Friday, September 20, 2013


                                           Malam and Some of His Younger Students

The above topic, I wonder, does it really capture what I intend to write on Sheikh Abubakar Gumi? Is there anything that we forgot about the ascetic life that the late Sheikh lived which will necessitate reminiscence? Is it possible to forget a life that was wholly dedicated to Allah and in service of His Deen

What I will attempt to do is to state something concerning his da’wah life as I saw it first hand for about a decade. Some of these events have never been mentioned in what has been documented or published about the Sheikh. I am speaking as one who studied Islaam under his tutelage; who observed him closely and the way he imparted knowledge to his students and followers. Thus, this is not a piece consecrated to the commemoration of the date of his demise, for that will be flouting what he taught us. This article is not also a product of my diary, for I had not kept any for all the events I will mention here. Because of this, I will not venture into mentioning dates or exact times certain events occurred. I will just state them as they come to mind. 

Our interactions with the Sheikh, whom we all simply addressed as Malam, were in the Sultan Bello Mosque, the Mosque in his house, and the special lessons for the ulamaa (clerics) in his living room. Only once have I entered the inner chambers of Malam. That was on the day his body arrived home. The funeral bath took place in a room where we, the younger disciples then, entered along with the older ones, to say farewell to Malam for the last time. Alhaji Adoka, (now late), the Mu’azzin and close aide to Malam, was nominated alongside three others (Sheikh Lawal Abubakar, Malam Zakariya Yawale, all late now, and one other person, if I remember correctly) to wash the body of Malam. Alhaji Adoka was too distraught for the task, weeping profusely. He declined. However, when his tears abated, he entered the room, opened the blanket covering Malam’s body, stared at his face, and in a confident and calmer voice declared, ‘Malam tunda ka mutu kana murmushi, bazan sake kuka saboda mutuwarka ba. Allah ya jikanka, ya gafarta maka’. (Oh! Malam you died smiling! Henceforth, I will cease to weep because of your death. May Allah have mercy on you and forgive you). Nevertheless, this only occasioned further stifled sobs from all the people around. With that declaration, Alhaji Adoka took part in the washing of the body.

The then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, and other dignitaries sat in the living room, waiting for the janazah. Of course there were no rooms to accommodate more people anywhere within the house and its façade, so, I and Dr Ahmad Abubakar Gumi went up to the balcony where one could have a bird’s eye view of the entire compound when the body would be taken for burial by the eastern part of the main building. That was the time I ever entered the inner chambers.

The presence of the presidential retinue and guards came handy in lessening the effect of stampede and providing excellent management of crowd control. It was agreed that burying the body in the early hours of that day was better than waiting until say after Subhi prayers, for fear that more people will turn up for the janazah. In consultation with the ulamaa present on that day, IBB’s security personnel made the body of Malam to be fastened and carried on a stretcher rather than a bier in order to forestall it from falling or slipping down because of impending stampede. There were two doors to access or exit the living room. The presidential security personnel, reminiscent of their principal’s cleverness, prepared for exit from the main entrance to the living room. They cleared the road, and the crowd thronged all over the place believing that the body was on its way for burial. Meanwhile, another set of officers was perfecting arrangements to exit the body through the antechamber door. They did that with little or no incidence. Minutes after the body had reached its burial place larger part of the crowd was still waiting for its exit from the main door.  In spite of this clever plan by IBB’s security personnel, it came to pass that after the funeral prayers, in the process of moving the body, the stretcher was turned almost upside-down on its way out of the living room due to the uncontrolled surge of the crowd that noticed the change in exit point.

The lessons at the Sultan Bello Mosque were for Saturdays and Sundays, after the Asr prayers, on Tauheed and Hadeeth. This mosque also witnessed the annually Ramadan Tafseer by Malam. The two-volume Raddul Adhaan Ilaa Ma’aanil Qur’aan, which aimed at redirecting people’s attention to the meaning of the Qur’an, was inspired by this session of Ramadan Tafseer at the Sultan Bello Mosque. He wrote it gradually, read from it every Ramadan, updating it and making corrections until it was completed years before he died. Raddul Adhaan is now the prime model, a textbook of Tafseer in Ramadan by Malam’s followers throughout West Africa.

