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Saturday, January 28, 2012

A VISIT TO KAOLACK, SENEGAL

                                    The Grand Mosque and Graveyard in Madina Baay


When I visit a country for holiday I pay attention to tourism opportunities in line with my calling, for my company may organise a package to that destination; I also have interest in spiritual activities. I go to mosques, churches, monasteries, synagogues and temples. I want to know how people in that country conduct their spiritual and mundane activities, in tandem with my other calling (as a Muslim scholar). What is the difference between what I do and what I see, and how can this benefit or harm me? The Glorious Qur’an encourages us to travel, and when we do, to use our eyes, ears and hearts to ponder over what we witness, learn and reflect over everything. (Qur’an, Al-Hajj 22: 46)

I was on a trip to Senegal recently and I spent some time in Kaolack. Kaolack (must be the French for Kaulakh as I’ve seen in Arabic literature) is synonymous with Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975) because the Madina Baay, which he established (1930), is situated there. Shaykh Ibrahim was a major leader of the Tijānī Sufi order of Islam in West Africa.  His followers in the Senegambia region affectionately refer to him in Wolof as Baay, or "father." Thus Madinah Baay means Madinah of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse.  This Madina is, of course, different from the one you know in Saudi Arabia where we make ziyaarah (visitation) to the tomb and mosque of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). This is a city within the city of Kaolack, and the preeminent centre of the Tijaniyya Sufi order in the world. Tijaniyyah votaries make ziyaarah to the mosque in Madina Baay and the tomb of Shaykh Ibrahim Niass and other Shaykhs buried here.

Let me state that I’m neither a votary of this Sufi order nor of any order; the purpose of my visit was educational. What you are reading is an honest representation of all that I learnt from the source and current heirs of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. I have noticed differences in attitudes of these great Shaykhs and the Tijaniyah which is practiced here from what I see in Nigeria. All the events I relate here are captured on video and my Sony still camera. This is not a critique of Tijaniyah or its principles; I just want to share what I saw with my esteemed readers. I will refrain from making any adverse comment on areas I may take exception to. The unity of the Ummah, at this stage of our existence, I may be wrong, is more important than any position that may cause dissention. I repeat; the purpose of my visit was purely educational!

The Tareeqah Tijaniyyah is based on three principles according to what I was told:

“1. Asking Allah for forgiveness (astaghfirullah)... It is forbidden for a Muslim to stop his brother in Islam from saying astaghfirullah. None of us are infallible. The same way we do something right today, we may do it wrong tomorrow. Consequently, the Prophet has directed us by saying, “Your sickness is the sins and the remedy of your sickness is to say astaghfirullah.” In addition, there are many verses in the Qur’an advising us to say astaghfirullah. For example, in Surah Hadeed (57:21), we are told, “Be foremost (in seeking) forgiveness from your Lord…” And then there is the example of our most excellent guide, the Prophet, peace be upon him. In spite of the infallibility of his station, and what Allah has stated clearly in Surah al-Fath (48:2), that He has forgiven all his sins - the first and the last - the Prophet asked Allah’s forgiveness more than one hundred times every day. If that was the case with him, what about those of us who live in this corrupt time of disbelief and sin?

“2. The second principle is to say laa ilaaha illallah, “There is nothing worthy of worship but God.” In a Hadith, the Prophet said, “The best words I have ever said together with the previous Prophets are the words laa ilaaha illallah.” And, again, in Surah Baqarah (2:152): “Then if you remember Me; I will remember you.” And in Surah Imran (3:191): “Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides…” And, again, in Surah Jumu’ah (62:10), “and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that ye may prosper.” Surely, when Allah, who has no limit, says to remember Him “often”, it is not to be taken lightly.

 “3. And the third principle is Salat ‘alan Nabi, the offering of prayers upon the Prophet. Allah has ordered the community of the believers to offer prayers upon the Prophet just as He has himself done together with His angels, (Qur’an, 33:56). Moreover, the Prophet said in another Hadith, “Whoever offers one prayer upon me, Allah will offer ten upon him.” In another report, the Prophet said, “Whoever offers one prayer on me, Allah will offer ten on him; if he makes it ten, Allah will make it one hundred for him; if he makes it one hundred, Allah will make it one thousand for him; if he makes it a thousand, he will enter Paradise shoulder-to-shoulder with me.””

