Transnational Baye-fallism

Transformation of a Sufi Heterodoxy through Diasporic Circulation

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This article examines the transformation of the Baye-fall movement (Baye-fallism, henceforth), a particular form of Senegalese Muridism, as it extends into the Senegalese diaspora. In particular, the article explores shifts in understandings of what it means to be a ‘good’ Baye-fall, as Senegalese migrants in Spain become confronted with hostility in their new social context, and as the need for spiritual engagement and community belonging intensifies. Starting with the origins of Baye-fallism as a Sufi heterodoxy in Senegal, the paper then focuses on Senegalese migrants in Lavapiés (Madrid, Spain) and in Granada (Andalusia, Spain). The central argument is that in this diasporic context, adhesion to Baye-fallism becomes more intense, and that the performance of Sufi orthodoxy takes on new meaning, which also informs discussions about being a ‘good’ Baye-fall in Senegal.


This article examines the transformation of the Baye-fall movement (Baye-fallism, henceforth), a particular form of Senegalese Muridism, as it extends into the Senegalese diaspora. In particular, the article explores shifts in understandings of what it means to be a ‘good’ Baye-fall, as Senegalese migrants in Spain become confronted with hostility in their new social context, and as the need for spiritual engagement and community belonging intensifies. Starting with the origins of Baye-fallism as a Sufi heterodoxy in Senegal, the paper then focuses on Senegalese migrants in Lavapiés (Madrid, Spain) and in Granada (Andalusia, Spain). The central argument is that in this diasporic context, adhesion to Baye-fallism becomes more intense, and that the performance of Sufi orthodoxy takes on new meaning, which also informs discussions about being a ‘good’ Baye-fall in Senegal.

Introduction: The Antinomy and Diaspora of Baye-fallism1

The primary objective of this article is to address the Baye-fall diaspora in Spain, especially because the number of Baye-fall in the country appears to be growing as part of the migration from Senegal to Spain. This will be dealt with as the discussion considers who is a Baye-fall, in particular who are considered to be “good” or “bad” Baye-fall in the urban areas of Senegal today, then the context of migration and the implications for the Murid Baye-fall diaspora in Spain.

It is important to emphasize that the debate about being a good or a bad Baye-fall does not only appear in the literature, but is also referred to frequently in the conversations of Baye-fall migrants in Spain. Baye-fallism is a way of life, a holistic commitment to live life in all its dimensions; one can be “born” Baye-fall (“you’ve seen it since infancy in your family, your grandparents, you have lived it with your parents … and you also want to live this devotion,” according to a Baye-fall; Madrid, 5/2/2011). In particular, you can become or be inclined towards Baye-fall through substantial physical and spiritual work, and this choice implies an existential dimension that deals with many facets of life (“One can make a choice to be Baye-fall … it doesn’t have to be inherited through family. It depends on what each person feels”; Granada, 28/05/2013). This is therefore fertile ground for debates about moral education and that there are a variety of ways to consider yourself, or be considered by others, a “good” Baye-fall.2 In the context of the diaspora, with many non-Baye-fall Senegalese young people joining the movement after migrating due to its cohesive force and emotional pull, the practice of Baye-fallism has acquired a particular character. On the one hand, we have found an appeal for genuine orthodoxy,3 including the usual Islamic prohibition on drinking alcohol but combined with “skipping prayers,” or the practice of not doing the five demanded prayers daily coupled with fierce criticism of the “bad Baye-fall” who smoke cannabis on the streets. On the other hand, we have found Baye-fall who drink alcohol and use drugs, and claim a powerful faith in Allah, and that precisely such a state of altered consciousness is what allows one to “feel” connected in this way.

The Baye-fall community consists of an internal branch within the Muridiyya,4 a Sufi Muslim brotherhood of Senegalese origin, and today a global diaspora, which has a distinctive idiosyncrasy. Baye-fall have been defined, interpreted, named, worshipped, and condemned in many ways. Its members, originally followers of Sheikh Ibrahima Fall, the right-hand man and personal servant of Ahmadou Bamba,5 are primarily charged with manual work in the brotherhood (cooking and cleaning during the Magal6 celebration, for example). This manual work in turn partially frees them from praying or studying the Quran as other Murids do, as if the path to liberation and piety were through physical work. But on the other hand, they also perform intense religious trance rituals and call themselves “the most Murid amongst all the Murid,” the most authentic and devoted. They perceive themselves to be like Ibrahima Fall, the closest to their master, the most courageous and pious. They follow their own esoteric path – “the way of the heart,”7 which they see as more profoundly Sufi than the other, non-Baye-fall Murid.

A significant number of Baye-fall work in dahiras – associations or guilds in which the Murid brotherhood is organized globally, and are often urban and/or transnational in scope8 – during their diasporic journey precisely in order to overcome religious practice through physical effort – as if this physical tasks substitute in some manner the spiritual dedication. However, the non-Baye-fall Murids often perceive the Baye-fall as excessively relaxed with respect to certain Islamic duties, using work as an excuse for not needing to do the five daily prayers. In fact, as said, some Baye-fall not only declare themselves partially exempted from the five daily prayers, but often also drink alcohol and smoke hashish habitually, all of which is forbidden by the Quran. Even their clothing is heterodox compared to other Murids, such as the frequent wearing of dreadlocks, which has stimulated comparative studies between Rastafarianism and Baye-fallism (Savishinsky 1994). So, today it is not unusual to see groups of Baye-fall on the streets of Lavapiés (Madrid) dressed in their colourful costumes and belts. Many wear striking dreadlocks, their ubiquitous requisites (a type of rosary made from ebony or jalambañ wood) around their necks or lockets with the image of Ibrahima Fall, intoning repetitive chants surrounded by the tell-tale scent of cannabis.