The mosque in Malam’s house was used for daily lessons between Maghrib and Ishaa prayers. Hundreds of books on myriad fields of Islamic history, Fiqh, hadeeth, reading and interpretation of the Qur’an were studied from cover to cover, and almost all sessions were recorded on audio-visual devices for posterity.

Another period of learning, as I referenced above, was the special class in Malam’s living room, designed for the ulamaa. This was conducted between Asr and few minutes to Magrib prayers. Unlike the lessons at Sultan Bello and those in the mosque in Malam’s residence, which were directed at a larger audience, this evening session was exclusive and advanced. The subjects covered areas like grammar, etymology, morphology and logic. Others were exegesis of major sources of Islamic Law, and poetry as composed by Muslim scholars to elucidate some principles of Islaam. Here the atmosphere was more relaxed, as there were no recordings for the session, and the attendance was scant. I had seen Malam do things that were not part of what he taught us in any book. I do not mean here that he went against what he taught, but if he were to do the opposite, which, in that circumstance, was what any other person would have done, there would be no blame on him.

In one of our sessions in Malam’s living room, the son, Dr Ahmad, returned from Cairo and had another flight to Jeddah around the time our lessons will close for the day. He entered the living room, greeted his father and everybody there. After few seconds, not minutes, Malam looked up at him and said, ‘Ahmad, sai kaje ka huta kafin lokacin tafiyan.’ (Ahmad, have some rest upstairs before the time of your flight).

Dr Ahmad had issues with his Cairo programme and wanted a change of environment for his Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia. What any scholar would have done in that situation, which was understandable and acceptable, was to excuse the class so that he could have some words with his son, as there was not time for any meeting between them. Malam did not do that. The lesson continued uninterrupted. Then I saw two to three most senior of the ulamaa in our mist conferring and murmuring something among themselves after which, Malam Zakariyyah Yawale said, ‘Given the fact that Ahmad has just returned and has another flight to catch, may we suggest that the class adjourns until tomorrow, that you may have some time with him?’

To this proposition, Malam answered as if we were the teachers and he the student, ‘Idan kunce haka.’ (If that is your opinion).

That was how Malam was able to meet Dr Ahmad before he left for Jeddah. Unless somebody had told him, which was unlikely, even Dr Ahmad did not know what happened before Malam met him on that day.

Sheikh Sanusi Gumbi was close to Malam, he was one of his students who was not afraid of voicing out what he understood even if that was contrary to what people were used to; and had penchant for raising controversial issues in his preaching and writings. He came up with an opinion that Isa, peace be upon him, will not return. Malam had taught us from authentic sources in Bukhari and other books that Isa, peace be upon will return. There were many places in Malam’s Raddul Adhaan where he stated the return of Isa, peace be upon him. Sheikh Gumbi, therefore, was able to move Malam away from his earlier position, to accept the new understanding that Isa, peace be upon, will not return, based on some Qur’anic verses like, Al Ambiyaa 21:34, which stated that Allah has not decreed immortality, abiding forever for any human, that even Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, will die, and none will remain. Thus, Sheikh Gumbi was able to convince Malam to correct whatever he had preached earlier, and even to revise Raddul Adhaan, on this issue, according to Gumbi’s point of view. The point I want to make here is not the fact that Malam accepted and placed the view of his student above his own; that is obvious, and shows the humility and sincerity in him. Rather, I intend to relate what happened concerning this issue during one of our sessions with Malam.

Malam brought up the issue of the return or otherwise of Isa, peace be upon him, and was trying to explain his new position on the matter. One of the students said, ‘Malam, I do not accept this new position. You have taught us in this room more than 50 authentic traditions from the Prophet, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, that Prophet Isa, alayhis salaam, will surely return.’

‘Have you noticed,’ Malam responded, ‘that the bulk of those traditions and ahaadeeth that you are referring to were transmitted by Abu Hurairah?’
‘Yes, Malam, they are.’ Answered the student.