As its adherents say, Tijaniyyah was founded in Algeria in 1784 in a ‘waking vision’ to Sidi Abu Abbas Ahmad Ibn Muhammad al-Tijani al-Hassani (1737-1815) in the desert oasis of Abi Samghun. They claim that the Prophet informed him that he himself was his initiator on the Path and told him to leave the shaykhs he had previously followed. The Shaykh then received the basis of a new wird (set of devotional activities or chores) and was given permission to give “spiritual training to the creation in [both] the general and unlimited (itlaaq).” The Prophet told him: “You are not indebted for any favour from the shaykhs of the Path, for I am your means (waasitah) and your support in the [spiritual] realization, so leave the entirety of what you have taken from all the tariqas (spiritual paths or orders).”
                                                             Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse

Shaykh Tijani left a firmly established order, the Tareeqa Tijaniyyah Muhammadiyyah emphasis of which inspired many of his later followers to renew and spread Islam in diverse communities far from the mother zawiyah (religious centre) in Fes.

In 1929 Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse announced that he had been given the Key to Secrets of Divine Knowledge, and thus became the Khalifah (successor) of Shaykh Tijani in the Tijaniyyah Order, a position yet to be attained by anyone as of the time. Sheikh Ibrahim then declared that whoever wishes to attain ma'arifah, a level of Divine Certainty in the Sufi Order must follow him, hence the Tareeqah al-Tijaniyyah al-Ibrahimiyyah that we see today with its headquarters in Madina Baay, Kaolack, Senegal.

The first thing you do when you arrive at Madina Baay is to perform ziyaarah to the tomb of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and other Shaykhs buried in a special place few metres away from the qiblah direction of Madina Baay Mosque (don’t ask me what I think of the practice; refer to my earlier caveat, please). The place housed approximately six tombs, is serene, well-kept, air-conditioned and carpeted. Thus visitors, men and women, can go in through any of its three entrances, stand or sit in front of a tomb (you can start with any; I have not noticed any special order) and supplicate. Each tomb is well decorated with verses from the Glorious Qur’an and other beautiful sayings. I understand that the enclosure of the tomb of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse is called al-Raudah (the garden). I failed to ask any of my hosts what is the relationship between this raudah and that concerning which the Prophet (SAW) said that “what is between my house and my mimbar is a raudah (garden) of the raudahs of al-Jannah (Paradise).” Satan must have made me to forget to mention it … In the next of this series I plan to mention some other parallels with what we have in Makkah and Madinah which I saw here. When we approached this raudah at Madina Baay, my handler, namesake of Shaykh Ibrahim, and who claimed to be his grandson named after him, said to me: ‘Now that we are about to enter the raudah, don’t allow anything to come between you and the Shaykh. Whatever you want, offer your supplications to him directly.’ Astounding!





                                    The Tomb of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse

I should have told him, but did not, that I am not a visitor in the sense that he assumed; I’m here to learn what people do. I don’t speak Wolof; my guide spoke to the attendant of the raudah concerning my visit, I suppose, and he opened the door of the enclosure, so we went right in side. Many visitors took advantage of this rare privilege and joined us in the inner recesses of the raudah of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse.

Other shaykhs buried here include Sayyidi Ali Cisse, Shaykh Abdullah Niasse, Shaykh Nazir Niasse, Imam Hassan Cisse (who died in 2008), and Shaykh Ma’mun Niasse (the most recent tomb here)  among others. Each tomb is made distinct by its height, the colour decorations on the glass forming its walls or by the type of Arabic and Qur’anic inscriptions on it.

