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SENOUSSI, THE SHEIKH OF JERBOUB.
WE in Western Europe are inclined to regard all Moslems as belonging to one identical religion. We know that all are followers of Mahomet, and we do not trouble ourselves to inquire whether or not this great and growing world of Islam is broken up into divisions and sects. And yet Mussulmans differ on points of doctrine and observance to the full as much as Christians. Sectarianism is equally rife. The disciples of the different Mahomedan creeds mutually distrust each other, just as do Protestant and Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek.
Moslems are, in the first place, as is well known, divided into two great branches, Sunnis and Shiahs, the latter found chiefly in Persia. But as offshoots of these two main divisions there are a multitude of minor confraternities, differing little as regards doctrine, but differing greatly in importance. These sects are for the most part creations of learned ascetics, each with some theological theory of his own, who have gone abroad preaching their tenets, and draw ing to themselves disciples among races easily roused to religious enthusiasm. They generally prosper exceedingly for a time. A local movement rapidly gains strength among emotional superstitious people such as are found in Africa and Western Asia. An obscure priest, gifted with originality and resolution, and favoured by fortune, will from time to time shake the whole Mahomedan world, and create for himself a name more
lasting than that of the great Mussulman conquerors of the past. The founder of a Moslem sect generally gives to it his name.
Thus in Morocco there is the great Muley Taib order, headed by the Sherif of Wazan. In Arabia there is the order of Wahabees. And the Senoussi confraternity is so called after its spiritual head, Sheikh Mohamed es Senoussi of Jerboub, who is styled "El Mahdi."
"El Mahdi" can best be translated as "the guide." Moslems generally are looking for the coming of a prophet. Sunnis and Shiahs agree in expecting the appearance of a Mahdi or Messiah. But they differ as to the manner of his manifestation. Sunnis believe the coming Mahdi to be a new prophet. Shiahs hold that he will be an Imam, who has disappeared, but who will reappear as the expected Messiah. There have been many prophecies as to how he will declare his divine mission, as to marks on his body by which he will be known, as to his parentage, and as to the result of his appearance on earth. And, since so much difference of opinion exists on these points, it is not wonderful that adventurers have more than once since the death of Mahomet declared them
selves to be the Mahdi, and have induced others to believe in them. Impostors of this class have been especially successful in North Africa, where nearly all Moslems belong to the Sunni division; but in this country the name of Mahdi has definitely become associated with Mohamed Ahmed of Dongola, the boat - builder, who wrested the Nile provinces from the Khedive in spite of British protection, under whose banners the Arabs fought us at El Teb, at Abu Klea, and at M'Neill's
zeriba, and who died at Omdurman just as the Nile Expeditionary Force, foiled in its attempt to save Khartum, retired from the Soudan. Mohamed Ahmed chose a singularly auspicious moment for proclaiming himself Mahdi. The rapacity and misgovernment of the pashas in the Egyptian Soudan had inflamed the whole population against the existing régime. Discontent had long been smouldering among the warrior tribes that Mehemet Ali had subdued. A leader and head was all that was required to sweep the feeble representatives of the Khedive back to the Nile delta. And when the eloquent and astute Mohamed Ahmed, who, before he became intoxicated by success, maintained the austerity and asceticism characteristic of a holy man, suddenly declared himself to be the Mahdi, all flocked to his standard, not merely egged on by religious enthusiasm, but stirred by the hope of gaining freedom from an intolerable tyranny. Mohamed Ahmed, although apparently a man of no great administrative capacity, and qualified rather for the headship of a religious movement than for organising a military power or creating a new government, possessed the gift of selecting able assistants to help him. The emirs he appointed were resolute and efficient men, and at once the most remarkable and ambitious of them was the, Khalifa Abdulla, who, on his decease, assumed the leadership of the dervish cause, and who now reigns at Omdurman as a despotic sovereign in all except the name. Mohamed Ahmed fulfilled neither in his person nor in the manner of the manifestation of his pretended mission from on high, the main conditions foretold of the Mahdi according to the Sunni doctrines and faith. The principal attributes
of the Mahdi are, from the Sunni point of view, that he shall be of the Sherifian line, that he shall be proclaimed against his will and at Mecca, that he shall cause no strife by his appearance, and that at the time of his manifestation there shall be no Caliph. None of these conditions were fulfilled by Mohamed Ahmed; but his own name and that of his parents corresponded with those of the Prophet and his parents, and this, according to one prophecy, was one of the signs by which the Mahdi would be known. The tribesmen of the Egyptian Soudan, however, the Shilluks, Baggaras, Jaalin, and Hadendowa, knew of none of these things. They believed vaguely in the coming of the coming of a Mahdi, and, when this mysterious monk set the Khartum government at defiance, and with his disciples beat the troops sent out to crush him, they arose as one man, and a wave of religious fanaticism spread abroad such as had not been known for centuries. Mohamed Ahmed emerged from obscurity to find himself not merely a prophet, but also a conqueror and king.