Murid means “the one who desire” (Skali 2006: 28); the Baye-fall consider themselves “those who most desire” amongst the Murid, while the non-Baye-fall taalibe (disciples) often feel superior precisely because they do not do manual work and devote more time to prayer. Are there two – perhaps contradictory – ways to conceive of spirituality and piety, of the Sufi path of earthly release and the approach to the divine? Or can we see in the Baye-fall the epitome of the Sufi spiritual tradition? I will approach these questions that are central in the narratives of both Bay-fall and non-Baye-fall from a transnational perspective, examining the circulation of Baye-fall values and their transformation in the diasporic process. Starting with the origins of Baye-fallism as a Sufi heterodoxy in Senegal, I will discuss case studies of the migrant diaspora in Lavapiés (Madrid) and in Granada (Andalusia). The central argument is that in the process of circulating Baye-fall values between Senegal and Spain, the diaspora is changing the level of adhesion to Baye-fallism – i.e. ties intensify – and also the meaning and identity of being Baye-fall. Here, I use the perspective of circulation by building on the roots/routes perspective suggested by Gilroy (1993, 2000) – in any diaspora experience, “tradition” (“roots”) become “routes” or cultural forms that circulate and transform – to argue how locality and mobility together are important in the transformation of the meanings attributed to Baye-fallism.

“Roots,” “Routes,” and Dahiras

If we find that Baye-fall “roots” are the absolute veneration of spiritual leaders or an appeal to the inner world, we also find that the “routes” through which these characteristics pass and develop in the urban and transnational diaspora are the veneration of the leader through the exchange of phone messages, pictures, or prayers. It is as if in today’s globalized world, grace or blessings (“baraka”) could almost be transmitted virtually, although with less power. The intensification of inner feelings is achieved through the mysticism of the collective meeting in prayer and singing circles, where contact with other Spanish young people, often hash smokers, suggests a new way to share beliefs. This will be looked at in more depth below.

Dahiras play a central role in the mediation of religious and cultural values among the Murid diaspora (Jabardo Velasco 2006; Moreno Maestro 2007). The associative dynamic of the Senegalese diaspora in Spain is one of the most important within the non-European migration, and the most numerous one within the Sub-Saharian migration, in which dahiras stand out (Jabardo Velasco 2006). Dahira is also the very name of the Federation of Senegalese Emigrants Abroad (Crespo Ubero 2006; Moreno Maestro 2007) and during my fieldwork, I carried out participant observation in masculine and feminine dahiras in Lavapiés (Embajadores neighborhood, Madrid) – currently, the dahira of “Mame Diarra Mouhadjirat” and the dahira of “Serigne Fallou-Touba Madrid.”

Dahiras operate as prayer circles, as solidarity centers and as power headquarters that exert political pressure on governments (Costa Dias 2009: 49). They promote values such as discipline, hard work, fraternity, and sharing (Babou 2002: 156). Initially, dahiras were born in Senegal as a specific response to migration to urban areas – its rural proto-form was daara, a kind of rural, collectivist, religious school of work and prayer (Coumba Diop 1981); from there, dahira became an educative institution and an instrument for socialization and integration, as well as an important source of social capital.

The functions of dahiras in the Murid diaspora radicalized concerning intragroup solidarity and cosmopolitan socialization in the new host society. Usually they operate in this sense, as a means of intra-integration as well as inter-integration (Massó Guijarro 2012b, 2013c). If the links between members of the dahiras are already strong in Senegal, the sense of marginalization in migration strengthens these further (Babou 2002: 156; Guèye 2009: 96). In my own fieldwork for example, I asked a Baye-fall migrant in Madrid if he was from Touba [the holy city of Muridism]. He said: “No! I’m from Dakar. If only I were from Touba!” (02/02/2011). Such comments express how other identities and loyalties (ethnicity, kinship) take the backseat against the powerful spiritual significance of being Murid, also embodied in the physical land of the holy city.

In this sense, we can understand the dahira as a transnational social field (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004). Dahiras are concrete social sites through which migrants within and outside Senegal become ‘re-rooted,’ serving as meeting points in a larger transnational network that is defined by the mobility of persons, concepts, and practices. On the one hand, this transnational field is characterized by experiences of inbetweenness as somewhere “between here and there” (Davila Legerén 2008: 31) to which Baye-fall migrants in Spain often refer, but on the other hand also producing new values and creating new capitals in the sense of Bourdieu’s outline (1977) that are reproduced locally and transnationally (see also Hannerz 1996; Suárez Navaz 2008).

According to the MAFE-inquiry (González-Ferrer and Kraus 2012), most of the Baye-fall migrants in Spain are men – only 15 per cent are women. But the average length of stay is similar for women and men (7 years for men, 8 years for women). Usually, the men and women are under 35 years old (79 and 78 per cent respectively) and 52 per cent belong to the Wolof ethnic group (11 per cent are Pular, 37 per cent other). Almost 50 per cent of the Senegalese women in Spain are from Dakar, but only 26 per cent of the men are from there. In terms of religion, 33 per cent of the migrants would describe themselves as being Murid, 33 per cent Tijan,9 and 33 per cent other. Moreover, more than half of the Senegalese migrants come from families where the father was self-employed in the informal sector of the Senegalese economy or in agriculture, and almost half have not completed primary school in Senegal. Compared to Italy and France, there is a greater female participation in the labor market in Spain and a lower perception of material deprivation in relation to neighbors. These numbers could point at a relatively successful integration process of Senegalese into Spanish society but the residential irregularity remains high: 32 per cent of the Senegalese emigrants have no formal papers to reside in Spain. A significant number of the Baye-fall we met in different dahiras during our fieldwork were young male migrants who mostly had a Murid background but became Baye-fall after migrating.