                                                         Shaykh Hassan Ali Cisse

We then moved to the Madina Baay Mosque which is, as stated earlier, adjacent to the place where the Shaykhs are reposing in their individual tombs. The day was Friday 16th December, 2011, and we intended to finish going round the masjid ahead of Jumu’ah service. A mosque attendant received us in front of one of the numerous entrances and gave us a guided tour inside the masjid. This place of worship is expansive, clean and well maintained. Everything works here. Pillars and well illuminated chandeliers are reminiscent of those of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. There are two mimbars; the one used before the expansion of the mosque in 1958, and the other, now in use (brought from Morocco), mounted after the most recent extension of the masjid. This is exactly what we see, also, in Saudi Arabia in the Prophet’s Madinan Mosque where two mimbars stand erect; the old one and the one after the expansion of the Masjid an-Nabawy. This also strikes you as another parallel drawn between the original Madinah and this madina.
Our guide took us to a special chamber which, according to him, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse used as a place of solitude, a quiet place removed from activity and worshipers in the mosque, to meditate and perform supererogatory salaah- again reminiscent of the mehraab of the Prophet (SAW). In this isolated part of the Madina Baay Mosque are 6 designs on the right wall, if you face the qiblah, symbolising, according to our guide, the positions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and Shaykh Ahmad Tijani. The remaining four positions are for the four rightly guided caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali (May Allah be pleased with them). We met a woman devotee rubbing her gyale (female headgear) on the walls apparently to receive the blessings of this hallowed chamber. But upon checking the veracity of this assertion with Sayyidah Rukayyah Ibrahim Niasse, this narrative was vehemently cast out as apocryphal account. She said there are no positions consecrated for anybody in the masjid. It is only fair to concede that her account concerning any activity in the Madina Baay Mosque is more authentic than that of a mosque attendant. Or is it? But why were these marks made on the wall in the first place? Well, I’m still bound by the contents of my earlier caveat.

                                     I and My Hostess, Sayyidah Rukayyah Ibrahim Niasse

The walls of the Madina Baay Mosque are adorned with beautiful Qur’anic calligraphy which I have not seen anywhere. A separate round-shaped wall hung, held slightly below the roof by thin, strong pillars in the middle of the mosque, and in which Surah Yaseen was written in green (in large characters), while the whole of Surah al-Baqarah was inscribed in golden colour. This is no mean feat. The whole of the longest surah in the Glorious Qur’an to be written in such fashion; this is unprecedented!

We saw a group of old women sweeping the mosque. They are proud of what they are doing, and were singing hymns of 'laa ilaaha lillaah' while they swept. This is a weekly tradition to these women who have volunteered their services every Friday in cleaning the mosque before Jumu’ah prayers.

A genuine mahogany demarcation marks the beginning of the female prayer section. Women here attend the five obligatory prayers, including Juma’ah, in large numbers. It is inconceivable that, during their 'pilgrimages' here, Nigerian scholars see provision for female worshippers made in Madina Baay Mosque, witness the comings and goings of women to the mosque without hindrance, but allow many mosques in Northern Nigeria to be built without female sections. Yes, the Prophet (SAW) permits women to pray in their houses if they want to, but he has also warned us not to hinder them in case they desire to offer their salaah in mosques as long as they are appropriately clothed for that. Until recently, when information against their position of keeping women out of the mosques became prevalent, the latter part of the Prophet’s instruction had been stifled by our 'scholars'.

When breakfast was served, Shaykh Abdullatif Ayimbai Niasse, a nephew of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse informed me that: ‘This day, Friday 16th December, 2011, coincides with a day in which people used to bring a portion of their farm produce to Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse seeking for his 'barakah', blessings. The tradition has continued even after him; thus today the mosque will witness more worshipers due to the presence of farmers who have come from the outskirts of this city for the Shaykh’s blessings on what they have consecrated to him of their produce.




(From left) Shaykh Salahu, Shaykh Abdullatif, Ustaz Siddeeq, Malam Baba and Malam siraj

Note that the farm produce, according to what Shaykh Abdullatif averred above, still gets the blessings of the late Shaykh. Such staunch faith is admirable, even if you do not agree with its content or context, you must concede that the adherents fiercely revere their leader and believe in his powers even in death.

On the accommodation of visitors in Madina Baay, Shaykh Abdullatif said: ‘There is a unique favour which Allah has bestowed to Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse in the area of hosting multitudes. Here, everybody is entitled to decent accommodation and feeding according to his status. Nobody goes hungry or sleeps in the streets. Somebody can choose to stay elsewhere or eat something else on their own accord, not because nothing was provided. If pilgrims go to hajj in Saudi Arabia they have to secure their accommodation, feeding and other logistics; they will not expect to go there and find everything provided without prior arrangement; but not here… You can set out for 'ziyaarah' to Madina Baay rest assured you will have a roof over your head and what to eat until you finish your devotions. Allah has not done this to any clime but Madina Baay, or to any mortal other than Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse!’

