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The Torodbe Clerisy: A Social View

  • John Ralph Willis (a1)

It is a salient feature of the great jihāds of the western Sudan that the leadership for these wars of religious fervour should have sprung forth from a single source, the Torodbe clerisy. It was the Torodbe ʿulamā’ who sustained the jihāds in Futas Bundu, Toro and Jallon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and prefigured the jihāds of Usumān dan Fodio and al-Hājj ʿUmar b. Saʿīd, perhaps the most illustrious leaders thrown up by Torodbe Islam.

We have long viewed these Islamic revolutions as ‘Fulani jihads’—as consummate examples of the way in which ‘Fulani’ skilfully orchestrated the people in favour of their own views. But it would now appear that those Muslims we have been calling ‘Fulani’ deserved this designation in language and culture only—that they were drawn from diverse strains of Sūdānī society—that Turudiyya suggests a métier and not an ethnic category.

The Torodbe clerisy evolved out of that mass of rootless peoples who perceived in Islam a source of cultural identity. Bound in a new persuasion—linked by a common oppression—they shook the sense of ethnic difference and sought to stimulate a counter trend of a levelling nature. Yet, having habitually recruited from all levels, and most notably from the submerged levels of society, the Turudiyya became an increasingly closed world, discoloured of their levelling intentions. This tendency was manifest in Futas Toro and Bundu especially. In these new communities, the Turudiyya took shape as a hereditary ruling class—succession to the imāmiyya became the special preserve of a select few families. The position of slaves in the new order progressively hardened; the ranks of the Turudiyya remained closed to artisans who continued to pursue their traditional crafts.

The levelling tendency of the Turudiyya movement seems to have reached its apogee in the ʿUmarian Jamāʿa. Though it is said that al-Hājj ʿUmar b. Saʿid did not extend freedom to his slaves, the ties of Islam and the community of faith came to supplant the old threads of allegiance. Among believers, superiority in the faith or stricter observance of its precepts presented a new passport to honoured status.

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The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-african-history
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