Sufism Degree Zero
Studies of Islam in West Africa have repeatedly drawn attention to the importance of Sufi brotherhoods or orders (Arabic tariqa , pl. turuq ). The Qadiriyya was the first of the orders to make its appearance in West Africa, during the eighteenth century; the Tijaniyya arrived somewhat later on the scene in the early nineteenth century. Although there is evidence that Sufi ideas had already been circulating in West Africa for centuries, the appearance of the orders clearly represented an institutional, if not ideological, breakthrough. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have long been identified as a period of Islamic "recrudescence" in West Africa; the emergence of the Sufi orders at the very same time was hardly a coincidence. Indeed, it has been argued that the Sufi orders played a crucial role in this process of Islamic recrudescence. For instance, Mervyn Hiskett (1984: 259) identifies the following processes as consequences of "the rise of the Sufi turuq in the West and central Sudan":
1. The crystallization of "local patriotism" around the persons of the leaders of Sufi movements and eventually around their tombs as pilgrimage centers
2. The fostering of Islamic universalism through the encouragement of pilgrimage to the Hijaz
3. The formulation of the ideological bases of West African jihad movements
4. Accelerated rates of conversion to Islam, for which, according to Hiskett, the turuq were "the main agents"
5. The promotion of Arabic literacy
Sufi orders have even been credited with influencing the course of West African economic development; in particular, extension of the cultivation of peanuts as a cash crop, not to mention their commercialization, has been attributed to the growth of the Mouride order in Senegal (O'Brien 1971, 1975).
Any attempt to explain why the Sufi orders should have exerted—and indeed continue to exert—such a powerful influence on Islam in West Africa must necessarily take into account the general features of the orders themselves. Specifically, three main features are commonly associated with Sufism in West Africa. The first is a clearly hierarchical structure of authority, based on the shaykh/murid ("leader"/"disciple") relationship. One cannot simply join an order on one's own. One must first be initiated by a formally recognized shaykh empowered to teach his disciples the specific obligations of membership. Ideally, this initiation creates an enduring—indeed virtually indissoluble—relationship of authority; each shaykh thus wields authority over the various disciples whom he has initiated throughout his career. This hierarchical link can be extended into a whole chain of command. In other words, the shaykh in turn has his own shaykh who initiated him or who has succeeded to the authority of his original shaykh. At the summit of this hierarchy, there is in principle the founder of the entire order or his successor; in practice, this may mean the founder or successor of a particular branch of the order, rather than the order as a whole, or else a designated khalifa who is the head of the order in a particular area (which may be as large as West Africa as a whole). The extent to which the hierarchical principle embodied in the shaykh/murid relationship is in fact translated into a centralized system of authority is clearly quite variable; some orders, or at least some branches, appear to be highly centralized, others much more weakly so. The point is that the hierarchical ideology of the order permits, if it does not automatically entail, a certain degree of centralization. The more highly centralized an order or branch happens to be, the more it can coordinate action on a large scale of any sort,
whether this be missionary activity, political mobilization, or even the cultivation and marketing of peanuts.
If relationships within any one order are characterized by hierarchy, relationships between orders, and in some cases between different branches of the same order, are characterized by rivalry. To the extent that membership in any order is exclusive, it follows logically that different orders or branches should be in competition for the allegiance of potential disciples. Of course, different shaykhs of the same order may also compete for disciples, but as long as they all owe more than token allegiance to the same head, such competition is subject to arbitration at a higher level. At the higher level, there may be factional strife within an order concerning succession to positions of leadership. However, such strife is either resolved or ultimately leads to the formation of separate and essentially independent branches. Finally, the very political effectiveness of the orders or branches promotes rivalry in another way; to the extent that any order uses its authority to mobilize support for any political movement, opponents of that movement are likely to seek support from rival orders. In other words, while the orders may serve to mediate factional cleavages within the ranks of their memberships, they may also accentuate cleavages along lines of membership in different orders.