The readers can have their assessment on the above assertion, to support, agree or be averse to it. I have mine which my caveat will not allow me to share with you. But I can say that the illustrious family of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse is a hospitable one. Forty per cent of the houses in Madina Baay are consigned to cater for visitors’ accommodation free of charge. Our group, for instance, consisted of 13 members, (a trifle number given the experience of our hosts in serving multitudinous visitors during the annual festival of Maulidin Nabiy celebrations, etc.). This (our group) was further divided into three sub-groups in terms of accommodation. Couples’ accommodation has ensuite rooms; that of people who came without spouses has shared conveniences. No one had cause to complain either about accommodation or of feeding. There was a succession of Senegalese cuisine all day round: before we finish breakfast, lunch was ready, and so on. I thought it is only the Arabs that have the tradition of entertaining guests with (whole) roasted calf or lamb; I was wrong – the hospitality of the progeny of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse is equal to that of the Arabs; I am qualified to asses both due to my dealings with the Arabs in my area of business; the service I enjoy in Saudi Arabia is chargeable, while here, in Madina Baay, our hosts take pride in the selfless service they render to their guests as a family tradition. You could see joy in the faces of young boys and girls who serve the meals that they enjoy what they do, not because they have to; it is a family custom to house and feed visitors!

At the Jumu’ah prayers the imam delivered a khutbah that the late Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse used to deliver during his lifetime. That khutbah is famous even among some Tariqah imams in Nigeria. The theme of the khutbah was Brotherhood and Unity, stressing the fact that all Muslims are but a single brotherhood: so, we are to make peace and reconciliation between two [contending] brothers (Al-Hujuraat 49:10). If we appreciate the essence of our being brethren, the khutbah admonishes, then we should do as our Prophet (SAW) enjoined: “Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices one to another; do not hate one another; do not turn away from one another; and do not undercut one another, but be you, O servants of Allah, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim; he neither oppresses him nor fails him; he neither lies to him nor holds him in contempt. Piety is right here” – and he pointed to his breast three times. “It is evil enough for a man to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable: his blood, his property, and his honour.”

Another point touched by the khutbah was that of equality of all peoples as Allah has created each one of us  from a single [pair] of a male and a female, and made us into nations and tribes, that we may know each other [not that we may despise [each other]. Verily, the most honoured of us in the sight of Allah is [he who is] the most righteous of us. (Al-Hujuraat 49:13). Therefore, there should be no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of white or black except it be by piety. The khutbah concluded by warning the worshipers that ‘today is the time for works without judgement, while tomorrow is the time for judgement without works!’

After the prayers there was du’aa (supplication) session led by the imam lasting for more than thirty minutes, and half of worshipers sat to the very end. That was surprising to me because people do not wait for such after-prayer supplications by imams, and even at such mosques that have made it a tradition to supplicate after each salaah; people are sure to disperse before the end of the du’aa. I’m not speaking of the Izala and Salafi adherents who view after-prayer du’aa in congregation as an innovation because, according to them, there is no proof that the Prophet (SAW) did so; even in sufi mosques in Nigeria, I cannot imagine worshipers patiently waiting for 30 minutes after prayers for the imam to lead them in du’aa. But in Madina Baay more than 50% of the worshipers on that day waited. Was it because the day was a special one – for people to bring their produce for the Sheikh’s blessings as stated earlier? I don’t think so. I’ve noticed that this after-prayer du’aa is a regular activity at the end of each salaah, only that the one done on Friday was exceedingly long. I think the point is people were able to sit calmly in the masjid (not dispersing immediately the imam ends the salaah), forsook all worldly pursuits for the period of the Jumu’ah, and chorused ‘aameen’ to the imam’s du’aa.

It is interesting to note that there are no petty-thieves or pickpockets in Madina Baay. After the Jumu’ah prayers I wanted to see how the raudah looked like amidst the crowd. We went in and, as I envisaged, the place was crowded. I put my hands around my pockets, as is our custom at the National Mosque here in Nigeria, to prevent the disappearance of my mobile phone but my guide said I should not bother; there are no pickpockets here. I found my shoes where I left them, and did not hear anybody lamenting the loss of their phones or valuables. When you move around Madina Baay or travel between cities in Senegal you are secure; the streets and highways are safe from burglars and armed robbers.

