Like the followers of Sheikh Ahmad Tijani, after Asr prayers every Friday, I retire in seclusion to do my dhikr. But unlike them, I do not unfurl some piece of white linen and chant the Haylala, Wadhifa, Hadra, Asru or what have you. My wird is of a more personal nature. Sorry, I can’t share it with you on the quotidian pages of this newspaper.
I love the bantaba because it is a meeting place of the most eclectic. There is Abraham from Dankunku who relishes in his Ishmaelism and would find a counterpoint to any argument. He reminds me of a certain Greek philosopher named Diogenes.
In his day, Socrates, a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, was famous for walking through the marketplace of his city, asking questions and showing how the ‘learned’ men of his time were not nearly as knowledgeable as they claimed to be. He demonstrated that it is better to profess one’s ignorance than to act as if one knows something when one does not.
His most noted follower, Plato, set up an academy outside of Athens, and began to teach about eternal truths. The body, according to Plato, is merely a decaying receptacle imprisoning the immortal soul, which once resided in a world of pure ideas and which longs to return there. But not all of Socrates’ associates agreed with Plato. Antisthenes, who had also been trained in the ‘Socratic method’, felt that Plato’s idealism actually betrayed the more down-to-earth teachings of their beloved master. While Plato looked for happiness in the world to come, Antisthenes sought happiness in the here and now. He is considered to be the founder of the philosophical movement called Cynicism.
The most notorious Cynic was Diogenes. It is said that when the noted philosophers of Plato’s Academy stated that the best definition of a human being is ‘a featherless biped’, Diogenes rushed into their midst waiving a plucked chicken and declared: “Here is Plato’s man!” Diogenes was also famous for walking through the streets of Athens in broad daylight with a lantern, announcing that he was looking for “a real human being.” The point of this was to show that reality does not exist theoretically, but in day-to-day experiences. There is no abstract ‘man’ – there are only concrete human beings.
Abraham from Dankunku, a little man whose ribs show like the bellows of a concertina, was a man like Diogenes.
And then there is Badara from Marina who is forever interjecting that my philosophical queries of his simplistic notions of faith border on blasphemy. One day, we were talking about God, as we often do, and His powers and that He can do anything. Badara from Marina has the Qur’an and the books of the ahadith enscibed on the tableaux of his heart. And so he is forever quoting. That day, I cited to him what is called the ‘Omniptence Paradox’ in discourses about God. I asked him: “So if God can do anything, can He create a stone that is too heavy for Him to lift?” He turned the question in his head and unable to come up with an easy answer, he declared me a ‘kaffir’ and ran away from me lest the angels let loose the pillars of heaven on my head.
The omnipotence paradox is a family of semantic paradoxes which address two general issues and three specific issues: Is an omnipotent entity logically possible? and What do we mean by ‘omnipotence’?; and What do we mean by ‘power’?, What do we mean by ‘logic’?, and What is the relation between power and logic?.
The omnipotence paradox states that: If a being can perform any action, then it should be able to create a task which this being is unable to perform; hence, this being cannot perform all actions. Yet, on the other hand, if this being cannot create a task that it is unable to perform, then there exists something it cannot do.
One version of the omnipotence paradox is the so-called paradox of the stone: “Could an omnipotent being create a stone so heavy that even he could not lift it?” If he could lift the rock, then it seems that the being would not have been omnipotent to begin with, in that he would have been incapable of creating a heavy enough stone; if he could not lift the stone, then it seems that the being either would never have been omnipotent to begin with or would have ceased to be omnipotent upon his creation of the stone.
Actually, the argument is medieval, dating at least to the 12th century, addressed by the philosopher Averroës (1126–1198) and later by Thomas Aquinas. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (before 532) has a predecessor version of the paradox, asking whether it is possible for God to “deny himself”.
And then there is my little friend Nyandou Boy. His face and head cicatrised from his violent falls during epilepsy seizures. He is like my godson and is the enfant terrible of the hood, forever causing tinnitus to everyone including people old enough to be his father or mother. No one knows how to deal with him: whether to love him, to pity him… or to kill him? On a Monday, he is the most charming of boys; on a Tuesday he will look you in the eye and tell you he will sleep with your mother or remove your prepuce with a blunt razor! His body is invaded by a malignant jinni and he needed exorcism, they say. But anytime I get him potassium bromide tabs from MRC, the bad jinni leaves him. Last week was open day at his dara and he asked me whether he should cry when he takes centre stage for his tarikh! And that’s exactly what he did over Oustas Jobe’s microphone while trying to recite Al-Ikhlas.
And then there is Jacob Niuminka, known as ‘The Mash’Allah’, always wearing what the Mandinka’s call ‘Denku Sendeng’ and forever condemning bidah (innovations) which for him pretty much means everything: rosary beads, gaamos, marabouts, certain types of wird and in particular Sufis and a saint called Sheikh Ahmed Tijanni, the founder of the Tijaniyya Sufi order. Al-Tijanni was born in Aïn Madhi, present-day Algeria and died in Fez, Morocco at the age of 80 and was said to be from a Sherifian lineage, that is to say, his family-tree could be traced back to Prophet Muhammad through Ali and Fatima.
