Ibrahim Niass (1900-1975) Shaykh al-‘Islam

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 He was the son of Alhaji Abdulaay Ñiass (1840–1922), the main representative of the Tijani Sufi order, often referred to as Tareeqat al-Tijjaniyyaa, in the region of Saloum at the beginning of the twentieth century. During his youth, Shaykh Ibrahim relocated with his father to the city of Kaolack, where they established the zawiya (religious centre) of Lewna Ñiaseen. After his father’s death in Lewna Ñiaseen in 1922, Shaykh Ibrāhīm’s elder brother, Muhammad al-Khalifa, became his father’s successor or Khalifa. The 22-year-old Shaykh Ibrahim spent most of his time farming in the family’s fields and teaching a growing number of disciples in the nearby village of Kóosi Mbittéyeen. Although Shaykh Ibrahim never claimed to be his father’s successor, due to his charisma and precocious knowledge, he gained a large number of disciples, and tensions arose between his disciples and those of his elder brother, Muhammad al-Khalifa. In 1929, while on the farm in Kóosi Mbittéyeen, the youthful Shaykh Ibrahim announced that he had been given the Key to Secrets of Divine Knowledge, and thus became the Khalifa of Shaykh Tijani in the Tajaniyya Order, a position yet to be attained by anyone as of the time. Shaykh Ibrahim then declared that whoever wishes to attain ma’arifa, a level of Divine Certainty in the Sufi Order must follow him. In 1930, after the prayer of EĪd al-Fiṭr (the end of the month of Ramadan), a fight broke out between Shaykh Ibrahim’s disciples and those of Muhammad al-Khalifa. The incident made Shaykh Ibrahim to immediately decide to relocate with his disciples to a new place. That evening, he set out with a small group of his closest disciples to find a new place to live, and the next day they established a new zawiya in Medina Baay, a village that was later incorporated into the growing city of Kaolack. In the following years, Shaykh divided his time between teaching during dry season in Madina Baay and farming during rainy season in Kóosi Mbittéyeen. During the summer of 1945 he re-established himself in his father’s house in his native village of Tayba Ñiaseen, rebuilding and reorganising the village after a fire outbreak destroyed much of it.

Shaykh Ibrahim’s fame quickly spread throughout the countryside and most of his father’s disciples ultimately became his disciples in spite of his junior status in the family. Although his disciples remain a minority within Senegal, Ñiass’s disciples form the largest branch of Tijanis worldwide. In an unlikely role reversal during the 1930s, several leaders of the Arab ‘Idaw Ali tribe in Mauritania — the same tribe that introduced the Tijani order to West Africa —declared to follow Shaykh Ibrahim and became his disciples. Notable among them included Shaykh , Muḥammad Ould an-Naḥwi, and Muḥammad al-Mishri. Tareeqa al-Tijaniyya al-Ibrahimiyya, as Shaykh’s disciples came to be known, flourished and gained large number of followers throughout the 1930s and 1940s across North and West Africa. In the 1937, on meeting with Shaykh Ibrahim during a pilgrimage to Makkah, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji ‘Abdullahi Bayero (Nigeria) made a declaration to follow and became his disciple. That incident made Shaykh Ibrahim to gain the allegiance of many of the prominent Tijani leaders of northern Nigeria and lots of those who were non-Tijanis during the time. One of his closest disciples and father of Sayyida Bilkisu (one of the youngest wives of the Shaykh), was a Prince from Okene, the first High Commissioner of Nigeria to the UK, Alhaji Abdulmalik Atta. Shaykh Ibrahim became a renowned Shaykh al-Tareeka (Master of Sufi Order) throughout Hausa areas of West Africa and in fact ended up with far more disciples outside of Senegal than within it. He was a major leader of the Tijaani Sufi order of Islam in West Africa and his adherents designate themselves in Arabic as the people of the Faydah Tijaniyyah (Tijani Flood) or in Wolof as Taalibé Baay (disciples of Baay). Outsiders often refer to his disciples as Ñiaseen, which in Wolof means “of or pertaining to the Ñiass family,” although his disciples do not generally use this designation.

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