The Sanusi of Cyrenaica

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The Brothers of the Order were discouraged from discussing political questions.

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Nor were the Sanusi intolerant towards fellow Muslims who differed from them. The Grand Sanusi had himself been a member of a succession of Orders before he started his own and he allowed, as his successors have done, members of other Orders to belong to the Sanusiya at the same time. The leaders of the Order have also been tolerant towards the cult of saints, unlike the iconoclastic Wahhabi, who have destroyed even the tombs of those nearest to the Propjiet him- self. The view held by the doctors of orthodox Islam is that, though intercession through a saint is unlawful and the only mention of him during prayers at his tomb should be to ask the mercy of God on his soul, it is permissible to show respect to his tomb and his memory.

The heads of the Sanusiya have, how- ever, always tolerated among their Bedouin followers a regard for holy men and their tombs which goes beyond mere respect.

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It is unlikely that they felt any repugnance to the cult, because they counted among their forbears several saints and were themselves brought up in North Africa where the cult of saints is widespread and very near to the hearts of the common people ; and they could not have remonstrated with the Bedouin for believing that holy men and their tombs are sources of baraka, 1 Op.

The resemblance often alleged between the Sanusi and the Wahhabi movements, on the grounds of like puritanism, literalism, and fanaticism, cannot be substantiated. It is obvious that there must be resemblances between new religious movements: they usually claim to be a return to primitive faith and morals and they are generally missionary and enthusi- astic. There is no great significance in such common character- istics of the two movements. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the Grand Sanusi was directly influenced by Wahhabi propaganda. A more significant comparison between the two might be made by tracing their developments from religious into political movements.

Both started as religious revivals among backward peoples, chiefly Bedouin, the Wahhabi move- ment in the Nadj in the eighteenth century and the Sanusi movement first in the Hijaz and then in Cyrenaica in the middle of the nineteenth century ; the Ikhwan organizations of the two movements have much in common; and both ended in the formation of Amirates, or small Islamic States.

Both movements have created States, the Wahhabi in Arabia and the Sanusi in Cyrenaica, based explicitly on religious particularism.

The Sanusi of Cyrenaica

In doing so they have only done what any move- ment of the kind is bound to do in a barbarous country if it is to continue to exist, namely, to create an administrative system which would ensure a measure of peace, security, justice, and economic stability. A religious organization cannot exist apart from a polity of a wider kind. But they did not create the senti- ment of community which made the growth of governmental functions and the emergence of a State possible. Religious divisions in Islam have commonly been the expres- sion of a sense of social and cultural exclusiveness.

To-day this desire is expressed in the political language of nationalism. In the past it was expressed in religious move- ments. Arab nationalism is not a new phenomenon. Only its dress is new. As will be seen in the chapters which follow, conditions in Cyrenaica were particularly favourable to the growth of a politico-religious movement such as the Sanusiya became.

It was cut off by deserts from neighbouring countries, it had a homogeneous population, it had a tribal system which em- braced common traditions and a strong feeling of community of blood, the country was not dominated by the towns, and the Turkish administration exercised very little control over the interior.

It was, as will be seen, the tribal system of the Bedouin which furnished the Order with its political foundations just as it was the tribesmen of the country whose hardiness and courage enabled it to stand up to the succession of defeats it had to endure. The reasons for the political success of the Sanusiya Order in Cyrenaica will appear in the course of this account, and here I wish to draw attention to one of them only. It has been said that its rites and teachings were, like the Bedouin character, austere without being fanatical, and that it tolerated the cult of saints to which the Bedouin were accustomed, the Grand Sanusi becoming, in fact, a kind of national saint ; but it must be added that the acceptability of its teachings and the fact that the Grand Sanusi could at once be placed by the Bedouin in the familiar category of Marabtin, holy men coming to preach and settle in Cyrenaica from the west, cannot alone account for the remarkable success of the Sanusiya movement.

