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Title:Khalwa and the career of sainthood: An interpretative essay
Author:Triaud, J.-L.ISNI
Book title:Charisma and brotherhood in African Islam
Geographic terms:West Africa
Abstract:Although the frequent occurrence of 'khalwa' (mystic retreat) in various Muslim regions, including West Africa, makes it more than a marginal phenomenon, scientific literature pays little attention to it. Khalwa is treated as an episodic matter of little consequence. The present article defends another point of view. It argues that in West African Islam, legal studies and mystic practices were combined during the great era (from the 17th to the 19th century) into a single mode of recruitment and career pattern. Mystic practices were a necessary part of the intellectual baggage of a religious aspirant. Promotion to the highest rank was rightly conditioned by tests taken, efforts made, and risks undergone, and also by the social recognition needed for acceptance by one's peers. Khalwa was one such test: at the same time a rite of passage and a means to acceptance and promotion. This argument is illustrated by an analysis of the khalwa manual edited by a 19th-century West African Islamic master, al-Hajj 'Umar al-Futi. As a counterpoint the author has added data on the same subject, collected during a field trip to Air, Niger, in 1976. Notes, ref.