‘Then,’ Malam continued, ‘don’t you think that Abu Hurairah, being a human being and not infallible, might have missed the mark concerning the intent of Allah’s Messenger, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, when he uttered those words?’
Now prepare for the shock. The student said, ‘Malam, on this issue, I prefer to follow Abu Hurairah’s “mistakes” than to accept your new position on the return of Isa, peace be upon him.’

After saying this, heavens did not fall. Nobody beat, rebuke or throw the student out of the room for being rude, because what he did was not viewed in anyway as abnormal, for that was what Malam encouraged and instilled in our minds - to question whatever anybody said, and accept only what has textual evidence. Thus, Malam’s demeanour did not change, and our lesson went on like every other day. I want to see another scholar in this country who would encourage and accept this attitude in their students!

Therefore, the atmosphere in Malam’s presence was not that of yes-akramukallah (may Allah honour you), since you said so, it must be correct; with heads lowered in submission to his pronouncements. Rather, the student in Malam’s classes was emboldened to appreciate the tutor as a mortal whose words could be accepted or rejected in proportion to their alignment with the text. Only the words of the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace of Allah be upon, Malam taught us, could be accepted without question.

The above example of tutelary descent was decisive but at the same time courteous. However, some of the followers of Malam have exceeded the bounds of courtesy and mildness in their disagreements with the Sheikh. Malam Sidi Attahiru was my pet aversion whenever he came to Kaduna to present opposing views to those of Malam on certain issues, like that of qabdu and sadlu. His harshness and lack of deference to Malam during such intercourse marred what would have otherwise been a healthy scholastic exposition of differences in understanding the text.

I had a lot of respect for late Sheikh Ismaila Idris but he was also not devoid of his own lighter form of irreverence to Malam during internal squabbles among followers. This was apparent when Sheikh Zarbaan’s team came from Saudi Arabia and met with the Jos and Kaduna leadership of the Izala group. This initial disagreement was the harbinger of the severe strife that led to two opposing factions of Izala. The venue was Malam’s living room; the medium of communication was Arabic. Proceedings on that day revealed that Sheikh Ismaila Idris, in spite of his impertinence, was intellectually superior to his Kaduna counterpart, Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun. Sheikh Sambo showed more respect to Malam in his presentations but he was less proficient; his Arabic failed him. Qur’an on Cassette, a Kaduna based company dedicated to recording Malam’s classes and Tafseer on tapes, has preserved what happened in this meeting for posterity. Readers who speak Arabic can have their copies of the tapes and judge for themselves.

At the end of this reconciliatory meeting between the Jos and Kaduna brand of Izala, Sheikh Zarbaan delivered his verdict. He said, ‘Mushkilatukum fee shai’ainith nain – hubbul maal, wa hubbur riyaasah!’ (Your problem lies in two things – craving for wealth, and the desire to lead). As the court pleases, Hadaratal Qaadee, (Your Lordship!).

Late Sheikh Ismaila Idris might have qualified for candidacy in ‘desire to lead’ in Sheikh Zarbaan’s judgement; interestingly however, Sheikh Ismaila Idris did not display insatiable craving for the fleeting glitter of wealth and the life of this world. There were occasions when Sheikh Ismaila Idris would come to Abuja and refuse the hospitality of men of means and government; he would rather stay in a mosque for the period and return to Jos after finishing what he came for. This was more in line with the kind of life lived by Malam.

‘Craving for wealth and desire to lead’ might be the rightful desert for the leadership of the Kaduna version of Izala. I may write in days to come something concerning how this ‘craving for wealth’ has led some of them become easy tools at the hands of government around 2000 through 2007 to discredit and cause problems in the implementation of Shariah during this democratic dispensation. The government at that time was able to fight Shariah through people who should have been its advocates. Of course, this was not confined to the leadership of Kaduna-Izala; the strategy employed at that time covered leadership of any group who debased their souls and disgraced their calling for a trifling. Those who made the payment, and to whom, know exactly what I am talking about. I hope I will not write that piece.

This ‘craving for wealth’ led to the current scandal about a nocturnal meeting between some leaders of Izala group and someone high up (he knows himself), if the contents are to be believed, of a secret recording of a dinner-discussion among some ‘Izala’ top-notch. In that recording, which has been circulated widely on mobile phones, the death of Sheikh Abubakar Ikara was rumoured to have been an alleged assassination in which a particular respected leader of Izala was implicated (again, he knows himself).

