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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Baye Niasse: The man and his mission

Like the Mujaddid (reformer, revivalist) in the prophetic tradition of Islam, who will come in every age to revive the spirit of tradition and create balance within the esoteric and exoteric sciences which are a part of every sacred path. Because Tajdid (revivification) is a fundamental pillar for any long standing way or path, reminiscent of the womb that renews itself by bleeding, whiles all the time awaiting to conceive life. Revivalism is mercy just like the womb (Rahm) in it linguistic derivation in Arabic derives from Rahma (mercy). That is why the prophet Muhammad is called by God in the Qur’an as a “mercy to the worlds” for the simple fact that he is the arch prophet that revived the path of all the past prophets and brought with him the Shari’ah (sacred law) which also when looked at etymologically means a path that leads to water; and what greater a mercy than water, which is the source of all life according to the Greek philosopher Thales.

Baye was a reformer and revivalist in the fullness of the word. He was a proof (hujja) as to the living vibrancy of the path to water: the Shari’ah. In a time when the path of both legal scholar and Gnostic has been corrupted and filled with heretical innovations, he was made manifest upon humanity as a mercy, more like the proof of old, Imam al Ghazali, who revived the sciences of the exalted Muhammadan path and left across the centuries the great masterpiece Ihya Ulum ad-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences). Baye Niasse infused in the old but living bones of Islam such life that his presence was felt in the farthest corners of the globe. He was and is the Ghazali of our times. May God raise his station and mention amongst the latter days.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibrahim Niasse was the bringer of the Fayda which can be roughly translated as the over flooding or the floodplains. As in it’s an over flooding of divine mercy and gnosis which according to the Sufis is likened to water. In a powerful and moving explanation of the Fayda Ibrahimiyya, it was said, the Fayda is like a well, with a bag and someone pulling it out and then the basin where the water is emptied in. The water in the well is the gnosis and experiential knowledge of God emanating from the holy and exalted essence of God Himself, the bag is Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), the one pulling the bag out is Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and the basin is him, Baye Niasse. So the fact that the water is continuously being poured in the basin, if he doesn’t transfer it, it will result in an over flooding of the watering places. And this was why he must keep giving out the water of divine gnosis which is being poured into his innermost essence ad infinitum by the Master and means to the Divine presence, Shaykh Ahmad Tijani.

This was to be the hallmark that would define the world wide movement that was born in the remote Senegalese village of Kossi, at the beginning of the 1930s. Shaykh Ibrahim, fondly called Baye, was the son of a great Sufi mystic and scholar of the Islamic sciences. His father Mam Abdoulaye Niasse was a grand Shaykh of the Tariqah Tijaniyya, who was reputed with being the only one in his time to have the grand and unlimited license from the city of Fes, the resting place of our Shaykh and Master, Ahmad Tijani within the Senegambia region. Growing up in this saintly household, Baye Niasse was foremost in excelling in the inward and outward sciences and was granted the license of initiating people to the blessed Tijani path at a very young age. 

Baye was a charismatic figure from even before he declared the Fayda. The story is related when one time he wanted to do the annual exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur’an during the month of Ramadan and was not able to lay his hands on the only copy of the Tafsir Jalalayn within the Niasse family; the famous tafsir of Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti and Jalaluddin Mahalli, which is one of the most authoritative and comprehensive in the science of exegesis of the Holy Book. And he still went ahead to do the tafsir, much to the apprehension of his elder brothers, who sent someone to listen to what the young Ibrahim was going to say without any book of tafsir. But when he started his tafsir without recourse to any book everyone who was present was amazed much to the surprise of the envoy of his brothers. He spoke of each verse of the Qur’an with such depths, touching upon both the inward and outward meanings. The envoy went back to his brothers to share with them that Baye was no ordinary one, because of what he witnessed of knowledge and wisdom revealed upon the tongue of this young man. 

Baye did continue this tradition of exegesis for the rest of his earthly life. In later years one of his Mauritanian disciples complied the tafsir from the audio recordings of the ones Baye did for his Arabic speaking disciples into book form call Fee Riyadh al Tafsir (In the Gardens of Exegesis) making him the only Tijani scholar to have a full tafsir book to his name. And it is with the grace of God, that its translation into English has started with the first volume already in the market, published by Fayda Publishers in the US. 

Baye as a revivalist of the life giving path of the prophets was mostly known for his breakthrough with the famous tarbiya process that his disciples went through so that they can attain unto the perfect experiential knowledge of the Divine. He was a Sufi mystic, who believed in the fact that spirituality and divine gnosis is to be tasted and known. The Sufis, who have always had a rift with orthodoxy, maintained that God can be seen and known directly without recourse to reason or theological speculation. 

That in fact the human being is a theomorphic creature and the cosmos is a theophany that points to nothing save the all pervading essence of the Divine. They called for man to return to that primordial purity which was his state in the soul world, time before time came to be. Baye was a part of this radical movement of metaphysics, which transcended the use of reason to know the Divine that in the fullness of time came to be known as Sufism. And he was no small figure in this great movement within world spirituality. When all words and speeches are exhausted we might as well say he was a canonical and archetypal figurehead who epitomizes what it means to be a Sufi in all ramifications of the word.

