Sudanic Africa 2, 1991.

More on the Idrisi tradition in the Sudan

Albrecht Hofheinz

The influence of Ahmad ibn Idris and his students upon Sudanese Islam is well known; an increasing number of studies are available both on Ibn Idris himself [1] and on the brotherhoods that are linked to his tradition.[2] The Idrisi influence manifested itself either in newly founded brotherhoods, or it found expression within the framework of established clans of religious leaders. In the latter case, Idrisi ideas were adopted by and integrated into an existing structure which was primarily ethnically based; in the former, a new, supra-ethnic structure was created which was based primarily on religious affiliation. As ideal-types, one can distinguish the faki, the religious leader in an ethnic formation, and the shaykh, the leader of a supra-ethnic religious formation. [3] I would also propose the hypothesis that the new formations were initially more successful in areas peripheral to the old centres of religious life along the Nile and in the Gezira where religious families were more entrenched.

In real life, these patterns interacted, and the change of paradigm from faki to shaykh that is discernable after 1800 is never clear-cut. Attention has so far focussed on the newly established brotherhoods. However, while Idrisi influence on one end of the spectrum resulted in a major reorganization of religious life (as effected by the Khatmiyya), on the other end it was fully integrated into the existing, ethnically based structure. This latter case is much less well studied. It should, however, not be disregarded; otherwise our picture of what the Idrisi influence meant for a country like the Sudan will be distorted.

One of the groups continuing the 'ethnic paradigm' while adopting an Idrisi affiliation lives in the Shandi area of northern Sudan, more specifically in Salawa, to the West of the Nile opposite the railway station of Wad Ban al-Naqa. They keep a library containing manuscripts (both books and letters) relating to the Rashidi and Dandarawi branches of the Idrisi tradition. The data I was able to gather on this group are published here to direct the attention of researchers to this possible source of information.

The family of fakis I am referring to belong to the Tiweymab, a section of the Ja'aliyyin ­ 'Awadiyya. [4] In a distant past, various groups of Tiweymab emigrated from their homeland around Shandi. [5] One of these groups settled among the Shayqiyya in the area of Jabal Barkal, in the village of al-Kuray. [6] Through intermarriage they became integrated into local society and ethnically identified as Shayqiyya.

In the mid-19th century, a group of Shayqiyya living in al-Diweymab south of Shandi turned to these people when they were looking for Qur`anic instruction, and brought al-Amin w. Muhammad Salih b. al-Tiweym [7] back to al-Diweymab as their teacher. Al-Amin had taken the tariqa from Ibrahim al-Rashid (1813-74), one of the principal propagators of the Idrisi tradition in the northern Sudan, and he kept this affiliation when he moved to his 'uncles', the 'Awadiyya of Salawa-Tabqa, whose religious leaders are the Qadiriyya of Umm Dubban. [8] A little south of Tabqa, al-Amin established a mosque; he died in 1885, shortly after the Mahdi.

His and his brother Nur al-Huda's descendants continue to live in what is called Hillat al-Fuqara in Salawa. Their mosque is attended by 'Abd al-Rahim b. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Amin b. Sa'id b. al-Amin (born c. 1969; his father died c. 1989); they also maintain a khalwa (attended by Ahmad b. Ibrahim b. Nur al-Huda, c. 55-60 years old). They preserve links with the Adarisa of Omdurman.

Some other families in the area are affiliated to the Idrisi tradition: south of the Tiweymab there is a settlement of the Jabrab (or Bawalid), descendants of Ibrahim al-Bolad and the Awlad Jabir. The majority of them belong to the Khatmiyya, but there is also an Idrisi minority among them.

(This information was recorded in Berlin from al-Shaykh Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman, a great-grandson of Nur al-Huda, on 13 August 1990, 27 June 1991, and 27 November 1991).


1. See R. S. O'Fahey, Enigmatic Saint. Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition, London 1990, with further bibliography. [*]

2. E.g., 'Ali Salih Karrar, Athar al-ta'alim al-Idrisiyya fi 'l-turuq al-sufiyya fi 'l-Sudan, M.A. thesis, University of Khartoum, 1977; John O. Voll, A History of the Khatmiyyah Tariqah in the Sudan, Ph.D. thesis, University of Harvard, 1969; Mahmoud Abdalla Ibrahim, The History of the Isma'iliyya Tariqa in the Sudan, 1792-1914, Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1980. [*]

3. The two terms, of course, have other meanings as well, according to the context in which they are used. The subject will be elaborated in my Ph.D. thesis on Muhammad Majdhub (forthcoming). [*]

4. The 'Awadiyya are descendants of 'Awad b. Rubat b. Musmar ('Awn al-Sharif Qasim, Qamus al-lahja al-'ammiyya fi 'l-Sudan, Cairo 1985, 807). [*]

5. Other than to Jabal Barkal, they moved to al-Rufa'a, or the White Nile, for example. [*]

6. The name of the village is taken from Ali Salih Karrar, The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan until 1900, with special reference to the Shayqiyya region, Ph.D. thesis, University of Bergen, 1985, 121. ­ The emigrés to al-Kuray are sometimes linked to one Madani al-Hajar, who can not be identical to Madani 'al-Hajar' b. 'Umar b. Sarhan (fl. c. 1625), teacher at al-Fijeyja/Qoz al-'Ilm, where he died (cf. Muhammad al-Nur b. Dayf Allah, K. al-Tabaqat fi khusus al-awliya` wa 'l-'ulama` wa'l-shu'ara` fi 'l-Sudan, ed. Y. F. Hasan, Khartoum, 1971, 360). [*]

7. Karrar, Sufi Brotherhoods, 121 confuses him with the famous Mahdist poet, Muhammad 'wad al-Tiweym', who belonged to a different branch of the Tiweymab. The poet's exact name is Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. 'Abdallah b. Salih b. 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Nahlan b. al-Farad b. Musa b. Muhammad b. [al-]Tiweym (cf. Qurashi Muhammad Hasan, Qasa`id min shu'ara` al-Mahdiyya, Khartoum 1974, 177). Al-Farad, who appears in all Tiweymabi genealogies, was named after Ibrahim 'al-Farad[i]' b. 'Abbud[i], the eponymous ancestor of the Faradiyyin of the White Nile, who lived in the early 17th century (cf. Ibn Dayf Allah, Tabaqat, 79; H.A. MacMichael, A History of the Arabs in the Sudan, Cambridge, 1922, II, 246 no. 135, and the table after p. 272). [*]

8. The school of Umm Dubban, to the east of the Blue Nile, is one of the most famous centres of Islamic learning in present-day Sudan. It was founded by Muhammad w. Ahmad Badr (c. 1810-84) and is run by his descendants, the Badrab. The influence of this school is analyzed­from a Marxist point of view­by Idris Salim El Hassan, On Ideology: The case of religion in northern Sudan, Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 1980. [*]

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