One final feature commonly associated with the Sufi orders is the development of a corporate sense of identity among members. Such an identity is fostered by the practice of dhikr , or "remembrances," ritual recitation of prayers particular to each order and often to each branch. In the first place, these very ritual particularities serve as symbolic markers of a distinctive identity for fellow members of the same order. Moreover, dhikr are often recited collectively, reinforcing the sense that each member is part of a larger collectivity. In some cases, Sufi orders have been associated with the rise of new forms of "ethnic" consciousness in modern multi-ethnic towns and indeed in whole nations. In short, the influence and effectiveness of the Sufi orders can be seen as the outcome of the elaboration of distinctive forms of
collective ritual combined with clear hierarchical principles of authority. These factors operate to develop a sense of collective identity among members on one hand, and to mobilize this collectivity in concrete ways on the other.
This is the image of the "typical" Sufi brotherhoods as it emerges from the scholarly literature. The image has become so pervasive that in a recent article on Sufism in Burkina Faso, the author expresses his considerable surprise at failing to find these features: "The turuq … did not, and do not even now, constitute structures through which Muslims could have created, or could create, a counter-movement around an uncontested shaikh invested with baraka… . No Burkinabe refers to himself as Qadiri or Tijani in the manner of the Mourides of Senegal " (Otayek 1988: 101 [emphasis mine]). He even qualifies this "phenomenon" as "unique in West African Islam" (ibid.), as if it were a matter of course that Sufism should take the institutional forms described above, and that their absence requires explanation, if not justification. In fact, those Sufi orders or branches that have attracted the most attention from Western scholars are, not surprisingly, those whose influence, not only within but outside the domain of Islam, narrowly defined, has been the most spectacular. However, it is a mistake to consider cases where Sufi brotherhoods are much more loosely institutionalized as in any sense radically atypical. Sufism, in and of itself, cannot account for change. Rather, we must ask ourselves under what conditions Sufi orders develop in specific ways, and under what conditions they fail to so develop.
As it happens, the Sufi orders among the Dyula of Koko, quite like those among their neighbors to the north in Burkina Faso, are conspicuously deficient in all those characteristics ostensibly "typical" of Sufism in West Africa. While both the Tijaniyya and the Qadiriyya are present among the Dyula, there is a total absence of rivalry between the two orders. Informants, whether or not they were members of either order or unaffiliated, almost invariably responded that it was a good idea to belong to an order, but that it did not matter which one. I tried on various occasions to elicit from
members of one order or the other the reasons for their choice, and ultimately why they felt their own order was preferable. In every instance, respondents insisted that their order was in no way superior to the other, a particularly surprising answer for Tijanis, who, it is claimed, "believed that their litanies were more efficacious than all other Sufi litanies" (Abun Nasr 1965: 56). One Tijani explained to me that, since it ultimately made no difference, one chose the order whose litanies one found most attractive ("A ka di i ye"). The choice of the adjective di is revealing. One can say that something is "good" in one sense or another by saying, "A ka di" or "A ka nyi," but the adjectives di and nyi have very different connotations. For example, food that is di is sweet-tasting (as opposed to sour or bitter), or pleasant to eat. Depending on the context, to say that food is nyi may mean simply that it is edible, or else that it is wholesome, or ultimately that it is permissible to eat it (i.e., it is not prohibited by Islamic law). Di refers to aesthetic values, nyi to moral values. The same entity may be one without the other; medicine, for example, may be "bad-tasting" but "good" for you. Actions are or are not nyi ; they are moral or immoral, but normally the notion of di would not be applied to them. On the other hand, what is or is not di may be a question of personal taste, whereas in principle things are either nyi or not nyi. (This is not to say, of course, that individuals never disagree about what is or is not moral, but simply that such disagreement does not imply a position of moral relativism.) In short, an individual can say that something is di to him ("A ka di n ye"), a very common phrase, which means that he likes it, that it appeals to him personally. This is precisely the way my friend indicated his preference for the Tijaniyya as opposed to the Qadiriyya. The choice was purely aesthetic (di ) and had no implications in moral (nyi ) terms.