But while this strange personage figured for a few months among the excitable Arabs on the Nile as the Mahdi, there was living not far from the Egyptian border another holy man known also to his followers by the name of Mahdi. This was Mohamed es Senoussi, the Sheikh of Jerboub, who, when Mohamed Ahmed proclaimed himself, was, and still is, the head of the most important Moslem sect in Africa.
This sheikh is son of one Mohamed ben Ali ben Senoussi, a native of Algeria, and descended from Fatma, the only daughter of Mahomet. Mohamed ben Ali ben Senoussi was exiled early in the century by the Turks from Algeria, and sought a refuge in that
or the Egyptian Government, but not so far withdrawn from the Mediterranean as to prevent pilgrims from finding their way thence should they wish to visit the sheikh, the spot selected by the elder Senoussi as headquarters of the confraternity he was founding was singularly well fitted for the purpose. Through Jerboub pass great caravans on their way from Barbary, from Tripoli, and from the populous oases of the central Soudan, to the markets of Egypt. An extensive tract of date-bearing territory, supporting numbers of inhabitants, would have militated against the privacy and mysticism essential to a holy man. Jerboub consists of a great zawia and nothing else. No stranger can come thither unknown. No dweller can withdraw therefrom without his absence being noted and the direction taken by him being traced. No small judgment and foresight were displayed in choosing this little secluded oasis for a sanctuary, and its selection has probably not been the least of the causes that have given to the remarkable Mussulman revival identified with the name of Senoussi its success and its power.
hotbed of Mussulman fanaticism, the control of either the Ottoman Morocco, where he was received into the Muley Taib order, and where he soon made his mark as a preacher and theologian. After a sojourn of a few years in Fez and other Moorish cities, he determined to proceed to Mecca, and he preached his way across North Africa, arousing no small stir in the territories he traversed, owing to his eloquence and erudition. He assumed the role of a reformer striving to purge the Moslem faith of spurious doctrines grafted on the teachings of the Prophet after his death. He spent some time in Cairo, where he vehemently spoke against the civilising processes instituted by Mehemet Ali, and he eventually reached Mecca. In the holy city his preachings attracted considerable attention and excited strong opposition. He built a convent; but he failed, apparently, to gather to himself many disciples, and he resolved, therefore, to seek a more promising field for his enterprise. He passed again through Egypt, and retired to the seclusion of the hills near ancient Cyrene, in the province of Barka, where, with the Sultan's permission, he erected a convent or zawia; and he there began to gather around him other preachers, who spread his doctrines over this mountain tract, who built other zawias, and who spoke and taught in his name. This was about 1845; and from this period the elder Senoussi may be said to have exchanged the role of apostle and preacher for that of organiser and head. A few years later he moved south into the desert, and took up his residence at the oasis of Jerboub, where he abode for the rest of his days.
Jerboub lies on an important caravan route from north-western Africa to the Nile delta. Remote from civilisation, absolutely beyond
In addition to inculcating a return to the teachings of the Koran pure and simple, Senoussi the elder advocated a religious form of government, under which the priesthood would be recognised to be political as well as spiritual leaders. This principle was insisted upon also by the emissaries he sent out, and these put their theories in practice. For whenever they founded a colony in some remote outlandish spot, they also created a civil administration under their own control. They established good order and discipline, and instituted a settled government. So that these se
cluded zawias gradually grew into political as well as religious centres. And the number of them grew apace. For Senoussi laid special stress on the building of zawias and mosques by his disciples wherever they went; and this is the reason for the great development in the number of these convents that has taken place development still going on. Senoussi, however, always acknowledged the Sultan as Caliph of Islam, declaring him to be head of the faith, but cunningly inserting the proviso that this was dependent on adherence to the true religion, thus enabling himself at any time to pronounce the right forfeited. As a matter of fact, although the present Senoussi at one time declared the Sultan to be no longer Caliph, a prolonged rupture between Jerboub and Constantinople does not appear ever to have occurred. A peculiarity indeed of the Senoussi sect is, that stern and strict as are the tenets of its members, the doctrines admit of considerable elasticity. Many examples could be given of this. For instance, according to the teachings and spirit of the Koran, the fair sex should be held in subjection and contempt. But among the Tebus, a large and powerful tribe south of Fezzan, the emisaries from Jerboub found the women not only to be intellectually superior to the men, but also to hold a social position utterly opposed to Moslem ideas. So the Senoussi preachers preached to the women, and skilfully won them over to the cause, and then through female influence they gained over the whole tribe. In fact, owing to the very elasticity of its doctrines, the sect manages to absorb into itself other minor orders; and this peculiarity has tended to greatly expedite its extension. But as regards infidels the rules
of the order are very severe, and especially towards Christians, against whom the Senoussi priesthood endeavour, not without success, to inflame their flocks. French writers attribute the deplorable massacres of exploring missions that have pushed southwards from Algeria and Tunis entirely to the fanaticism stirred up by these militant monks; and in this theory they are probably not very far wrong.