Jacob and I perform our daily congregational prayers in Bakau at the ‘Tijaniyya’ home mosque built by the venerable Alhaji Abu Bakr Zaidy Jallow of Bansang, one of the leading lights of Tijaniyya in The Gambia and the author of the oft-quoted book Bugyat al-Sail wa Ghunyat al-Aqil (The Desire of the Enquirer and the Wealth of The Wise).
Mash’Allahs like Jacob The Niuminka are self-righteous ‘Tawhidist’ influenced by Abd-al-Wahhab and the writings of Ibn Taymiyya and question the prevalent philosophical interpretations of Islam. They claim to rely on the Qur’an and the hadith without speculative philosophy so as to not transgress beyond the limits of the early Muslims known as the Salaf. They attack a perceived moral decline among Muslims and condemn what they perceive as idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation, advocating a purging of the widespread practices by Muslims that they consider impurities and innovations in Islam.
The other weekend, after knocking down a bowl of Friday mbahal and bottles of Naturelle, Jacob went into a diatribe against our sheikh from the Maghreb. The irreverent me, I would have faithfully reproduced here his choice invectives against the man regarded by millions of people as The Seal of Saints if I had not been given a book by one of my young employees, Alieu Bah. Forget Henry Carrol, young Alieu deserve the honorific title, My Truly Learned Friend. I believe he’s read all the books in the world from Tolstoy’s War and Peace to Downey’s Little Book on Semaphores.
In the book, Kashif al-Ilbas (The Removal of Confusion), the author, ‘Sheikh al-Islam’ Ibrahim Baye Niasse dedicated a whole chapter on ‘Warning against Criticising the Spiritual Elite’. The Kaolack saint quoted the great Malian scholar Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti as saying: “As for the riff-raff’s censure of the spiritual elite, this does not detract from their high-ranking offices, just as the prophetic mission is not impaired by people accusing the prophets of sorcery, possession and the like.”
These past weeks, another riff-raff with elephantine ego, a former apprentice of mine without ‘barkeh, a certain Nderry Mbai, has been homosexualising my name on his so-called Freedom radio and newspaper for merely publishing Lamin Bajo’s reaction to his “lies” and campaign of calumny against the gentleman.
Over the past ten years, he has accused me of everything in the book: From committing murder to trans-Atlantic shagathons with a woman old enough to be my mother whose husband is a dear avuncular friend of mine. And now having exhausted his litany of pornographic lies, he’s accusing me of carvorting as the Gaylord in town! Yeuk! A greater liar has not been born among the fana fana! How any man can just sit in his bureau and draw up such phosphorous lies against people in the name of feral journalism beguiles me!
But my friends certainly love him because he suffers for their enjoyment from the bland cesspit of his moronic thoughts. Now, they have something to tease me with until Ramadan delivers me from them. Lol!
I don’t know what it is about me that acts like a fury-inducing red rag to this bellicose fool from Niamina. But it’s not just me; it seems it is all good and great Gambians, as Sana Sarr in the article “Against Conventional Wisdom” published on June 11, reminded us:
“Imam Baba Leigh – Gambian religious leader
2. Banka Manneh – Gambian political activist
3. Amadou Scattered Janneh
4. Lawyer Ousainou Darbo – Opposition leader
5. Lawyer Mai Fatty – Opposition leader
6. Kibaaro News – online Gambian news site
7. Gibou Bala Gaye – Gambian musician
8. Fatou Camara – former State House Press Secretary
9. Tombong Saidy – Private businessman
10. Fatou Bom Bensouda – International Criminal Law prosecutor
11. Fatou Sagnia – online Gambian activist
12. Balafong – Gambian Youth Social Group
13. Muhammed Jah – Gambian Businessman
14. Neneh MacDouall – Gambian Media Person
15. Elhaj Mustapha Faye – former BFF Freedom / political activist
16. Gainako – Online Gambian News source
17. Dr. Sedat Jobe – Gambian Political Activist
18. Yanks Darboe – Gambian Political Activist
19. Sheriff Bojang – Gambian Journalist
20. Hello Gambia Radio and online news site (Essa Bokarr Sey and Baba Hydara)
Let me begin by clarifying that this piece is in no way a personal attack on anyone. It is rather an attempt to understand and explain a troubling phenomenon that Gambians have found difficult to explain. I have never been in the business of discussing people. I would rather discuss issues. But when an individual decides, knowingly or unknowingly, to make himself an issue, it becomes pertinent to seek to explain it so we can handle it better.
Now to the story. Is everyone on the list above a villain and an enemy of The Gambia deserving of personal attacks and mudslinging? Certainly not. Why then have they all been subjected to the same senseless, disrespectful and appalling attacks in our online media? Well, the only common factor in all the attacks is…Pa Nderry Mbai! If that’s not an indication of what the problem is then I don’t know what is…“
It seems Mr Mbai has not forgiven me for sacking him from the Daily Observer. But I hired him as well when the scrawny idiot was sacked as ‘Corporal Mbye’, gatekeeper at then RVTH.
But on a serious note, Mr Mbai and his friends don’t realise as David Aaronovitch noted, that this libelous intemperance is the odd anonymity conferred by the Internet and the peculiar sense of indemnity it seems to offer. One day soon, someone will call his bluff and this time, he will not be let off and he will hang by his own petard. Just let him just carry on with his idiotic ways.
As Sheikh Umar al-Futi states in his tome, Rimah: “This is the way of the negative critics and their habitual style. You will not find anything with them except complete inadequacy”.]]>