Another Tijani went even further in his attempts to explain to me why the Tijaniyya and the Qadiriyya were morally equivalent. Both, he claimed, were founded by the same individual, Ahmad Tijani Qadiri. One of his sons went on to found the Tijaniyya, another to found the Qadiriyya. Both orders were
really identical, except that the litanies (dhikr ) are recited aloud by Qadiris and silently by Tijanis. Historically speaking, this account is wildly inaccurate. The Qadiriyya traces its origins to 'Abd-al-Qadir al-Jilani, who lived in Baghdad in the twelfth century; the Tijaniyya was founded in the eighteenth-century Maghreb by Ahmad al-Tijani. There is at least a glimmer of historical truth in the story of Ahmad Tijani Qadiri; Ahmad al-Tijani was apparently initiated into the Qadiriyya order (among others) in Fez before founding his own order (Abun Nasr 1965: 17). However, the Dyula myth of Ahmad Tijani Qadiri goes much further than simply acknowledging that both the Tijani and Qadiri orders have common roots in the distant past. The Dyula story minimizes any and all differences between the two orders, reducing the whole issue to the question of whether the litanies are recited aloud or not, and furthermore attributing no special significance to the matter.
The question of the allegiance of murid to shaykh among Dyula Sufis is slightly more complex. In many cases, individuals are initiated by their teachers into one order or the other, and so it is necessary to attempt to separate out any allegiance a murid might owe to his shaykh from that which a pupil (karamogo den ) owes to his teacher (karamogo fa). The teacher/pupil relationship is quite consciously modeled after the father/child relationship, and consequently the link is in principle a perpetual one, even when the pupil in turn becomes a teacher. A teacher may continue to exercise authority over his pupil for the rest of his life, and the pupil should always display deference to his teacher. Consequently, in those cases where individuals are intitiated into an order by their teachers, it is impossible to disentangle the extent to which authority is wielded by a shaykh per se, or whether this is simply an epiphenomenon of the teacher/pupil relationship. In this respect, the case of one particular Tijani scholar is instructive. This man's teacher is still alive, and he frequently visits him in Daloa, in southwestern Côte d'Ivoire, to consult with him; he regularly hosts members of his teacher's family whenever they visit Korhogo. His teacher did not, however, initiate him into the Tijaniyya, as he did not belong to either
order at the time the scholar in question was a student. Indeed, when I inquired whether the teacher was now a member of either order, the scholar responded that he did not know, and did not for that matter seem to care, although the two men remain very close. He was initiated into the Tijaniyya by a man identified only as "Fama," who lives in another part of Korhogo. As the scholar rightly pointed out, it is impossible to join an order on one's own; one must be initiated by someone. However, he shows little interest in the man actually responsible for his initiation, although he lives only a short distance away, while he maintains very close ties with his teacher, who lives in another part of the country. In short, while the shaykh/murid relationship may reinforce a teacher's authority over his pupil, initiation by itself creates no binding or even enduring relationship. Needless to say, there is no acknowledgment, and perhaps little if any awareness, of higher levels of authority in either order, and neither did Tijanis or Qadiris consider themselves affiliated to any particular branches of the order. After all, if Tijanis and Qadiris are essentially the same, what sense does it make to belong to any particular branch?
Finally, neither Tijanis nor Qadiris display any sense of corporate identity as such among the Dyula of Koko. This is hardly surprising in the light of the absence of other "typical" features of West African Sufism. Since both acknowledgment of some common authority and the conviction that one order is fundamentally different from, if not superior to, the other are absent, they cannot serve as bases for the formation of any such sense of corporate identity. Yet even at the most elementary level, the orders never involve corporate activity in any form. In many societies, dhikr are often collectively recited by local members of an order, but they are always recited individually and privately in Koko. Such collective recitations do occur elsewhere in Korhogo, among immigrants whom the Dyula designate as "Malians," a generic label for Manding-speakers hailing from outside the country. Dyula Sufis consider that it would be desirable to hold such collective recitations, but they certainly do not participate in those of their "Malian" Sufi neighbors.
Sufism among the Dyula, it would seem, is characterized by the absence of features "typically" associated with Sufi orders in West Africa: no clear pattern of authority, no brotherhood rivalry, no sense of corporate identity, not even any collective recitations. What, one might well ask, is left? What does being a Qadiri or a Tijani among the Dyula entail? The answer, in the first place, is the private recitation of dhikr , aloud or in silence as the case may be. Under the circumstances, whether one is Qadiri or Tijani makes very little difference indeed.