A Brief Exegetical History of Baye-fallism

Before addressing contemporary Baye-fallism in the diaspora, it is important to give a brief historical overview that will enable us to understand the roots of Baye-fall ambiguity.10

The history of the movement is the story of a personal devotion, so to speak, which is institutionalized and which established a tradition. Sheikh Ibrahima Fall was an early follower of Serigne Touba, whom he met in 1883. According to chronicles (Minan al-Baqi al-Qadim, in Mbacké 2005; see also Roberts et al. 2003), Fall was in the midst of a search for a spiritual guide who would lead to God. When he met Serigne Touba11 in the village of Mbacke-Kayor, the simple and usual submission of the disciple soon became a dramatic veneration for the teacher – that was Fall’s first surprise, by popular account. Following traditional legends commonly recounted (by Sufis in general and Murids in particular), Fall drank Serigne Touba’s holy water. Perhaps as a result of this event, many within Muridism believe that Ibrahima Fall is responsible for introducing the “deviant” movement. It has been seen as gradually evolving over time to become legitimized in certain ways, such as total submission,12 excessive veneration, or unrelenting work for the sole benefit of the Sheikh (Mbacké 2005). However, having especially close links with a spiritual leader is also a Sufi trait. The difficulty is to distinguish between what is “excessive” veneration compared to other forms that are prescriptive and acceptable in Sufism.

Once more these considerations encounter a diametrically opposed interpretation of Baye-fallism: those who relax excessively in fulfilling their devotions and tasks, who “take advantage” of their self-proclaimed status through excessive laxity (above all in the diaspora) or who consume banned substances … are “Punkies,” as defined by one of my Senegalese contacts (a Wolof, non Baye-fall Murid; Madrid, 2/5/2011), verging on blasphemy at times. The most canonic interpretation of Muridism considers that becoming a Baye-fall is often motivated by theological ignorance (Mbacké 2005), negating the affirmation of a struggle of identity that Audrain (2004) emphasizes. The latter correlates to my fieldwork observations and will be elaborated on below.

But who was Ibrahima Fall? He has come to be seen as the perfect Murid role model, and at the same time perceived as a paradox. We encounter his royal lineage, since he was a member of the Kayor royal family, specifically the Tyeddo lineage, the royal guard (his grandfather left the profession to convert to Islam) (Iniesta 2009). Through various business enterprises, he had amassed a considerable fortune that was put at the disposal of the Sheikh (Iniesta 2009). For many analysts, Ibrahima Fall’s ancestral Tyyedo origins are key to understanding the particularities of Baye-fall submission: the total submission of the taalibe to the marabout may be a result of the traditional submissive relationship of the Tyeddo to their leader, the Damal (Savishinsky 1994: 213). Moreover, the acquired taste for psychoactive substances appears to have its origins in the pre-Islamic period. The classic works of Cruise O’Brien (1969, 1970, 1988, 2003) attest to these origins, including the esthetic appearance of such traits, such as dreadlocks, in the Tyeddo.

After his conversion to Islam,13 Ibrahima Fall quickly generated an intense devotion, especially amongst the members of his extended family, a devotion often considered as excessive as Fall’s devotion to Serigne Touba – in the words of my interlocutors, “his shadow.” Ibrahima Fall is also identified (Iniesta Vernet 2009: 12 ff.) as a military commander in the animist Wolof kingdoms that clashed with France; a sincere convert, an energetic person who returned to commerce after the war; and a personal guard for Serigne Touba, who defended him “only with physical force and occasional sticks” (Ibid). The Baye-fall were previously considered as “rowdy and drunken pagan soldiers” (Ibid) and, after Ibrahima Fall’s conversion, “faithful Muslims with certain waivers – consuming alcohol or dancing with their spectacular long drums under their arms” (Ibid: 29–30).

Soon “Baye-fallism” – the stream of people following Ibrahima Fall – spread and grew in number, to the point that the so-called Baay Fall or Baye-fall became regarded as a social and economic force (they were very productive in peanut cultivation, for example). Equally important from the start was their work providing services in building and site construction, from Mosques to roads. This role as a useful and effective labor force (Mbacké 2005: 65) remains axiomatic today.

From the beginning, the Baye-fall’s peculiar behavior has been recognized as a quintessentially distinctive feature which has given them fame, singularity and social – even esthetic (Aardal 2010: 65 ff.) – status within and beyond Senegal. Over time, they renounced prayer or fasting in contrast to others, with the pretext that Serigne Touba had exempted Fall from this so that he could work more. This attitude came later and was not prevalent at the beginning of the movement; it was in the 1920s, approximately, that these attitudes emerged amongst the Baye-fall for the first time. Mbacké (2005: 65) tells of the apparent paradox that, currently, some Baye-fall adopt the extreme position of prohibiting prayer and fasting within their communities, whilst others remain faithful to Islamic ritual practices. On the other hand, the interpretation that we often encounter from the Baye-fall is that their “exemption” from the obligation of the five prayers is because “we are always praying within ourselves” – as I often heard during my fieldwork, so it is superfluous to “stop” five times a day to pray, so to speak. So we find, perennially, contradictory interpretations or surprising hermeneutics, between excessive faith or excessive dereliction of religious duties, with work in place of prayer or prayer as a constant internal process in the heart of the believer.