We were back at the mosque after Asr for the Zikrul Jumu’ah. I was there not as a participant, for, as mentioned in part 1 of this piece, I’m not an adherent of Tijjaniyyah or any sufi order. I was there to open my eyes, ears and heart for education’s purpose. I noticed a disparity in the timing and sitting arrangement for the Zikr. In Nigeria, most mosques delay commencement of Zikrul Jumu’ah until very close to Magrib time, thus making the zikr stretch into the (mukhtaar) favoured time for the Magrib prayers. In Madinah Baay Mosque they start early, and finish just in time for Magrib prayers. Here, people sit in a square shaped arrangement for the zikr and wazeefah as opposed to Nigeria’s circular-round shaped sitting posture. Again, don’t ask me if either is correct to start with.

Later in the day I was at the residence of Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse. It is situated close to the mosque. The inner part of the house is inhabited; the outer part is not. This is left for visitors to come in and see the former dwelling of the Sheikh, meditate and offer du’aa asking for solution to their personal problems. I saw a dusty and dishevelled old man, by name, Ibro Gyallo, at the entrance of this house. According to my guide, this man embraced Islam at the hands of Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse during one of his travels around Africa. The said man accompanied Sheikh Ibrahim on his return to Senegal, and the Sheikh instructed him to sit in that very spot that I saw him. He has been sitting there since. He only goes out for life’s necessities or call of nature. When I checked this with my hosts I got another version. This man is a Senegalese of the Wolof tribe. He is a saint who has forsaken the world. His entire life is consecrated to zikr. People consult him for spiritual guidance on issues affecting their lives. Another position has it that he is just an insane man who wandered around for long before he took residence where we saw him. In a nutshell, nobody could say exactly what his true nature is.


                                            The Façade of the Residence of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse
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We visited Shaykh Tidiane Cisse, grandson of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse through his daughter Fatimatuz Zuhraa, and chief imam of the Grand Mosque in Madina Baay. We also visited Shaykh Ahmad Tijani Ibrahim Niasse, needless to say, the son of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. One of the greatest lessons I have learnt was that as high as these shaykhs are in the reckoning of their followers, they appeared to be humble and shook everybody’s hands when they said salaam. When we were ushered into their presence I was expecting the usual dobale-style greeting we see among the sufis of Nigeria. This is an act consisting of a heightened awareness of your inferiority before the “great” shehu combined with assuming some of the most baffling postures to receive the “blessed hand” of the shehu which he cocks at a daring angle by his waist for the one foolhardy enough to shake him without the pre-requisite genuflections and veneration. To my utter surprise, the sheikhs in Madina Baay offered their hands to greet and welcome us. Even school children came back from school and freely greeted everyone without having to grovel for a handshake.



(From right) Malam Siraj, Shaykh Ahmad, Ustaz Siddeeq, Shaykh Salahu, and Malam Nasiru.

They did this meaning and honestly intending to shake our hands. It was not what our sheikhs in Nigeria do. At the risk of sounding judgemental, I ask, how do you translate the attitude of somebody who keeps his hand close to his chest with open fingers and saying salaam alaikum? Such a person does not want you to shake their hands. People read the sign quickly and contort themselves into any of the demeaning postures appropriate for the occasion, keeping their hands as far away as possible from one who claims to offer his hand for a shake.

The sheikhs there, Shiekh Ahmad Tijjani Ibrahim Niasse inclusive, made their ablutions without a teeming crowd waiting to drink, store or rub the water on themselves for barakah (blessings). They were free around people and people did not venerate them like demigods. Why am I not surprised at the contradiction in the way their leaders are treated at the source and at the far-flung satellite in Nigeria? We are a nation that outdoes our teachers in everything; including the negative. We outdo those who teach us anything including the religion. We jump the gun in the process in many instances.

As for me, I will restrict myself to what I can show authentic evidence for in my religious affairs; I will never crouch, squat or genuflect to greet any creature of Allah; even where the veneration of sheikhs started, I have seen that they do not go that far either.







           
















3 comments :

  1. Quite an open eye experience.....Thanks its as if i have been there already.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mallam the narration is very ok ,more of such please

    ReplyDelete
  3. YUSUF SENEGAL TRIP MAY 1994

    Dear Bro. Enjoy our videos

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=1qwIriIyVqc
    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=dtEC1YlYSNA

    ReplyDelete