In fact, the very legitimacy of the Sufi orders has been directly challenged: the Sufi brotherhoods are anathema to the Wahhabis. In a different vein, Sufism is alien to the religious sensibilities of the Western-educated in Koko, whether these be those members of the elite attracted to some form of secularism or the growing ranks who feel some affinity for the neoreformism of the AEEMCI and the Arab-trained scholars. Still, aside from the Wahhabis, no one condemns the orders in public. Nonetheless, Sufism is associated with scholars trained in the Suwarian tradition and with their followers, those I have broadly labeled neotraditionalists, who are still the overwhelming majority in Koko. The general consensus among these, the ordinary Muslims of Koko, is that joining an order confers religious merit. In spite of this apparent consensus, and to the consternation of members of both orders, very few Dyula ever join. Dyula Sufis point with some embarrassment to the "Malians" in town, who, they claim, have very high rates of participation. How can there be collective recitations of dhikr in Koko, they complain, if there are not enough members to attend? If only their fellow Dyula recognized the true merits of belonging to an order, they would flock to join.
In fact, the Dyula Sufis of Koko are hardly a random lot; for the most part, these are individuals for whom Arabic scholarship is at least a part-time profession. Most recognized scholars among the Dyula are either Tijanis or Qadiris, though it is important to stress that it is perfectly possible and generally admissible for a scholar to remain unaffiliated to either order.
Aside from scholars, virtually all other members are old men with a reputation for piety and a special interest in religious matters. Even among elders, relatively few ever join. In short, all Sufis are male and either scholars or senior elders.
These effective restrictions on membership are hardly imposed by members of the orders themselves. Admittedly, these Sufi scholars have not taken any aggressive steps (to put it mildly) to recruit new members. Still, the question remains: why don't other members of the community join? I asked one younger man whom I considered a priori a likely candidate. Though not a scholar by profession, he is as apparently pious as anyone else in his personal life and displays a keener than usual interest in Islam. A relatively poor man, he has one of the most extensive tape libraries of Muslim sermons in Dyula in the community and owns a cassette recorder, which he often uses to listen to them for his own edification. He confided to me that he did not feel that he was yet in a position to join one of the orders. Joining an order, he argued, amounted to a sacred pledge to recite all the necessary litanies at the appointed time. There are means for making up for lost prayers in extenuating circumstances, at least for ordinary Muslims, but this is a more serious breach for Tijanis or Qadiris. A working man does not always have the time to spare at any given moment to recite the obligatory dhikr ; to pledge to do so and then neglect the promise is a far worse breach than to defer making the commitment. When his sons were old enough to support him and he no longer had to work for a living, then he would be in a position to join the Tijaniyya or the Qadiriyya. (Not surprisingly, he expressed no particular preference for either order.)
Taken at face value, this is a somewhat curious answer. It is certainly the case that individuals who hold salaried positions do not have absolute control over their work schedules. In Côte d'Ivoire, where Muslims are a minority, individuals can sometimes receive time off to perform regular obligatory prayers but would probably have difficulty convincing their superiors that they needed extra time to recite Sufi litanies. But the man in question, like many of his peers, does not
hold a salaried job, is frequently unoccupied during the afternoon, when the requirements of work and worship are most likely to conflict, and is generally at liberty to manage his time as he sees fit. In any case, the notion that a man's sons will support him entirely in his old age is these days (and has perhaps always been) more of an ideal than a reality. It is by no means clear that elders really do have more time to devote to unremunerative activities, religious or otherwise. The crucial issue is symbolic, rather than real time, in terms of what it means to be a senior elder. A senior elder is stereotypically a man with grown sons (or other dependents) to "support" him. Such elders are expected to have time at their disposal and to act accordingly. An elder who must visibly devote all his time to earning his keep is not only unfortunate but, in a sense, a failure. On the other hand, a younger man who appears to have too much free time on his hands is, at worst, a good-for-nothing (if he uses his time for personal enjoyment), at best presumptuously behaving like an elder. Among younger men, only professional scholars can conspicuously devote their time to activities associated with Sufism; after all, this is their business, and not "spare" time at all.
