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 janaazah. 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 a 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 janaazah. 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 the 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 an 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 incident. 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, onTauheed and Hadeeth. This mosque also witnessed the annual 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 Maghrib 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 the 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 no 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 (now late) 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 a 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, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, 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, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, 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, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, 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 any way 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!

First published : September 2013