The propaganda emanating from Jerboub extended in an extraordinary manner. In 1859 the name of the Sheikh es Senoussi was held in respect, not only among the oases of Barka and the neighbourhood, but far to the south in the Soudan among the negro races peopling the vast tracts that lie between Khartum and Senegal. It was at this time that the wandering Algerian ascetic, who by the force of personal example, and by a capacity for organisation, and for inspiring enthusiasm of no common order, was developing a spiritual and temporal power over a huge area of wilderness dotted with widely separated but rich and thickly inhabited patches of oasis, died, and nominated as his successor his son, Mohamed es Senoussi, the present Sheikh of Jerboub. Before his death he appears clearly to have hinted that his son was the Mahdi, and the Senoussi is now known among his followers as Mohamed el Mahdi, although he does not seem ever to have claimed a right to the title.
During the two decades that elapsed between the death of the founder of the Senoussi order and the date of Mohamed Ahmed's appearance as chief of a religious crusade and as Madhi, the mosques and zawias of the confraternity centred in Jerboub continued to multiply. All the more important oases scattered over the desert be
tween the Nubian Nile and the land of the wild Tuaregs became centres of Moslem activity. By means of caravans, and through the instrumentality very largely of slaves liberated by the influence of the Senoussi priesthood, and converted into emissaries of the sect, the important kingdom of Wadai, west of the Egyptian province of Darfur, was gained over, and its Sultan acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the Sheikh of Jerboub. These emissaries pushed westwards into Bornu and to the territories bordering on Lake Chad. Fezzan became studded through its whole length and breadth with zawias. At the great caravan centre, Ghadames, on the confines of Tunis, and at Ghat, farther to the south, convents sprang up. Among the Tuaregs the Senoussi propaganda made great way. Zawias were built in Egypt, at Dongola and at Constantinople. Some were set up in Asia. Morocco disciples of the sect formed colonies at Fez, at Tetuan, and even at Tangier. So that at the time of the insurrection in the Egyptian Soudan, Mohamed el Mahdi was the most important priest in North Africa, with a following more numerous than the Sherif of Wazan, the Moorish Pope, could lay claim to, and respected in the Sultan's African dominions-Egypt and the Egyptian Soudan perhaps excepted-far more than the Caliph himself.
Nor had the growth of this great Moslem revival failed to attract some attention in Europe. Rohlfs, Haimann, Philebert, and others wrote of it. So far back as 1864 the French traveller Duveyrier had-in a work entitled 'Exploration du Sahara; les Touaregs du Nord '-drawn attention to it, and to the menace that it offered to the French empire south of the Mediterranean. In later
writings the same author has studied its development exhaustively and in detail. But all this time the Sheikh es Senoussi dwelt in seclusion in his great convent of Jerboub, unseen save by the most intimate and trusted counsellers, an austere and mysterious divine, invested in the eyes of his disciples with a special holiness owing to the retirement in which he lived. His influence was being exerted by peaceful means. He made no open claim to be the Messiah. He was undoubtedly descended from the Prophet. His blue eyes and a mark between his shoulders were signs that the coming Mahdi was to be known by. All was going smoothly, when the other and militant Mahdi made his appearance on the Nile.
The existence of two Mahdis at the same time was clearly impossible. To a people gifted with a sense of humour, the situation would have had many elements of the ridiculous. But the tribes of the Soudan and to the north take things seriously. They took their Mahdis very seriously indeed. The Baggaras, Jaalin, and other dwellers in the Egyptian provinces accepted the ambitious, daring, energetic Mohamed Ahmed at his own valuation, the recluse of Jerboub being without a following in these parts. The disciples of Senoussi remained firm in their religious opinions: their confidence was in no way shaken that their venerated head would turn out to be the Mahdi, and they regarded the Dongola boat-builder as an impostor. Mohamed Ahmed, with characteristic effrontery, wrote to the Sheikh es Senoussi, appealing to him to join the dervish cause, and nominating him one of his emirs. To be patronised in this fashion by the rival Mahdi must have been very irritating to the Mahdi of Jerboub, who, however,