The Bedouin of Cyrenaica had heard similar teachings before from similar teachers and had paid them the same degree of attention as they paid to the Grand Sanusi, but these earlier missionaries won only a personal and local following for themselves and their descendants, whereas the Grand Sanusi established himself and his family as leaders of a national movement, a position they have now held for three generations. Moreover, unlike the Heads of most Islamic Orders, which have rapidly disintegrated into autonomous segments without contact and common direction, they have been able to maintain this organiza- tion intact and keep control of it.

This they were able to do by co-ordinating the lodges of the Order to the tribal structure. The Sanusiya is one of the most recent of them. The Grand Sanusi was bom of a distinguished family of Sharifs at a village near Mustaghanim in Algeria about Early in life he became noted for his intelligence, piety, and profound Teaming, considered fitting ornaments to his noble birth. He studied first at Mustaghanim, then at Mazun, and later at the famous mosque school at Fez in Morocco, where he learnt theology, jurisprudence, exegesis of the Koran, and the other usual subjects of a Muslim student of the time.

There he seems to have developed an interest in mysticism, having come under the influence of the Moroccan Order of the Tijaniya Darwishes. He went from Fez to southern Algeria and thence to Qabis, Tripoli, Misurata, and Banghazi, preaching everywhere on his way. He had already gathered around him his first disciples Ikhwari , mostly Algerians, and in their company he made his way to Egypt by the coastal route from Banghazi and stayed there a few weeks.

He had intended to study at al-Azhar, but he seems to have aroused the jealousy of the Shaikhs of the University and to have irritated them by his reforming zeal and his speculations, and so departed for Mecca. He is said to have returned to Mustaghanim in about and not to have visited the Hijaz again till On this second visit, which lasted for eight years, he was accompanied by a considerable number of disciples from the west. He continued his reformist agitation and his studies under learned Shaikhs at Mecca.

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The man who influenced him most, and whose favourite pupil he became, was Sayyid Ahmad bin Idris al-Fasi, the fourth Head of the Moroccan Order of the Khadiriya or Khidriya Darwishes, a branch of the Shadhiliya Order, and later the founder of a new sub-Order of his own, the Idrisiya or Khadiriya-Idrisiya. Sayyid Ahmad Idris had aroused the hostility of the doctors of the Maliki rite at Mecca, by whom he was regarded as un- orthodox, and went into exile into the Yaman, where he was accompanied for two years by the Grand Sanusi. Abu Qubais, near Mecca, in This year is regarded as the official date of the foundation of the Order.

It has been, recorded that he was influenced by the Moroccan Tijaniya Order and that at Mecca he became the favourite pupil of the founder of the Idrisiya Order, which derived its tenets from the basic Shadhiliya Order. In his student days he became a member of other Orders: Shadhiliya, Nasiriya, Qadariya, and perhaps others. It must not be supposed that on this account his teaching was a mere amalgam of the tenets of earlier Orders. Original it was not, but it was a consistent and carefully thought out way of life.

There can be little doubt that the real objections to the Order were that it threatened the prestige and privileges of these authorities, but they were framed in less revealing language. It seems to have been held against the Order that it lowered Sufi standards to accommodate itself to Bedouin laxity in religious matters, and that it verged on heresy. Faced with serious opposition the Grand Sanusi did what his teacher Sayyid Ahmad Idris had done in similar circumstances: he left the Hijaz, in about , accompanied by many of his disciples, to return to his native land.

After spending some months in Cairo, he continued his journey westwards to Siwa oasis, where he was taken sick and spent several weeks recuperat- ing and instructing the people of the oasis in the faith. In the following year he reached Tripoli by the desert route.

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On his way to Qabis from that town he heard of the new French advances in his homeland and decided in view of them to return to Tripoli and thence to Banghazi. It would appear therefore 1 Ibid. The Grand Sanusi was a cosmopolitan, a townsman, and more at home in the schools and libraries of Fez, Cairo, and Mecca than amid the lentisk and juniper of the Cyrenaican plateau or the thyme and wormwood of its rolling plains.