The notion that only scholars and elders "ought" to have the time to engage in Sufi activities is closely related to general notions about standards of piety. Among the Dyula, it is obviously true that some individuals happen to be more pious than others. The point, rather, is that certain categories of persons are expected to be more pious than others, all else being equal. Gender and age distinctions are fundamental in this regard: males are expected to be more pious than females; the older people are, the more pious they are expected to be. In the most general terms, such piety is supposed to be reflected in the moral conduct of everyday life: praying five times a day, observing the fast at Ramadan (and indeed on optional occasions such as Kami Sun, the "fast of the guinea hen"), abstaining from alcohol, adultery, theft, and so forth. But there are also specific conventional signs of piety, both positive and negative. Certain acts are considered reprehensible for some categories of persons and tolerated for others,
while other acts are expected of some categories of individuals and not for others. Dancing (don ) and singing (donkili , literally "dance cry") are acts that nowadays fall into the first category. Scholars in Koko argue that singing and dancing are displeasing to God, although only one scholar so far has taken any active steps to discourage them, and his success has been very modest indeed; he has managed to prevent his own wives and children from engaging in such activities, but the prohibition has not even been successfully implemented for the wives and children of his full brothers. Singing is almost exclusively a female activity. The exceptions to the rule are themselves revelatory. In the first place, men sing in accompaniment to certain lo society masquerades, hardly a very proper "Muslim" activity in modern Koko. Such an association only reinforces the notion that pious Muslim men should refrain from singing. Traditionally, there were no griots—professional bards—among the Dyula in the Korhogo region; Manding-speaking griots from other regions do visit town and sometimes take up residence there. However, two Dyula men do operate as professional singers and are, in certain respects, comparable to griots. The first is usually known by his nickname, "RDA." An early supporter of what is now Côte d'Ivoire's ruling (and, until very recently, only) political party, he has been rewarded by becoming a quasi-official party "griot." His functions range from that of town crier to performing at funerals of local notables associated in one way or another with the party. In spite of his role—and I have seen him sing and dance at Senufo funerals surrounded by "pagan" poro masqueraders—RDA remains a respected member of the Dyula Muslim community. The same cannot be said of the other male professional singer among the Dyula, "Petit Sory." He hails from the village of Gbaminasso, and as such is a distant relative of an entire kabila of Koko, who regard him as something of a blot on the honor of the family name. Petit Sory's songs have an explicitly Muslim content, embodying Islamic moral maxims—perhaps a deliberate, if somewhat unsuccessful, attempt to win respectability among fellow Dyula. There are a number of
reasons why RDA is both respectable and respected and Petit Sory is not. First of all, Petit Sory behaves much more like a typical griot; he shows up uninvited at weddings, funerals, and other such occasions in order to solicit money from all in attendance. RDA performs only by invitation of party notables and overtly solicits no gifts from the audience. More important, RDA occupies a historically unique niche. When he dies or retires, no one else will succeed to his position, and so his example defies emulation. Petit Sory's role, on the other hand, is not intrinsically unique, even if his performances are idiosyncratic. In short, he sets a bad example.
By and large, the exceptions of lo masquerading, of RDA, and of Petit Sory serve to prove the rule that singing is inappropriate behavior for pious Muslim men. Scholars argue that women should not sing either, but no one else seems to take this injunction seriously. Drummers are invariably male, except on certain occasions during Ramadan when women drum on inverted calabashes placed over a larger recipient filled with water. Males also dance, though both drumming and dancing are appropriate male activities only for kambele ("youths"; older men sometimes dance in lo masquerades, again an exception that proves the rule.) Otherwise, as a man marries, has children, and begins to assume the status of a junior elder, he is expected to leave drumming and dancing behind. The same rule does not apply to women, who at any age can and frequently do sing and dance. In short, while both singing and dancing are reprehensible in principle, abstaining from singing is only expected of men, and from dancing only of older men.