Inasmuch as the Sufis had issues with the orthodox establishment, most of the Sufi scholars where grounded legal luminaries within the Shari’ah and Baye was no exception. Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse was a monumental figure in reviving the sciences of the sacred law as a whole. He was a Maliki Jurist and an Asha’ri theologian. He excelled in these fields and authored books with regards to jurisprudence, for example his work on the controversial moon sighting, and also his treatise on the jurisprudence concerning the congregational prayers, Masarra al-majami fi masa’il al-jami  (The charm of compositions, concerning the issues relating to the congregational mosque). But like I said what made him a focal point amongst God’s creatures was his radical Muhammadan spiritual movement more than anything else.

Among the most heated debates that ensued soon after the declaration of the Fayda was the claim of the Talibeh Baye that they can see God with ocular vision. And to this day this remains the most debated and controversial issues that surround the Fayda Ibrahimiyya. This debate early on, made some of the most brilliant scholars within movement like Sidi Ali Cisse and Shaykh Uthman Ndiaye to author erudite books in refutation of the detractors and defense of the Fayda’s position. Again this only brings back the age old debate between the exoteric and esoteric scholars within Islam. The most famous Sufi martyr in history was Mansur al-Hallaj who was crucified in the market of Baghdad for claiming union with the Divine and hence he is the Divine himself. This is no new debate in the history in Islam, but very new in the Senegambian sub region before the advent of the Fayda of Baye Niasse, and it will play an integral part in the grand Islamic discourse within Senegambia and beyond.

Shaykh Ibrahim himself did write what was to become his seminal treatise in defense of the Fayda that was brought upon his hands. His magnum opus Kashif al-Ilbas ‘an Fayda al-Khatm Abi al-‘Abbas (Removal of Confusion Concerning the Flood of Saintly Seal Ahmad Tijani) was a breakthrough and almost a final thesis on Sufism in general and Tijaniyyah in particular, with an emphasis on issues such as vision of God, to the Sufi aspirant becoming extinct to himself and hence beholding nothing but God within the vast cosmic theartre. And Sheriff Bojang, that almost legend like genie of the pen and our boss at The Standard, will tell you how powerful the book is if you chance upon him for a question on it.

How far we have come and we didn’t even speak about the prophesy of the seal of Muhammadan Sainthood and the Most Hidden Pole Shaykh Ahmad Tijani on the manifestation of a flood that will bring people upon Tijaniyya in droves. He prophesied that it will come at a time when people are in great distress and depression. Many were the claimants of this prophesy but none succeeded in bringing anything distinct or better still something that will be a mercy in a time of distress, so as to bring people in great numbers in the Tijani path. 

The Tariqah Tijaniyya which was brought by Shaykh Ahmad Tijani was bestowed upon him in the Fath al-Kabir (grand illimunation) in a visionary encounter with the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). That’s why it’s the only Tariqah in the history of Islam that goes from the founder to the Prophet without any chain or intermediary. Further, he the Shaykh was given the seal of Muhammadan sainthood, which a great number of Sufi scholars and metaphysicians prophesied. The Tariqah have many inherent benefits that are only begun to be felt around the world; remembering that the Prophet promised Shaykh Tijani that all his followers are under his wings and in his guidance. Thus the standing of the Fayda Ibrahimiyya itself cannot be explained in this very profane language of mine.

Now back to the topic at hand. What made Baye special in his claim of the Fayda, which eventually even the descendants of Shaykh Tijani and other great masters in the Tariqah accepted from him was the fact that he brought millions to a direct gnosis of God like we mentioned in the beginning, and like knowledge of God is likened to water which is mercy and coolness, he was one who relieved his followers from depression and distress. But perhaps we should now let his foremost and most fervent disciple and close confidant Sidi Ali Cisse speak on this: 

“At his hand, thousands upon thousands [we must remember this was written in the early 1930s, since then millions] attained to the perfection of experientially-witnessed gnosis. Many, both white and black, would come to him [Baye Niasse] each day in droves from all regions of the earth to enter into our Tijaniyya Order, the repository of divine favor and gifts of gnosis. No one who received from him this prodigious litany (wird) failed to gain from it the benefit of divine aid and access to the realms of gnosis.”

But this Sufi mystic and metaphysician was not only to touch upon mysticism and spirituality and be a passive actor within the vicissitudes of time. He lived in the times of colonialism and he was amongst the few spiritual leaders who stood with the revolutionaries and visionaries within the political landscape of a colonised Africa. He kept acquaintance with Kwame Nkrumah and was a close friend and advisor to Gamal Nasser of Egypt. And he also wrote a small book, refuting the white archbishop of Dakar during his time, who happened to say some inappropriate things about Africa and Africans. The book was titled “Africa for the Africans” reminiscent of Marcus Garvey and his call for Africans to return to their ancestral land. This goes on to show that Baye was a son of his moment (Ibn al-waqt). He was involved in his time and fought ceaselessly for the liberation of Africa from colonial oppression.

His legacy lives on through his own teachings. If you should visit Medina Baye, a city that he built with his followers solely for the remembrance of God, you will find that it still flourish with the same intensity and beautiful guidance. For the millions of followers that are upon his path, they are eternally grateful to this black almost prophet-like figure that brought them face to face with the Divine. Knowledge of self which leads to gnosis is the core and bedrock of the doctrine of the Fayda and this continues to characterize the movement the world over. May God be well pleased with Barhama Kamal, the proof of the Gnostics (Hujjatul ‘arifin), pride of the Muhammadan prophetic nation, and one who was as rare as red sulphur.

Time swore that it would bring us the like of him.

You have falsified your oath, O Time, so make amends!


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