Amadou Bamba was a Muslim mystic and ascetic marabout, a spiritual leader who wrote tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Qur'anic study. He is perhaps best known for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are known for their industriousness. Although he did not support the French conquest of West Africa he did not wage outright war on them, as several prominent Tijaan marabouts had done. He taught, instead, what he called the jihād al-'akbar or "greater struggle," which fought not through weapons but through learning and fear of God.
Bamba's followers call him a "renewer" (mujaddid in Arabic) of Islam. Bamba's fame spread through his followers, and people joined him to receive the salvation that he promised. Salvation, he said, comes through submission to the marabout and hard work, a departure from conventional Islamic teaching.
There is only one surviving photograph of Amadou Bamba, in which he wears a flowing white robe and his face is mostly covered by a scarf. This picture is venerated and reproduced in paintings on walls, buses, taxis, etc. all over modern-day Senegal.
At the time of the foundation of the Mouride brotherhood in 1883 the French were in control of Senegal and most of West and North Africa, as their empire continued to expand. Though it had shared in the horrors of the pre-colonial slave trade, French West Africa was managed relatively better than other African regions of the colonial era, enjoying small measures of self-rule in many areas. However, French rule still discouraged the development of local industry, preferring to force the exchange of raw materials for European finished goods, and a large number of taxation measures were instituted.
At the end of the 19th century the French colonial rule began to worry about the growing power of the Mouride brotherhood and their potential to wage war against them. Bamba had converted various kings and their followers and probably could have raised an army if he had wanted. The French sentenced him to exile in Gabon (1895-1902) and later in Mauritania (1903-1907). However, these exiles fired legends about Bamba's miraculous survival of torture, deprivation, and attempted executions, and thousands more flocked to his organization. For example, on the ship to Gabon, forbidden from praying, Bamba is said to have broken his leg-irons, leapt overboard into the ocean, and prayed on a prayer rug that miraculously appeared on the surface of the water. Or, when the French put him in a furnace, he simply sat down in it and drank tea with Muhammad. In a den of hungry lions, the lions slept beside him.
By 1910, the French realized that Bamba was not waging war against them, and was in fact quite cooperative. The Mouride doctrine of hard work served French economic interests. After World War I Amadou Bamba was awarded the prestigious French Légion d'honneur for his help in recruiting soldiers from West Africa for the war. The Mouride brotherhood was allowed to grow and in 1926 Bamba began work for the great mosque at Touba where he would be buried one year later.
The Grand Marabout is a direct descendant of Amadou Bamba himself and is considered the spiritual leader of all Mourides. There is a descending hierarchy of lower-rank marabouts, each with a regional following.
Mourides sometimes call their order the "Way of Imitation of the Prophet". Parents sometimes send their sons to live with the marabout as Talibes rather than giving them a conventional education. These boys receive Islamic training and are instilled with the doctrine of hard work.
Some Muslims consider the Mourides' extreme adulation of Amadou Bamba, and his lineage of successors, to be blasphemous, claiming the latter gets more attention than the Prophet Muhammad, and that Touba is ranked over Mecca.
The Mouride brotherhood has been courted by Senegalese politicians over the years. Recent prominent Mourides include Abdoulaye Wade who is the current president of Senegal and a devout Mouride. The day after his election in 2000 Wade travelled to Touba to seek the blessing of the Grand Marabout, Serigne Saliou Mbacke.
Sheikh Ibrahima Fall was one of the first of Amadou Bamba's disciples and one of the most illustrious. He catalysed the Mouride movement and led all the labour work in the Mouride brotherhood. Fall reshaped the relation between Mouride Talibes (Mouride disciples) and their guide, Amadou Bamba. Fall instituted the culture of work among Mourides with his concept of Dieuf Dieul, ("you reap what you sow"). Ibra Fall helped Sheikh Amadou Bamba to expand Mouridism, in particular with Fall's establishment of the Baye Fall movement. For this contribution, Serigne Fallou, the 2nd Caliph after Amadou Bamba, named him "Lamp Fall" (the light of Mouridism). In addition, Ibrahima Fall earned the title of Babul Mouridina, "the entrance in Mouridism."
The members of the Baye Fall dress in colorful ragged clothes, wear their hair in dreadlocks which are called ndiange or 'strong hair' , carry clubs, and act as security guards in the annual Grand Magal pilgrimages to Touba. Baye Fall are unusual in that some of them freely drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, things forbidden by orthodox Islam and in the city of Touba as well. In modern times the hard labor is often replaced by members roaming the streets asking for financial donations for their marabout. Several Baye Fall are talented musicians. A prominent member of the Baye Fall is the Senegalese Musician Cheikh Lo.