Several classic works by authors of Senegalese origin, including non-Baye-fall Murids, demonstrate a version of religious orthodoxy that is essentially critical of the Baye-fall movement. Specifically, the work of Mbacké clearly presents an orthodox interpretation of certain facts: “There can be no question, however, of Shaykh Muhammad Bamba ever having dispensed the Baay Fall from two of the five pillars of Islam, prayer and fasting. He could not have done so simply because it was beyond his authority to do so” (Mbacké 2005: 65). It is true that Mbacké offers historical documentary evidence in this regard, citing a letter where Serigne Touba asks Fall to continue with prayer and fasting. There is no denying the veracity of these documents, but the question still remains as to why the exemption from fasting and prayer as a unique feature is maintained from the early days of Baye-fallism, and also owned and legitimized by the founder of Muridism himself.

For Mbacké (2005) the answer to this question is that Baye-fallism was and is, above all, a popular movement of illiterate novices within Islam, so such deviant behavior is to be expected, and the institutionalization of such behavior represents a more recent phenomenon. He comes to question why Serigne Touba did not denounce such deviations amongst his peers and reaches a final conclusion when, despite personal doubts, he answers himself: “Perhaps in his estimation of the situation it was his mission to “command what is good and proscribe what is bad”, while, ultimately, guidance was God’s” (Mbacké 2005: 66).

He ends his plea by denouncing, in a way, the “licentious lifestyle” that escapes even the control of the Baye-fall leadership, because of their reliance on one leader. He condemns all Murid precisely for this laxity, confusing the part with the whole (a confusion, indeed, both in academia and on the street, as we have noted). Certainly, in my own fieldwork I found some perceptions that confirm this claim; in a chat with a Tidjane man (a member of the Tiyaniyya brotherhood), trying to stress the superiority of their brotherhood as opposed to the Murid, he said “then there are the Baye-fall, who do not behave well … who do not pray …” (a Senegalese migrant in Madrid; 13/05/2011).

Contemporary Baye-fallism

The first Baye-fall I met during my fieldwork in Madrid did not wear dreadlocks and was a strict practitioner of the five daily prayers, as well as physical labor and being loyal to the marabout. He did not consume any type of psychoactive substances (except Touba coffee) and denounced those that did, in front of anyone who wanted to listen. On the other hand, a couple of them who wanted to smoke quickly took to the streets of Lavapiés, to join other Baye-fall with dreadlocks and colorful clothing, to consume cannabis and even alcohol with assiduity. From the start my experience was an empirical and spontaneous vision of the plurality of Baye-fallism. I have found inebriated Baye-fall, exuding a clear aroma of alcohol, who with hand on heart, in the classic Sufi gesture spoke of their divine mystical experience. I also found Baye-fall who denounced such behavior, arguing that such surrender was precisely because of the distance of the diaspora (for example, parents are not close enough to keep an eye on them and they do not feel any shame so far from their community, among other possibilities). I have also come across Yaye-fall (female Baye-fall) who criticize the inactivity of certain Baye-fall in comparison to others who display a passionate pursuit of unrelenting work and service (“they are not Baye-fall, that is not being Baye-fall … to be Baye-fall is – if you see that I’m about to drop something – you pluck it out of the air before it touches the ground … you’re always aware of what has to be done”; Yaye-fall migrated in Madrid; 30/03/2012).

Furthermore, I have found non-Baye-fall Murids who define Baye-fall as undesirable “punkies” (sic) or as false Baye-fall, quasi-heretics, or bad people, who take advantage of the laxity that migrants are afforded by the host society. Thus we can speak of two major tensions in the field: 1) An internal struggle specific to Baye-fallism: Baye-fall “authentic” / Baye-fall “inauthentic” and 2) a struggle within Muridism, between mainstream non-Baye-fall and Baye-fall: non-Baye-fall as “authentic” / Murid Baye-fall as “inauthentic.”14 Since no Baye-fall proclaim themselves as “false,” this points to the old problem of power: who is in control of these interpretations and who owns the orthodox sense of what it is to be a good or bad Baye-fall (see also Pezeril 2008a, 2008b, 2010).

Perhaps this paradox could give us a possible interpretation of the Baye-fall diaspora as a whole. Does the diaspora encourage the notion of “pollution” or “adulteration,” adding of course an element of the loss of social control to be found far from their original communities? This could be one of the interpretations; however, we continue to come up against the insurmountable obstacle of the Baye-fall’s self-proclamation: “we can drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, and be good Baye-fall.” In fact, the consumption of certain substances may even accelerate or enhance the divine connection, and perhaps we can see in this an intensification of the original Sufi approach compared to traditional Islam – as we can deduce from the observations in the field and from anthropological literature, different psychoactive substances (such as cannabis or alcohol) accelerate and intensify the perception of a divine connection (e.g. Lozano 1996; Robinson 1912; see also Brenner 2005).

In other words, the crucial question that seems to emerge in transnational Baye-fallism is that of which roots are essential to Baye-fallism in any context. Given the kind of impasse found in the analysis of Baye-fallism and the constant moral reference to being a good or bad Baye-fall, we ask who considers when, what is good or bad and which Baye-fall conceptions and practices appear to travel more easily and are reinforced most in the case of Spain?

I present two key interlocutors as significant examples of my fieldwork; one represents the stricter or more fundamental position, and the other the more heterodox one. In the case of the more orthodox informant, he was a young Senegalese man, about 30 years old, the son of the third wife of an elder and prolific Wolof Baye-fall from Touba. Divorced from his wife, in Senegal, with whom he had no sons, he spent four years in Spain, without legal paperwork and with irregular but more or less constant work. He argued that being Baye-fall is the most perfect state, committed and dedicated to practice as a Murid, starting with prayers five times a day, the strict observation of fasting at Ramadan and the refusal to take a drop of alcohol, or pork. He was often found praying with curu (a kind of rosary) and Quran in hand, and would ask me to be quiet until he had finished. He attended to all calls, meetings, holy days, and requests from the dahira or the marabout. He spent hours scrubbing pots, cleaning premises, organizing the reception of spiritual leaders … and, most importantly, publicizing the sacred word of Ahmadou Bamba, whose written works he knew intimately. On several occasions, he wanted me to get to know, and show my respects to, his marabout so that, for example, the marabout could offer blessings to my children (who were still infants at that time) when he returned from a trip.

