Sheikh Saad Buh was a Moorish, Qadiriyya, Fadiliyya Sufi from Mauritania. Buh, who settled in Trarza in the 1870s, developed a following in St. Louis, and began a pattern of visits to the peanut basin and river valley. During the last two decades, he gave invaluable service to the administration, service that Dudu Seck, as a functionary, could hardly perform. (Marty 1915–1916). It was in the late 1860s that Buh established ties with the French administration who were busy in their venture to conquer the Senegalo-Mauritanian zone. At this point he was less than 20 years old. He became a dominant figure in a configuration of teachers, schools and zawiyas (lodges) that stretched across the Sahel and Sahara. He had a huge network of disciples and relations which made him very popular with the French administration for he enjoyed prestige and respect across the frontiers of language, social status and even religious identity. Al Hajj Umar Tal had sought support from Buh's father, however the latter a traditional Qadiriyya and Fadiliyya rejected the hostility and violence that jihad entailed and refused to support Tal's cause.
Sheikh Saad Buh was to perform many services for the French including at numerous times saving French explorers from the hands of local bands. He rescued Paul Soleillet, Blanchet and Fabert. Soleillet was rescued from a local band who pillaged his possessions. Buh advised the traveller not to attempt to journey any further into the dangerous Sahelian zone.
Buh had ties with the French for more than 50 years. He would go on diplomatic missions for them- such as trying to convince Lat-Dior to let the French build their railway, or to dissuade Ma Ba from warring with the French- he would counsel them as best how to advance in their conquest and he would become an intermediary between the French colonial government and his disciples (talibes). Whenever the French had difficulty in establishing their authority they would call upon him.
In return for his aid to the French Buh would seek services from them such as free travel, gifts and aid for his camps in Mauritania. He gained permission from the French to tour Senegal (which was comparatively richer than Mauritania) in order to collect gifts, alms which he re-distributed to his disciples in Mauritania.
In 1910 he wrote a letter of counsel to Ma El Inin urging him not to wage war on the French and pointing out that French stability had allowed Islam to spread and acquire stability in the region. This letter would later become famous. He very cleverly used sources from the Koran to demonstrate that Islam should be a pacifist religion and his example would set a precedent to all those marabouts to follow him, who would indulge in similar tactics to prove their allegiance to the French.
As a person it is said that he was extremely fat, at times disgruntled but very smart indeed.
- Behrman, L.C., Muslim Brotherhoods and Politics in Senegal, Cambridge, 1970.
- Kingsbury, K.A., Doctoral Thesis on the Mourides of Senegal, to be published 2009. Oxford University.
- Marty, P. Études sur l'Islam au Sénégal. 2 vols. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1917
- Robinson, D. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim societies and French colonial authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880-1920.