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 on 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 Tijaniyya 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, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam. 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 practised 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 dissension. 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 is 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] realisation, so leave the entirety of what you have taken from all the tareeqahs (spiritual paths or orders).”
Shaykh Tijani left a firmly established order, the Tareeqah Tijaniyyah Muhammadiyyah emphasis of which inspired many of his later followers to renew and spread Islam in diverse communities far from the mother zaawiyah (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’rifah, 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 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.’
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 inside. 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.
First published: January 2012