This article describes the independent contribution of pacific clerics to Islamic diffusion in West Africa. The particular role of Serakhullé (or Soninké) clerics, better known as Jakhanké, is examined in detail. The Jakhanké became a distinct clerical caste among the Serakhullé, initially through the work of al-Ḥājj Salim Suwaré who led them first at Diakha-Masina and eventually at Diakha-Bambukhu, where they lost a good deal of their Serakhullé cultural traits. Henceforth they acquired a self-consciously Islamic image alongside an increasing identification with the Manding culture. Al-Ḥājj Salim (floruit twelfth–thirteenth century) founded the clerical vocation on a principled disavowal of jihād and withdrawal from political/secular centres. He also established travel as essential to the clerical life. Since his time the Jakhanké have been characterized by dispersion, although the dispersion trail has also connected numerous centres into an effective network of clerical expansion. The career of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Jakhité, a member of the Jakhanké community, illustrates the range of clerical outreach. He and his community eventually settled in Kano in the reign of Muḥammad Rimfa (1463–99) and helped consolidate Islam in Hausaland. On this kind of evidence, it is suggested that the pattern of Islamic clerical diffusion can be discerned at an early stage, although historical sources have tended to fuse the themes of Islamic expansion, commercial activity and a resident foreign Muslim community. However, the Jakhanké clerical tradition is sufficiently secure for it to be studied independently, without assuming a corresponding degree of commercial or foreign Muslim influence. In conclusion, the implications of these findings for research into Islamic diffusion in West Africa are outlined.