If singing and dancing are negative signs, designating certain categories of persons as less intrinsically "pious" than others, public prayer constitutes of a positive sign of piety. Nowadays, all Dyula are expected to pray regularly by the time they reach adolescence, though it still follows that the older the individual in question, the more serious the lapse. However, prayer can be performed in a number of different places: at the mosque; on the verandah or in front of the house; or inside the house. The mosque is a preeminently
public place, just as inside the house is preeminently private and outside the public eye in the most literal way; praying in front of the house is an intermediate space, part private and part public. Older women will pray outside the mosque only on the occasion of the two great prayers of the Islamic calendar year, at the end of Ramadan and on tabaski. All adult men should attend these prayers at the mosque, and all married men are expected to attend the Friday midday prayer. The older a man is, the more often he will be expected to perform his other prayers at a mosque as well. When he is at home, the male head of a household will frequently pray outside the house if he does not leave for the mosque. He will be joined by other senior males who happen to be visiting, if there are any. He may also be joined by older women, either visitors or members of the household. Most often, women pray inside the house until they are past the age of childbearing, males until they reach marriageable age. In this way, public prayers, as a conventional sign of piety, reinforces expectations that piety will vary with both age and gender.
Age and gender do not, of course, determine how pious an individual really is, but rather constitute a grid for evaluating his or her actual behavior, a way of determining which individuals actually go beyond what is expected of them or instead fall short. The hajj is connected with piety in a rather different way. Not only is it in principle a religious obligation for those who have the means to perform it, but it is also interpreted as an enduring commitment to lead an upright life once the pilgrim has returned. A hajji or hajja is expected to set an example and to live a life as reasonably beyond reproach as humanly possible. Hajjis and hajjas are entitled to wear specific items of clothing, which mark their special status, although, except for scholars, wearing such clothing too frequently is considered unduly ostentatious. Not surprisingly, standards of conduct are somewhat more stringent for men than for women who have made the hajj. Hajjas may sing and dance in public, and will even do so in their special attire on occasions such as weddings. For a variety of reasons, men are more likely to make the hajj at a younger age than women
(and more likely to make it at all). Men who are wealthy enough to undertake the journey are usually polygynists, and it is often impolitic to pay for one wife's journey without bringing the others as well, a burden very few can afford. A few old women have accumulated enough earnings from petty trade to pay their own way. This is highly regarded as a token of unusual devotion, but it is also very rare, though I witnessed the departure of one such woman in 1985. More often, a son pays the way for his mother; unlike a husband, who has equal obligations to all of his wives, a son has a much stronger obligation to his biological mother than his father's other wives, although they are his "mothers" as well. But even men very rarely make the hajj before they reach middle age. One relatively young but highly paid civil servant once confided to me, only half jokingly, that he was too young to perform the hajj ; with a twinkle in his eye, he added that he hadn't quite finished sowing his wild oats! (This admission was made in the course of a conversation about a hajji who had secretly married two additional wives behind his first wife's back, on the rather dubious grounds that, now that he had been to Mecca, adultery was quite out of the question; my friend expressed the opinion that such behavior was seriously reprehensible for a hajji , much more so than for an ordinary man.) The only younger men I know who have made the hajj are either professional scholars or serious aspirants to the profession of scholar. As an alternative to the hajj , there exists a ceremony that individuals may perform publicly, whereby they pledge to live uprightly for the rest of their lives. Such ceremonies were performed only by old men and women, and are, I am told, lapsing entirely now that the hajj is increasingly within the means of many townsmen. In any case, whether in the form of ceremony or in the form of the hajj , such commitments to living a strictly moral life reinforce the notion that piety is at least in part a function of both gender and age.
