Spiritual Training across the Sahara: Debating the Need for the Living Sufi Master in the Tijāniyya

Zachary Wright*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Tijaniyya has witnessed a lively debate concerning the classic Sufi requirement of a living guide to give spiritual training (tarbiya) to aspirants. Prominent Tijani scholars across the Sahara - modern-day Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal - have apparently staked different positions on this issue from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. The discourse has acquired added significance since the emergence of the community of the twentieth-century Senegalese Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse, whose widespread teaching of gnosis (ma'rifa) reinvigorated discussions surrounding the need for a living shaykh. This article argues that some Tijānī scholars, responding to a North African public discourse that had turned against Sufism, did indeed deemphasize the need for a Sufi guide other than the enduring spiritual presence of the founder of the Tijāniyya, Shaykh Ahmad Tijānī. But close reading of the relevant source material reveals that Niasse's practice of tarbiya reflected the general consensus of Tijānī scholars, even if some scholars substantiated this consensus more subtly than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-387
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Islamic Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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