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Tijānī, Aḥmad al-

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

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Tijānī, Aḥmad al-

Aḥmad al-Tijānī (1737–1815) was the founder of the Tijānīyah Ṣūfī order. Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Tijānī was born at ʿAyn Māḍī in southern Algeria. At the age of twenty he visited Fez, where he successively experimented with the litanies of several Ṣūfī orders and was disappointed with all of them. Ten years later, in 1767, during his residence in Tlemcen, he had his first spiritual realization (  fatḥ).

In 1772–1773 he set out to perform the ḥajj. At Azwāwī near Algiers he was initiated by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Azharī (d. 1793) into the Khalwatīyah order, which had experienced a revival in Egypt a few decades earlier. Al-Tijānī ardently followed this course; he learned the secrets of the Khalwatīyah from Maḥmūd al-Kurdī (d. 1780) in Cairo and from Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Sammān (d. 1775) in Medina. His attachment to the Khalwatīyah contrasted with his earlier discontent with other Ṣūfī orders. On his return to the Maghrib in 1774–1775, he initiated his first disciples into the Khalwatīyah. The introduction of the revived Khalwatīyah to the Maghrib was a departure from the Ṣūfī tradition of the Shādhilīyah to which most Maghribī orders belonged.

In 1782 al-Tijānī returned to the desert edge in southern Algeria, where he had a visionary encounter in which the prophet Muḥammad taught him a litany (wird) enunciating a new independent ṭarīqah and instructed him to sever relations with other orders and shaykhs. In spite of the break, elements of the revived Khalwatīyah remained more embedded in the doctrines and rituals of the Tijānīyah than the founder and later Tijānīs would admit. Indeed, one of the most unusual features of the Tijānīyah, the exclusivity of the order, was an elaboration of a principle advocated by Muṣṭafā ibn Kamāl al Dīn al-Bakrī and applied to some extent in the Egyptian Khalwatīyah.

As his fame as a saint grew, al-Tijānī was compelled by the Ottoman authorities to leave Algeria. He arrived in Fez in 1798 and lived there until his death in 1815. The reformist Moroccan sultan Mawlāy Sulaymān (1792–1822), who sought to eradicate popular Sufism, warmly received al-Tijānī because his Sufism combined strict observance of Islamic law with the rejection of asceticism and withdrawal from the world.

Al-Tijānī claimed the rank of khātim al-awliyāʿ (the seal of the saints), which implied that he was the link between the Prophet and all past and future saints. His adherents therefore had higher spiritual rank as well and were promised access to paradise without the need for giving up their possessions, provided they observed the precepts of Islam as well as they could. In this way he attracted to his order rich merchants and senior officials. Some of the most senior ʿulamāʿ in Fez were hostile to al-Tijānī and rejected his claim to superior status, but other prominent scholars joined the order.

In its adherence to Islamic law and to orthodox practices, as well as its positive attitude toward worldly affairs, the Tijānīyah was one of a group of new Ṣūfī orders that emerged out of trends of renewal and reform in the eighteenth century. The dynamism of the Tijānīyah found expression in its nineteenth-century expansion, both militant and peaceful, mainly in West Africa.

See also KHALWATīYAH; SUFISM, article on ṢūFī ORDERS; and TIJāNīYAH.

Bibliography

  • The major source for al-Tijānī 's life and teaching is Kitāb jawāhir al-maʿānī wa-bulūgh al-amānī fī fayḍ Sīdī Abī al-ʿAbbās al-Tijānī (Cairo, 1977), written by his disciple, ʿAlī Ḥarāzim ibn al-ʿArabī Barādah, and approved by al-Tijānī himself. The two important modern studies are Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya: A Sufi Order in the Modern World (London, 1965), and B. G. Martin, “Notes sur l ’origine de la ṭarīqa des Tiğāniyya et sur les débuts d ’al-Ḥağğ ʿUmar.” Revue des Études Islamiques 37, no. 2 (1969): 267–290. See also Patrick J. Ryan, “The Mystical Theology of Tijani Sufism and its Social Significance in West Africa,” Journal of Religion in Africa 30, no. 2 (2000): 208–224.
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