Even after founding in what has become the Mother Lodge of the Order, al-Zawiya al-Baida, on the central Cyrenaican plateau, not far from the ancient city of Cyrene, and while the Sanusi movement was still young in the country, he returned in to Mecca and stayed there till Altogether he spent only about ten years of his teaching life in Cyrenaica, whereas he spent some twenty years in the Hijaz. On his return to Cyrenaica he seems to have felt the need for greater solitude. He was then nearing seventy years of age and doubtless felt that what was left to him of life should be given to contemplation, prayer, and study.

It may be true also, as is commonly stated in books written by Europeans, that he desired to place a wide stretch of desert between himself and the Turkish authorities who, as the Sanusiya movement grew, began to take greater interest in it. Jaghbub, now to become the centre of the Order and the seat of an Islamic University second only in Africa to al-Azhar, was till , when the Grand Sanusi made it his seat, an un- inhabited oasis, in which the water was brackish, highly sulphurous, and insufficient to irrigate more than a small area of gardens.

It was not a place for luxurious living, though it seems to have been healthy and, unlike Siwa, free from malaria ; but it had certain political advantages. It was out of reach of the Turkish, French, or Egyptian governments, it was on the main pilgrimage route from North-west Africa through Egypt to Mecca, and this pilgrimage route bisected at the oasis one of the trade routes from the coast to the Sahara and the Sudan. In moving the seat of his Order to Jaghbub, the Grand Sanusi was probably most influenced by his decision to direct his missionary propaganda southwards.

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It is understandable that he should have made this decision. His was a missionary mind and the Order he had founded a missionary Order, and the pagan and semi-pagan countries of the Sahara and the Sudan, and of Equatorial Africa beyond them, offered endless scope for conversion to the faith. Moreover, his Order was already reaching the limits of its expansion in North Africa.

It had won over the nomad and semi-nomad Bedouin tribes of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Egypt, and the oases folk under their influence, but was not making, and was not even in its heyday to make, much impression on the peasants and towns- men up against whom it now found itself in Northern Tripoli- tania and the Nile Valley. Until France opened up the Atlantic seaboard, much of the Central African trade found its way along the oases-routes to the ports of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and there were, there- fore, well-established social connexions running from the Bedouin tribes of Cyrenaica and southern Tripolitania through the oases-dwellers to the tribes of the interior, for the nomads of Libya controlled the routes and to a large extent supplied the transport for the caravans.

These connexions allowed an easy ingress to the Sanusiya. The two Cyrenaican tribes who chiefly traded with the Sahara, the Majabra and the Zuwaya of the oases of Jalu and al-Jikharra, had already been won over to the Order. The Zuwaya, who had date groves in the distant oasis archipelago of Kufra, over km. Also, the Order had gained a foothold in the Wadai. While still a student at Mecca the Grand Sanusi had made friends with Muhammad Sharif, a prince of the Wadai, who in became Sultan of that country and furthered the interests of the Order there.

It is said also that the Grand Sanusi bought a caravan of slaves on its way from the Wadai through Jaghbub to the coast and, having freed and educated them, sent them back to the Wadai as his missionaries.

In Jaghbub oasis the Grand Sanusi set about the construc- tion of his headquarters, a large mass of stone buildings, some of them two-storied, enclosing a mosque and school which were, for Cyrenaica, on an imposing scale. There were also guest-rooms, quarters for the 1 Duveyrier, op. The oasis depression was studded with date palms and just outside the main entrance to the village were small irrigated gardens and wind-mills.

The Sanusi of Cyrenaica

The people had to use the brackish water for ordinary purposes, but sufficient fresh water for tea was obtained from infrequent showers by hollowing out cisterns in the rocks at the top of the western escarpment of the oasis. The Grand Sanusi was not only a very learned man and a writer of distinction but also a bibliophile with a fine library of some 8, volumes, 1 mostly works on Islamic law and juris- prudence, mysticism, philosophy, history, koranic exegesis, poetry, and astronomy and astrology.

Round him were many men capable of making good use of this substantial library. Indeed, it would have been difficult to have found anywhere in the Islamic world at that time, outside Cairo, a circle of better scholars. Poetry was one of the arts most cultivated at the oasis and I have been told by Arabs that it reached a high level of excellence.