The values of responsibility and respect, as well as social respectability, were crucial in his conversation. For example, he rejected outright friendly Spanish people who were openly homosexual, since marriage for procreation is the main purpose of sexual union according to Islamic canon. He was even disdainful of friends who drank beer. As he performed his daily chores or routine work, especially in the shop or the restaurant where he worked, he listened to background music while reading verses and singing about Bamba. He claimed that if he prayed the word “Ibrahimaba,” the police would never stop him in the street to ask for his ID, reflecting a classic magical-mysterious thought process and potent symbolic belief.

In the case of the heterodox informant, he was a similarly young Senegalese Wolof, about 30 years old, a native of Saint Louis from a non-Baye-fall family. He had no paid work or legal paperwork and was in a relationship with a Spanish woman with whom he had a baby. In his Baye-fall conversation and routines we clearly find practices which are reviled by the previous group, such as the use of cannabis or alcohol in fashionable bars, together with the illegal, small-scale drug trade (“wheeling and dealing” in marijuana and hashish), the abandonment of the five daily prayers, and the maintenance of sexual relations with “non-believers” and/or more “liberal” Spanish girls outside marriage. Similarly, he participated in several leisure activities, such as dancing and drinking alcohol at nightly venues – a behavior labeled by the stricter branch as “lazy,” such as inactivity or sleeping-in late, in contrast to the extreme dedication to service that a “true Baye-fall” should display.

The stricter Baye-fall people say that this morally lax behavior is due to the fact that they are far from their families and “because their parents do not see them” (Baye-fall, Madrid, 18/03/2011) – but they participate in dahiras. However, this informant’s discussion (also shared by others) about their own Baye-fallism was directed primarily at emotional, spiritual, and mystical aspects of their way of sensing God. They closed their eyes, touched their heart, recited some of Bamba’s verses, and claimed that only feelings, and not the expression of rational words, enabled them to understand the meaning of their lives. They would also often form cliques or small groups at certain times of the day, to roam the streets of Lavapiés in Madrid, chanting typically Baye-fall psalms and playing drums, asking for alms to offer the community especially for the Magal. Many – but not all – of these excursions were made after having consumed alcohol or cannabis.

In the narratives of this key informant, and others like him, an explicit statement of disobedience to the marabout was never expressed, nor any unambiguous statement that consuming certain substances facilitated enlightenment. Rather, these were the preferences practiced and reported by the interlocutors and observed during the ethnographic study.

It has also been said that many of the more orthodox Baye-fall who rejected the illegal small-scale marijuana trade by their “rogue” colleagues ran their own illegal stores of counterfeit products for subsequent distribution and sale, which they did not consider contradictory to their beliefs, as was the case of our own key informant. So, for these people there seems to be an element in which the consumption of psychoactive substances, rather than breaking the law per se, represents a source of moral disapproval.

On the other hand, some of the behavior mentioned above, such as the consumption of illegal drugs or the rejection of prayer, has also been widely ascribed to the Baye-fall in the urban spaces of Senegal (especially Dakar). So, we can put forward the hypothesis that perhaps it is not migration itself, but rather the urban setting that might be the independent variable or trigger. In other words, migration may be the key factor but not necessarily transnational migration. Change will occur in whichever circumstance – intra-national movements from rural to urban areas (within Senegal for example) or international movements, for example our case study – everything that constitutes, ultimately, the exposure of the original culture to diverse cultural influences and elements.

Baye-fallism and the Diaspora

In my fieldwork, the fundamental conclusion that the data points to is the growth of the centripetal forces or the attractions of membership of Baye-fallism within the Murid diaspora. In my opinion this has happened in urban environments because they share similar features to those of the urban subculture or subgroup,15 especially amongst younger people, forming alternative dahiras. These behaviors, traditionally associated with the “bad Baye-fall” are thought to stem from migrants’ moral “relaxation.” This laxity tends to be strongly denounced by the more orthodox Baye-fall – usually those who do not wear dreadlocks or colorful clothes – as we have seen above.

The so-called sickaar and doukar, songs and dances performed to the spiritual divinity, are the core elements that unite the Baye-fall in their mystical meetings. They are normally preceded by discussions and pre-meetings in the dahira space and, above all, the sharing of traditional Touba coffee and even shared food. When the moment is right, someone starts with a “call,” a poem or verse dedicated to Touba, and the “kourel,” the prayer circle, begins (with or without drums, depending on the day), in which the people who wish to come together form a circle that moves slowly, to the rhythm of the repetitive psalms. In the center of the circle there is usually some type of container to collect alms. These celebrations (usually biweekly) are held at specific premises rented in the Lavapiés quarter in Madrid, and in an “occupied” cave in the district of Sacromonte, Granada.

It is thought that to enter these circles, to experience the singing and the shared journey for oneself, enables one to feel what it means to be Baye-fall. Often, in the anteroom of the dahira there are Baye-fall who consume cannabis or tobacco. This never takes place within the dahira and, besides, they generally argue that the practice is not appropriate for the “pure space” that the kourel represents. Later, after its conclusion, it is also quite common for some Baye-fall to join their Spanish friends for the local nightlife, going to various bars to drink alcohol, which is also prohibited in the sacred space. In light of this, these Baye-fall often argue that the kourel “is cleansing.” However, from an anthropological (perhaps more ethical) point of view, we may reflect that this shared behavior is an essential part of community formation and the collective identity that involves being Baye-fall in an urban diaspora.

