The tradition of the sharīfs set much store by nobility of descent: al-Jazūlī had staked his claim on the strength of a pure and noble lineage. Aḥmad al-Tijānī could not hope to stand level with his rivals and make a claim in this direction, he was constrained to stake his claim elsewhere—on a higher level—as he sought to outreach his rivals. Thus, during the founder 's time, adherence to authority became the watchword of Tijānī political philosophy. With the passing of al-Tijānī in 1815, and the overthrow of Mawlāy Sulaymān, this policy took on greater flexibility.

Tijānīyah and the French.

There has been a tendancy in past accounts of the Tijānīyah to read a pro-French sentiment into their policies in the Maghrib, but these activities actually reflected a careful pragmatism not always favorable to French intentions. While it is true that the Tijānīyah managed to survive the vicissitudes of the post-Sulaymān era and welcomed the French in the Maghrib with a greater liberality of temper than did many other religious organizations, its policies did not always maintain the coherence sustained under the founder. As the Tijānīyah shunned the extremes of militant jihād and renounced asceticism in favor of a more active inolvement in daily life, a strong element of revenge crept into their pragmatism. Indeed, claimants to the succession did not hesitate to cultivate support wherever it could be found. Dissident Berber groups (a rich quarry for the order), often at odds with established authority, were summoned frequently in support of these claims. After the death of al-Tijānī in 1815, and as the French succeeded in seizing power from the Turks, no one pattern can be said to typify Tijānī policy toward the various contenders for power in the Maghrib. Even the attitude toward the Turks, steadfast in its contempt, displayed some flexibility. While the Turks on more than one occasion had laid siege to ʿAyn Māḍī (the mother zāwiyah), Turkish support for the order in other areas (notably Tunisia) could not be ignored. Indeed, on several occasions prominent Turkish officials affiliated with the Tijānīyah and supplied ample funds to its coffers. Still, Tijānīs endowed with great significance Turkish attempts to impose authority by force and extract tribute from religious establishments (Turkish indignation was ignited when ʿAyn Māḍī repeatedly withheld payment). Yet the Turks were not alone in their attempts to diminish the influence of the ṭarīqahs when the occasion demanded, and all political powers rallied to their support when events seemed favorable.

The period of French rule offers an object lesson in Tijānī pragmatism as it illustrates the unevenness of the order 's policies. When the French wrested hegemony from the Turks in the Maghrib during the nineteenth century and the brotherhoods declared their resentment, the Tijānīyah responded with cautious optimism. According to the founder, succession to power was to alternate between ʿAyn Māḍī and Tamalhat (on the Tunisian border). The rotation, however, did not always proceed smoothly, and the occasional roughness of the transition (or the retention of power by ʿAyn Māḍī) accounts for much of the intrigue and variation in policy among the principals of the succession and those who supported their claim. From 1877 until 1911, the zāwiyah at ʿAyn Māḍī maintained a firm grip over Tijānī affairs, because of the role played by a French woman, Aurèlie Picard, who had married Sīdī Aḥmad, the head of the order, and feigned a commitment to Islam. The French lavished subsidies on their Tijānī subordinates and thus compromised any claims to independence. Nevertheless, it was a period when all religious orders were drawn into the pockets of the French and placed under surveillance; when real or imagined movements by Tijānī and other dissidents intensified the paranoia of French imperial policy.

The Tijānīyah in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

The Tijānīyah 's strong association with the government of Morocco persisted until 1912 with the declaration of the Protectorate. By the end of the nineteenth century every large town in Morocco could boast at least one Tijānī zāwiyah (there were twelve in Marrakech alone). The order in Morocco was much more “national” in outlook than its counterparts in Tunisia and Algeria, and much more consonant with the culture in which it was reared. Following the split over the succession between ʿAyn Māḍī and Tamalhat in the 1870s, intense rivalry ensued into the 1930s when ʿAyn Māḍī attempted to revive its claims and initiated active campaigns for support in Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea, and Gambia. The order had already achieved significant inroads in these lands and in Mali because of the prosyletization of the celebrated Moroccan ʿālim, Muḥ-ammad ibn Aḥmad al-Kanṣūsī (d. 1877), and the great Senegalese mujāhid, al-Ḥājj ʿUmar ibn Saʿīd (ʿUmar Tal, d. 1864). By the beginning of the twentieth century, Tijānīs could claim more than half a million devotees in the Sudan.

The independence movement in the Maghrib produced the ultimate brotherhoods, absorbing to its purpose all the tone and rhetoric of the old organizations that had met their demise. One result of the independence (istiqlāl) movement was to drive the ṭarīqahs underground, where their activities, severely circumscribed in the public arena, retain only a semblance of their previous importance.



  • Two works (difficult to access) form the principal sources for the study of the Tijānīyah: ʿAlī Ḥarāzim ibn al-ʿArabī Barādah 's Jawāhir al-maʿānī wa bulūgh al-amānī fī fayd Abī al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad al-Tijānī (Cairo, 1927) concentrates on the persona of the founder and the principal teachings of the order (written by the leading disciple of the founder, the Jawāhir, though authorized by al-Tijānī himself, draws unabashedly from other biographies without acknowledgement). Published on its margin is ʿUmar ibn Saʿīd 's Rimaḥ ḥizb al-raḥīm ʿalā nuḥūr ḥizb al-rajīm (composed in 1845 by the leading disciple of the order outside the Maghrib, the Rimah defends the Tijānīyah against its detractors and serves as a guide to conduct for its members).
  • Of the early printed works in European languages, and a basis for much of the analysis done in successive years, are Louis Rinn 'sMarabouts et Khouan: Étude sur l ’Islam en Algérie (Algiers, 1884), again difficult to access, as is O. Depont and X. Coppolani 's Les Confrèries religieuses musulmanes (Algiers, 1897). Neither of these, with their emphasis on major figures and salient doctrinal features, has been entirely superseded by J. Spencer Trimingham 'sThe Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford, 1971), concerned with the development of the brotherhoods through the centuries, and J. Abun-Nasr 'sThe Tijaniyya, A Sufi Order in the Modern World (London, 1965). This work is to be used with caution, because the author 's translations from French and Arabic are not always trustworthy, and some of his interpretations are extremely misleading. See my review article, Research Bulletin, Centre of Arabic Documentation, University of Ibadan, Institute of African Studies 2, no. 1 (January 1966): 39–47.
  • Very useful for the modern period and for its general overview is Dale Eickelman 's Moroccan Islam (Austin, Tex., 1976), and Mohamed El Mansour 's Morocco in the Reign of Mawlay Sulayman (Wisbech, U.K., 1990), the most insightful analysis of the historical period in which the brotherhood flourished. See also Amadou Makhtar Samb 's Introduction à la Tariqah tidjaniyya, ou, Voie spirituelle de Cheikh Ahmad Tidjani (Dakar, 1994) and Jean-Louis Triaud and David Robinson, eds.La Tijâniyya: une confrèrie musulmane à la conquête de l ’Afrique (Paris, 2000).
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