Yet there is one important category of exceptions to the rules regarding age, although not as regards gender. This is the case of younger scholars. Scholars are expected to prac-
tice what they preach and to set a moral example for the community. This explains, for instance, why younger scholars do not hesitate to perform the hajj ; unlike ordinary individuals, their conduct is not expected to change after their return. In certain (though by no means in all) respects, scholars are considered to be like elders. Blessings (duau ) are one example of how scholars and elders are alike. Blessings are a part of daily conversation among the Dyula. They tend to be rather formulaic utterances, of the sort "May God …," and as such constitute certain of the figures of speech of ordinary politeness. For example, one says, "Allah nogoya ke" ("May God improve [your health]") to a person who is ill; "Allah i son" ("May God reward you") to someone who has offered a gift or a service; and "Allah hina a ra" ("May God take pity on him [or her]") in reference to someone deceased. Those to whom such a blessing is addressed must strike their foreheads with the right hand and reply, "Amina" ("Amen"). Virtually every adult, and even every adolescent, is likely to utter and to receive such blessings in the course of the day. However, on some occasions, blessings can be much more elaborate, and one individual may utter a whole string of more complex formulas at one time. Life crises—births, marriages, and deaths—are occasions when such elaborate blessings are de rigueur. An important visitor, or someone returning after a long absence, is likely to be treated to such elaborate blessings on his arrival. An elaborate blessing may also express exceptional gratitude, or even affection and esteem. Despite the fact that most blessings are purely formulaic utterances and that many are conventional acts of politeness, they are still petitions to God, from one person on behalf of another. One can never be absolutely sure which, if any, blessings will be truly efficacious. God is more likely to heed blessings uttered by persons He favors, and He favors those who are truly pious. However, God applies different standards of piety than humans, because He can judge a person's true intentions, whereas humans can only judge actions.
If anyone can utter a blessing, not everyone utters equally elaborate blessings. The blessings of young men and of most
women tend to be perfunctory; middle-aged men and old women offer more extensive blessings; but the blessings of old men and scholars are the most elaborate of all. Younger individuals claim that their elders "know" how to bless more effectively, but given the formulaic nature of blessings, it is almost inconceivable that any one would be literally incapable of reciting such utterances verbatim. Rather, as one friend explained, the elders bless more effectively because they are "closer to God." Scholars, because of their commitment to religious learning and their higher standards of moral conduct, are in some respects even closer to God than elders; indeed, they claim that their blessings are the most efficacious of all, not least because it is their business to know how to address God in the most appropriate manner for each circumstance.
If I have elaborated at such length on the hierarchy of piety among the Dyula and on the different ways in which it is symbolically expressed, this is because it answers the crucial question of why membership in Sufi orders among the Dyula is so restricted. Those individuals who in fact join one order or the other—scholars and old men—are those at the apex of this hierarchy of piety. This symbolic hierarchy legitimates in Islamic terms certain social distinctions that underpin the fabric of the local community: between scholars and laymen, between men and women, between elders and juniors. By joining a Sufi order, one implicitly asserts that one is at the apex of this hierarchy. This is why it would be presumptuous for a younger layman, no matter how pious in actual fact, to join an order. This would amount to a public proclamation that he believes himself more pious than can rightfully be expected, a perfect example of the sin Dyula scholars call yere bonya ("self-aggrandizement"). Actions that seem to call others' attention to one's own exceptional piety are intrinsically impious, and consequently self-defeating. By a similar process of circular reasoning, the fact that joining an order constitutes a pledge to good behavior perhaps even more constraining than the hajj , and that consequently only scholars
and old men do in fact join, legitimates the implicit hierarchy in the first place.
In short, Sufism among the Dyula serves to legitimate traditional social identities in terms of key distinctions such as gender and age. In other circumstances in West Africa, Sufism has served to legitimate the emergence of new social identities, in terms of ethnicity, class, or political loyalties. Paradoxically, the Islamic movement that has assumed such functions in Korhogo has been the Wahhabiyya, which is militantly anti-Sufi. In other words, changes in the practice of Islam in West Africa that have been attributed to the influence of Sufism may not be a feature of Sufi ideology at all. Under certain conditions, the Sufi orders may uphold rather than overturn "traditional" social distinctions, whereas anti-Sufi movements may exhibit some of those very features "typically" identified with Sufism. The pertinent question is not the extent of the influence of Sufi ideology, but rather those conditions under which Islamic movements, Sufi or otherwise, legitimize preexisting social distinctions or else seek to create new ones. The fact that, until recently, the Dyula of Koko were a Muslim minority with an established trade monopoly is salient in this regard; they had absolutely no vested interest in rocking the boat by establishing a new social order in the region, but were rather concerned with maintaining their relatively privileged position as it stood. When this monopoly was lost, the possibility of creating a new order was opened, and it was the Wahhabis rather than the Sufis who attempted to exploit it. However, most Dyula in Koko have resisted any such temptation to create a new order, and are in some respects even more defensive of their "traditional" identity. This is why they continue to extol the virtues of Sufism—and why they continue to avoid joining.