In relation to the above, and in light of how the movement has simultaneously evolved and become intensely linked to the diasporic dimension, contemporary studies of Baye-fallism prioritize the following crucial factors: urbanization, migration, and the burgeoning forces of youth and feminization. By virtue of this, Pezeril (2008a, 2008b, 2010) provides a more complex, diverse, and ultimately enriching early interpretation of the movement. For Pezeril it has become diversified, globalized, and feminized and, most specifically, through the dynamic of individualization that she recognizes in Senegalese society, it has evolved into a claim by disciples for greater freedoms (Pezeril 2008b: 299).

It is common that the more visible Baye-fall are also almost always considered by Murids in general as marginal in socio-economic and religious terms. But the fact is that in reality they do not usually reflect the deeply rooted stereotype of marginality, eccentricity, and licentiousness that still persists, perhaps for the reasons mentioned above. In my own fieldwork I met many Baye-fall that did not wear dreadlocks or dressed in a certain way and who, for example, were extremely rigorous in observing prayers, as I said at the beginning. Moreover, with reference to interpretations such as Mbacké’s (2005), I have found data that contradicts the perception that Baye-fall laxity is due to their ignorance (a laxity alleged in certain orthodox perspectives; in other respects they are extremely active and intense).

With reference to the issue of marginality, Pezeril (2008b: 302) states that the expression “Baye-fall” often becomes an investment in such marginalization, so much so that nowadays many Baye-fall stand firm and assert themselves and as such, reclaim an essential legitimacy. This reflects a return to our original approach, in the sense of “the most Murid amongst the Murid.” Today the “true” Baye-fall are considered “good” Muslims. Due to the behavior of some wayward disciples, community identity has been stigmatized but they proudly insist, as I have seen from my own fieldwork, that a Baye-fall is “the most Murid of the Murid,” a sort of Murid “VIP” in the spiritual realm. For example, the most active young women in one of the dahiras in Madrid were Yaye-fall.

All Baye-fall seem to try to justify their own practice, whatever it is, through blaming the malpractice of others, apart from “others” within the community. The “bad” Baye-fall tend to be identified and characterized – almost caricatured – as single, urban youth, often beggars and Yamba (cannabis) users by the self-proclaimed “Baye-fall” (Audrain 2002; Pezeril 2007). Indeed, virtually all of the Baye-fall engaged throughout our work were young migrant men; thus, studies of contemporary Baye-fallism are inevitably focused on urban youth, and especially on transnational migration.

The “Baay faux,” also known as “Baay mbedd,” which in Wolof means “Baay street” or just street, reflects the context of the Baye-fall in urban settings. The term also reflects aspects that I have noticed in the specifically urban and diasporic Baye-fall that tend to take on their own features of an urban subgroup, as we have seen. This in turn plays a part in revitalizing and redefining urban youth observed by analysts. As Audrain (2002: 215, 216) indicates, for young people who migrate to urban areas in Dakar (and other urban areas through transnational migration, based on our own observations), becoming Baye-fall represents a way to shape their own subjective sense of self, not only morally but also esthetically, which relates holistically to a new mindset. Thus it seems that they will try to imagine alternatives to a reality and a social environment that disappoints, within the context of an unsatisfactory government (when it comes to migration in Senegal), and an unjust global system (in a transnational context) (Aardal 2012: 2). This is largely a struggle for a sense of inclusion, of being something; there is an assumption here about the conventional global narratives relating to monetary value and notions of success (ibid.: 7);16 at the same time there is a feeling of exclusion from this and a search for ways to subvert such inclusion.

Furthermore, Audrain (2004: 25) has seen how many Baye-fall forge their own ethics based on Muslim morality, saying that after their “conversion” the Baye-fall develop greater degrees of moral autonomy and spiritual sovereignty. This would further strengthen Baye-fall’s greater independence with respect to the mandates of the Muridiyya hard core, as well as increasing Muridiyya discomfort and loss of control in the face of such behavior. There is a common perception that the real Baye-fall are in Touba, as if the Murid ancestral home represents a primeval authenticity, a new dawn, and the pristine nature of identity. According to some, the Baye-fall who drift away from the epicenter (to Saint Louis, Dakar, Pikine or beyond, to Madrid, New York, Paris), become more relaxed in relation to the purity of their identity.

Another essential aspect of Baye-fallism in this respect is the way in which Baye-fall identity is acquired. Those who are born Baye-fall, that is to say, who inherited their status, as the offspring of a Baye-fall parent mostly understand that they are Baye-fall by familial transmission. Those who evolve, or become Baye-fall, often migrated: either from the countryside to the city or in the transnational diaspora, as in my case study, Lavapiés or Granada. A transformation of values and identity occurs, so to speak, that requires cultural adaptation, even awakening the need for a new, superimposed identity. These Baye-fall transcend the purely religious sphere to fill all the spaces and everyday narratives: “My parents are not Baye-fall, I’ve become Baye-fall here, you don’t need your parents to be Baye-fall; they may or may not be. I became Baye-fall here, after arriving from Senegal. I discovered this path […] your heart tells you,” commented an interlocutor (Madrid, 22/01/2012). Another Yaye-fall recounts: “It’s a choice you make. You see there is a group that’s praying and another that’s working, and so you go with the one you most identify with” (Granada, 14/06/2012).17

So, we find different ways to become Baye-fall, linked in turn to different concepts of orthodoxy. On this basis, it has often been observed that the people who “inherit” Baye-fall seek, in principle, a more faithfully orthodox interpretation and practice, while those who “become” Baye-fall, and especially in the diaspora (through urban migration), are likely to be more open to hermeneutical heterodoxy on the issue. Those who choose their Baye-fall identity assume other functions approximating the character of an urban subculture. All of this, of course, is not intended to be exhaustive or to prove a substantive relationship between the variables, but rather to reflect some measure of the reality that has been repeatedly discovered in the field.18


Since I started to become interested in Muridism, Baye-fallism has caught my attention in the most powerful way: its genuine heterogeneity as described above, its apparent syncretism, its (sometimes) exuberant aesthetic, the substantive and stimulating contradictions concerning its status found in different discourses, the (occasional) consumption of hashish, the moments of trance in a kourel, etc. This was the start of my interest, and also my confusion at that time in trying to understand what underpinned the paradoxical flood of information that criss-crossed here and there about what it meant to be – and not to be – Baye-fall.

