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RELIGION

A Visit To Kaolack, Senegal (3)

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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, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam 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 the 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, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam 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 a 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 to answer the 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.

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. 

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. 



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