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Hatab Bojang: Gunjur’s master of the masters

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Gunjur like Kudang 188km away is one of the most cerebral towns in The Gambia. And in Gunjur, one of the brainiest of the brainiest – what the Arabs call

Sayid al-Saada – was Hatab Bojang. No one had a greater impact on the development of Islam in the Kombos than Hatab Bojang since the death of the jihadist Ibrahima ‘Kombo’ Sillah Touray, towards the end of the 19th century.

Hatab Bojang was born in 1937 in Gunjur to Pa Sano Bojang and Mariama Cham better known as Mba-binki Cham. When Hatab was just seven, Pa Sano entrusted him for scholarship to Abdullah Ibn Sheikh Siddiyah in Mauritania. Young Hatab proved himself highly diligent with keen receptive intelligence and he soon memorised the Qur’an, his son, Muhammed Bojang, said.

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Upon completing his studies in Mauritania, Hatab got admission to the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia later moving to the Omdurman Islamic University in Sudan. After graduation, he returned to The Gambia and first taught Islamic and Arabic studies at Muhammedan School in Banjul. Eventually, he returned to his native Gunjur and built his first Islamic/Arabic school.

He built similar schools in neighbouring villages. One of the schools he built in Serekunda is today known as the Umar Kureish Islamic School. A transnational Islamic activist, he has built schools all over The Gambia as well as in Sierra Leone and Ghana. Hatab Bojang also presented Islamic talk shows on Radio Gambia and served as a supervisor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the Ministry of Education.

In 1983 in the heady days following Kukoi’s abortive coup, Hatab was arrested and incarcerated at the state central prison for 40 days and 40 nights allegedly for giving false information to a visiting Saudi journalist before being unconditionally released by Jawara’s government. According to his friend, Oustas Kawsu Jatta, Hatab was “reported” by some locals for being outspoken and commentating on social issues in a way that could potentially incite young people.

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Indeed Hatab Bojang had always been vocal and strident in his sermons and social commentaries. He was a tad too intellectual and urbane. But he never shied away from talking to authority in unvarnished language. For example, he vociferously condemned the Jawara government for selling food aid sent to Gambians in the 1980s.

One of his first students, Oustas Sidi Ali Janneh himself a prolific writer, researcher and imam in the Swedish city of Göteborg, said that because of his personality and erudition, the Saudis contracted Hatab to embark on advocacy and sensitisation in the mainly Arab Middle East.

Janneh said his master was invited to Al-Azhar University, Egypt – Islam’s highest institution of learning – to discuss several issues on the religion several times.

During his days, Hatab was a very popular figure among the young people of Gunjur and the alumni of his Khalid Ibn Walid school include Muhammad Lamin Touray and Essa Darboe the past and current presidents of the Supreme Islamic Council and other luminaries like Dembo Touray and Ismail Manjang.

Hatab Bojang died on the morning of Monday 30 April 1984 while making his genuflections in the house of his wife, Ya Khan Jobe, in Serekunda.

Thousands congregated in his native Gunjur to pay their last respects to a fearless champion of social justice and warrior of Allah. He was survived by two wives, three sons and four daughters among them, Amie Bojang-Sissoho, the director of press and public relations at State House. Alagie Conteh of Dabanani Electrical Company with whom he shares striking resemblance, is his nephew.

Last message

Sheikh Hatab delivered his last address to the people of Gunjur two days before he passed away on the evening of Saturday, 28 April 1984. That evening, a religious event was organised in Gunjur at which Sheikh Hatab gave a very touching reminder about death and the preparations for the Last Day. He concluded the sermon with these words: “People of Gunjur! I planted trees in this township that will bear fruits. People will continue to benefit from their fruits until the Day of Resurrection, God willing, and these trees are my students, among them: Mohammed Al-Amin Touray, a student at the Islamic University of Madinah, and my student Essa Darboe, a student at the Islamic University of Madinah, and my student Dembo Touray, a student at Kuwait’s School of Education, and my student Fa Foday Darboe, a student at the Islamic Call College in Libya, and my student Ismail Manjang who is sitting right next to me here – he can interpret the Holy Qur’an as I explain it – and many others. So, even if I die today, it does not matter because God has answered my prayers in these individuals whom I moulded and taught. They will continue the path I started as I planned, God willing.

“People of Gunjur, forgive one another and forget what has happened. As for me, if I die before those people [my adversaries], they will inevitably follow me, and God will judge us. People asked the Prophet: How do you advise us to forgive, and you do not forgive those who wronged you? He said to them: What is between you is the rights of a human being over a human being, but as for those people, they objected to my path and made sure to prevent me from establishing the Religion of God and propagating it as He wants.”

The following day, Sunday, 29 April 1984, Sheikh Hatab’s student, Ismail Manjang, visited him at his home in Bojang Kunda to discuss a specific matter. On the evening of the same day, Sheikh Hatab went to Serekunda to stay overnight with his Wolof wife, Kani Jobe.

Death

On Monday 30 April 1984, the sheikh was about to leave the house of his wife in the bright, early morning when a Radio Gambia vehicle pulled up at the door to record an Islamic programme with him. However, he remembered that he had not offered the prayers for morning brightness (dhuha), so he handed his bag to Yusuf Jatta and said: “Wait while I go pray.” He began his prayers and while prostrating he passed away. His young daughter, Aisha Bojang, was with him at home at the time. The sheikh stayed prostrated until his wife, Kani became concerned and went to check on him. She found him prostrating and waited for sometime believing him to be deep in prayer. Worried, she called out his name, but he did move. Then she called again but he remained motionless and unresponsive. She became alarmed and sent a boy named Omar Jaiteh to look for Bala Musa Fatty, one of the teachers in the Solidarity School. Bala Musa came quickly and entered the house with several other people, where they found Sheikh Hatab still prostrating. They called him, and he did not answer. When they moved him, they discovered that he had passed away

They exclaimed, “Allah is great!! We belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return!” What a beautiful ending, and what a tremendous and fitting conclusion to such a noble life. May Allah have mercy on him.

On the same day, Monday, 30 April 1984 Sheikh Hatab’s body was taken to Gunjur. Upon arrival, the body was ritually washed by his student, Sheikh Ismail Manjang and Karamo Touray, the imam of Gunjur at the time.

Following the afternoon prayers, a huge crowd of mourners accompanied the sheikh to his final resting place near an African fig tree at the southeastern corner of the cemetery.

The first part of this article was written by US-based Amadou Camara and originally published in The Standard newspaper. The second part is an excerpt from a translation by Basidia Drammeh and Abdullah Ebrahim Samateh of the 442-page tome The Life Story of Sheikh Hatab Through The Lens of His Acquaintances (2020) by Sulayman Tumani Danjo.

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