With regard to the different hermeneutical and academic interpretations, what is flexibility for some is ritual surrender almost bordering on heresy for others; what is mysticism for some is excessive submission for others. What is religious consumption of substances to get closer to the divine for some, is unlawful and illegal licentious behavior for others. In brief, such interpretative and experiential richness sustains Baye-fallism, since it favors a pluralistic movement, distinct from the homogeneity that foretells of an early end. Baye-fallism is an example of a vibrant blend of meanings that will always emerge from human and social experience in general. As an analyst, I can only marvel at the findings both in the field and in the documents, which only serve to confirm such plurality.

The ethnography of this work confirms our working hypothesis that Baye-fallism, as a singular movement within the Muridiyya, presents certain features that emphasize their Sufi character as opposed to their Muslim character, taking into account their heterodox practices, their independent agency, and even their proximity to other non-Muslim religions, such as Rastafarianism.

The fieldwork results also confirm, in a concise and focused form, that Baye-fallism is an increasingly migratory affiliation: many Senegalese Murid in the diaspora are outsiders converting to Baye-fallism. Consequently, and similar to converted Baye-fall in urban areas in Senegal, we find a growing progressive empowerment within Baye-fallism, with respect to their duty to obey the Muridiyya. Such empowerment involves the adoption of some innovative, non-traditional behaviors and habits in the Baye-fall diaspora, such as the above psychotropic consumption or nightly entertainment, with white female companions, typical in the host societies. On the other hand, the persistence of highly orthodox Baye-fall, both in Senegal and in the diaspora, takes on a new importance, perhaps as a protest movement in response to the ongoing process of diasporic change.

Equally, such process is taking place in the formation of an official opinion amongst the Muridiyya hard-core, which sees Baye-fallism, more than ever, as a corrupting and dangerous progressive process, especially caused by transnational migration. Ultimately, the “traditional” or classic Baye-fall in Touba are more easily subject to social control, in new and unattributed ways, due to the transnational diaspora. It strengthens the defence of a “pure” and “genuine” Baye-fallism, maintaining an essentialist concept of Baye-fall affiliation. All this only serves to consolidate the dichotomy between so-called bad and good Baye-fall, now represented as “contaminated” by Western culture, migration, and by corruption and danger posed to the “original” by “outsiders” or “foreigners.”

Based on Gilroy’s concepts of “roots” linked to authenticity, and “routes” linked to the inevitable transformation taking place in the diaspora, the circulation of Murid and Baye-fall values through the intense migratory diaspora, in this case in Spain, gives rise to a constant reinterpretation and syncretism in lifestyle, experience, and cognition, including the practice of Baye-fallism. This is particularly relevant in the case of the Murid taalibe and even more so in the case of Baye-fall membership or those who join this diasporic process, analyzed in our case study in Spain and compared with the current literature. Baye-fallism represents a unique group, with a unique history, within the Muridiyya. Currently they are developing specific dynamics that separate Baye-fall members from the evolution of the rest of Muridism. In migratory societies, Baye-fall migrants typically find a different way of practicing their faith and even evolve cultural forms of increasing autonomy with regard to mainstream Muridism. Baye-fallism seems to be an affiliation particularly attractive to people who were not previously Baye-fall during the migratory diaspora due to two main reasons: 1) Baye-fallism opens a clear space for freedom in the practice of the Murid faith, because it is more developed in the diaspora, and separate from the criticism of heresy that comes from the status quo; 2) Baye-fallism offers a very strong support group in a new society, emphasizing close ties between members, which makes it almost a sort of “urban subculture” in the context of the vulnerability of, and open hostility towards migrants. In fact, the strong community spirit rooted in spirituality gives rise to a structural solidarity, a substitute for family support structures in a new context. This happens in itself in the dahiras, but seems to be enhanced in a remarkable way in specific Baye-fall groups.

As a result of all this, it seems legitimate to speak of a specific Baye-fall transnational social field that shapes a growing centripetal force, one which as a result of mobility and encounters of cultures enhances the idea of a shared “re-rooted” Bayefall culture that then becomes increasingly contested at home, in Senegal. Thus, the circulation of conceptions of Bayefallism signifies an exuberant redefinition of what it could mean, reflecting Baye-fallism as an adaptive and syncretic movement.


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The research for this article was undertaken in the framework of the research project “Human Rights and Global Justice in the context of international migrations” (FFI2013–42521-P), funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation in the National Plan for Research and Development and whose principal investigator is Juan Carlos Velasco Arroyo. I would like to thank Juan Antonio Estrada Diaz and Ubric Rabaneda Purification for the kind revision of the original manuscript as well as the invaluable work of Linda van de Kamp, which substantially and unreservedly improved it, and Hélène Neveu Kringelbach for her helpful comments.