I do not pledge allegiance to any of the Izala groups – Jos or Kaduna. I am a Muslim who is humbled by his own sins and shortcomings, but I, at the same time, hold firmly to the Qur’an and Sunnah of Muhammad, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, according to the instructions I received directly from Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi during his lifetime! If the leadership of these two groups had held to what Malam taught and lived, they would not have been susceptible to   ‘hubbul maal, wa hubbur riyaasah!’ Malam did not go from one government house to another importuning governors or presidents. He lived a fugal life. Whenever money came running towards him, Malam swerved away from it and had it distributed to those present; just like the pious predecessors before him!

The above is not digression but part of the reminiscence on Malam’s life, if not for anything but to show this cocktail of adherents, some emulating and others demurring, at the tail end of an era in which a scholar performed the task of a mujaddid. Malam wanted people to be free from the shackles of serving fellow humans who lord it over their students, playing god, devouring their substance with vanity. He desired that students should use what he taught as a guide to their lives. He never coerced or dictated what you must do; he told you what he believed was right in accordance with the Laws of Allah. Let him who wants to act in line with this do his bit, and let who likes to avoid doing the right do otherwise.

I was in Katsina for some business and Sheikh Yakubu Musa gave me a document to bring to Malam for his perusal and correction wherever necessary. I did not read the document but Sheikh Yakubu informed me that it had to do with a grant that Riyaadul Qur’an, his school wanted to access in Saudi Arabia. Malam asked me when I would return so say that he might finish his part and give back the document to me. I told him. He finished before the time, and said, ‘kace su duba nahwu.’ (When you submit the document to them, tell them to examine the Arabic grammar aspect). What they expected was for Malam to use a red pen and dissect the contents of the document. No, Malam would not do even that. Let them rather, have his subtle rejection of the standard of nahwu used so they may correct it themselves. When I took the document back to Sheikh Yakubu and related what Malam said concerning nahwu, he laughed and said, ‘Malam kenan!’ (That is Malam for you).

Malam it was who would come to our daily session in his living room suffering from an ailment without informing anybody or excusing himself on that ground. That sickness ailing him at the time might be headache or severe fever. On one occasion, he was so feverish that his eyes reddened and his fingers could hardly hold the book he was reading to us. It was then that our senior colleagues intervened and pleaded with him to suspend the lessons for that day.

In his last illness, which necessitated taking him to London for treatment, he came out for the general session between Maghrib and Ishaa prayer. I saw him limping to the mosque with a staff in his right hand. Alhaji Adoka was sitting with me in the mosque, and I said, ‘Jikin Malam yaji zafi haka, mai yasa bazai huta ba, kuma gashi gobe zai wuce asibity?’ (With Malam’s current condition, he should have rested at least for today since he will be travelling tomorrow).

Alhaji Adoka said, ‘Bazai yarda ba; Malam so yake yamutu akan wannan aikin.’ (Malam would be opposed to him having rest due to illness. His desire is to die conveying Allah’s message to the people).

I want to advise one in little need of advice on following the ways of Malam; his own son, Dr. Ahmad Gumi. Dr. Ahmad is probably sterner than Malam in eschewing the evils of bid’ah (religious innovations). He is perhaps more frugal than his departed father, yet, advise him I will. He should beware of the hangers-on around him and those who he must have seen to be of the ‘hubbul maal, wa hubbur riyaasah’ stock.

The audio recording I hinted about is a good pointer to show what some of us are like in reality. Principles are principles only when in difficult times they are not compromised. Another is the recent Appeal Fund money, over which some so-called Izala leaders have commenced wrangling. They come to your Tafseer, Yaa Sheikh, and they listen to you as though in earnest. Their minds are scarcely with you; you should seriously watch your back.

Oh Allah, please grant Malam what you grant the humblest of the inheritors of the prophets (ASW). Please put him in the highest company in Jannatul Firdaws. O Allah, right our affairs after him and do not let us come to ruin in this world and the next.
O Allah, give to those who plot the reward of plotters; expose their plots and protect the innocent from them. Ameen

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