This article is the result of the study of bibliographic and ethnographic sources. Empirically, it resides in ethnographic fieldwork developed intermittently from January 2011 to June 2013, primarily in Madrid (especially Lavapiés), but also in Alicante and Granada. Anonymity of sources has been respected at all times, especially since there were many cases of people with an irregular legal status.


Regarding the use of the very term “Baye-fallism” instead of “Baye-fall people’s attitudes” for instance, it constitutes a certain form of semantic construction that combines “Baye-fall” with the suffix “ism” – in its Latin meaning of “substantive form,” meaning “attitude” indeed. Thus, the use of Baye-fallism here is not about the belief in a set of clearly articulated principles and practices geared toward fulfilling collective objectives and which set adherents apart from the Muridiyya. In other words, Baye-fall people see themselves as a sub-group within the Muridiyya.


Throughout this article, I adopt the terms “heterodoxy” and “orthodoxy” (or “tradition”) from my interlocutors but see them as socially constructed. I do not consider in any way that a more “straight” interpretation (a more Islamic one) of being Baye-fall, which is called “orthodox,” is more or less pure than the one called “heterodox.”


Regarding the Muridiyya as an Islamic Sufi order, already in itself unorthodox in its Muslim practice, Iniesta Vernet (2009: 33) sums it up as the opposition or the contrast between “the Daara of the sheiks and daʾwa of the young people trained in the modern rigours of Saudis and Libyans.” See also Costa Dias (2009).


“Baye-fall” literally means “father Fall,” being the usual way that they affectionately address each other.


The Magal is the major Murid religious celebration par excellence, which often involves a collective meal or dinner and, above all, a homage to a specific religious leader. These events (places-moments, known as Gueye) are essential for developing the charisma of such leaders (Gueye 2009: 105). They are often linked to key dates in the Muslim calendar, but even these dates are often modified and refined according to the Murid calendar.


The symbolic meaning of the term “heart” in Sufi tradition is really long and rich: “Sufism consists […] of a path with a single goal in the knowledge of God that is received through spiritual experience and that is committed to being human in its totality, to the deepest of itself; the depth is marked by the symbolic term ‘heart’ ” (Skali 2006: 31; my translation from Spanish).


All of my Baye-fall interlocutors belong to ordinary Murid dahiras, which include both Baye-fall and non Baye-fall Murids. For a review of Murid dahiras, see for the Spanish context Crespo Ubero (2006), Evers Rosander (2000), Gueye (2009), Jabardo Velasco (2006), Massó Guijarro (2012b), Moreno Maestro (2007), Sow (2004); for the Senegalese and international context see Babou (2002), Coumba Diop (1981), Diouf and Rendall (2000), Kane (2011), Mbaye and Nadhiri (2010); see further below.


Belonging to the Tijaniyya tariqa.


I am aware that there are many contentious issues that the article refers to and which can only be discussed productively when properly contextualized in the framework of Sufi thought and practices. Notions as nafs or “carnal soul” and the struggle for its control, or the notion of khidma or “good work,” lie at the core of Sufi and Murid thought and practices. However, the objective of this article is not a scholastic deepening in Sufi/Murid spiritual imaginary, but the more anthropological approach to a current phenomenon from the very representation of its protagonists.


Touba is also the name of the holy city of the brotherhood, today the second Senegalese city after Dakar, and founded by Ahmadou Bamba in 1889. It is regarded as the capital of Muridism (Gueye 2008) and a place of obligatory pilgrimage, more important than Mecca.


In an earlier publication (Massó Guijarro 2012a), I elaborated on the notion of ‘jebelu’ (submission to a sheikh), which according to disciples as well as scholars of Islam in Senegal, set the Muridiyya apart from other Muslim organizations. It is particularly interesting to address the contradiction between jebelu, a trademark of the Baye-fall, and the quest for autonomy and freedom that some of the Baye-fall in the diaspora emphasize. It seems to be one of the crucial paradoxes or contradictions referred to in the next pages.


Other sources (VVAA 2001) suggest that not only Sheikh Ibra Fall was a Muslim (as his name, Ibrahima, clearly indicates), but that he was also someone who had received advanced religious training. This is all the more likely because he had already written a Sufi book entitled Jazbul Murid when he submitted himself to Ahmadou Bamba.


My intention is not to completely oppose “Sufism” and “Islam,” since the condition of being a Sufi (Murid or Baye-fall) is clearly to be a Muslim in the first place. Besides, it is not common for Murid people to refer to themselves as “Sufis.” Even more, our informants (in Madrid or Granada) referred to themselves very often just as “Baye-fall,” to distinguish themselves from other forms of Islam that are associated with North Africa or the Indian subcontinent.


We understand “urban subgroup” in the sense of (an often young) subculture in contemporary urban spaces, formed through identity markers as varied as gender, ethnicity, aesthetic preferences, linguistic idiosyncrasies, physical appearance, etc. Rebellious and “oppositional” behavior in general usually forms an essential part of these groups. The anthropological explanations of these youthful groups – often located in contexts of exclusion – involve a symbolic dimension of social life, “and in particular are dependent on the concept of underground cultures […] the youngsters want to relate to the creative dimensions of their social experiences by constructing distinctive lifestyles based primarily on leisure time or the interstitial spaces of institutional life” (Padawer 2004: 1). See also Feixa (1998).


For a more in-depth reflection in this regard that applies to Senegalese migration in general, see Massó Guijarro (2013b).


Both “types” of Baye-fall were previously Murid; in other words, I did not find any case of conversion of previously non-Murid Senegalese people.


I do not have the space to expand on a different, gendered aspect of the issue. In general, the Yaye-fall with whom I dealt in the field have become so and tend to insist on the faithful observance of the guiding principles of the work ethic and righteous behavior, in contrast to the more common heterodoxy of men. See also Massó Guijarro (2013a).

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