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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The tomb of the night traveller

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The fabulous story of Tamimou Dari in The Gambia

By Idrissa Dioum

The Gambia, this beautiful country located in West Africa and lodged in the middle of Senegal is full of diverse and rich cultures but also of wonderful stories. During my adventures around the fishing areas of the country, I had the opportunity to visit the village of Kartong. It is a coastal town on the southwestern border with Senegal. It is located about 60 kilometers from Banjul and 9.5 kilometers from the village of Gunjur and its mythical stone, the place where the warrior saint Shaykh Al Hajj Omar al Futiyu Tall did his famous spiritual retreat (Khalwa). Kartong is located on the bank of “Hallahin Bolong”, the tributary that marks the final border between The Gambia and southern Senegal (Casamance) to the Atlantic Ocean. We had the chance to visit this multiethnic and religious village, also known for the sacred site “Folonko”, which is visited by many people because it is believed that prayers for fertility made at the site are often granted. It is possible to visit the villages on the Senegal side such as Kabadio, Abene and Kafountine by merely crossing the river from Kartong.

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Our working day in the “Bolong ” was coming to an end. We had spent hours exploring the salt water creeks and mangroves, a landscape worthy of an exotic postcard and were ready to return to Kombo with memory cards full of pictures. As we began our journey, Baboucarr, a friend of mine who guided us around, offered to show us an amazing place. I, of course, happily accepted the offer.

We drove past the military checkpoint, headed north for a short distance, leaving the estuary behind us. At the end of the village we turned left onto a rocky road which led downhill to the beach. Several sand spires and beach ridges ran parallel to the shoreline from the mouth of the river to where our car stopped.

Here, I came across a very beautiful beach with a type of extremely white sand which was more commonly seen in Senegal. To the right of the road leading to the beach, there was a flowering hedge which formed a rough semi-circle. It was vaguely reminiscent of an arabesque door, seeming to mark an entrance.  Beyond this ‘entrance’, there was a ditch. Four planks nailed together laid over the ditch, serving as a footbridge that led to a circular courtyard, ringed by a very short wall. There I discovered a mysterious looking tomb under a tree. This find strangely reminded me of the tree where the Prophet (s) was sitting during his first business trip to Basra. Under a monastic calm, we began, standing in front of the tomb, a prayer for the deceased. First “the opening” followed by the “pure monotheism” and finally  the precious jewel “fatihi”. Baboucarr began to tell me the story of “Tami Moudari”.

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According to the local narrative, Tami was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (s), spending his days in the service of the Messenger. One day the Prophet (s) summoned him to tell him about an important mission, that of going to teach Islam to the Jinn. Tami accepted with great pleasure and the Prophet (s) taught him some words to pronounce in order to understand their languages and not to be harmed by them.

And so begins, according to the version of my companion, the fabulous story of Tami among the Jinn. He travels around the world in their company, teaches them Islam and brings many of them into the religion, especially in the vicinity of Kartong which is reputed to be populated by Djinn, these creatures that have long fascinated humanity. When he died, a pleiad of Djinn of all kinds, ‘If?r?t, Silf and M??id, surrounded him, not knowing what to do with him because he was not the same “type” as them despite the longevity of his life.

In a dream, the Prophet (s) appeared to the Saintly Shaykh Al Hajj Omar al Futiyu Tall to inform him of the death of his companion and ask him to go and perform the funeral prayer and bury him. Shaykh Omar then embarked on a long journey that would take him to Gunjur, the neighboring village where he held his spiritual retreat. After his spiritual retreat, he set out to find Tamim’s body. It is therefore he who buried him here, a place unknown to most, my friend Baboucarr concluded. He promised to send me a more detailed audio about the history of the site.

The intonation in the pronunciation of the name “Tami Moudari” made me think that it was a Mandika first name or the like. It was after several repetitions that I understood that it was in fact Tam?m bin Aws ad-Dari, the famous companion of the Prophet (s), the one with a fabulous story and whose tomb has been lost according to some. Originally, Tamim was a Christian priest who lived in Palestine and belonged to the Banu al-Dar – a clan of the Lakhmid Arab tribe. He met the Prophet (s), for the first time in 628 with a delegation of ten other members of his clan. During this meeting, he converted to Islam and moved to Medina to serve the Messenger of Islam. Tam?m was extremely devout, he wept while genuflecting and was able to recite the entire Qur’an in a single prostration. He is best known for his resourceful innovations, such as making a pulpit (minbar) for the Prophet and lighting the mosque with oil lamps among others.

The Egyptian scholar Al-Maqrizi (1441-1364), one of the students of the famous Ibn-Khaldun, wrote an entire opuscule dedicated to the life of this illustrious companion, entitled “?aw al-s?r? fî ma’rifat ?abar Tam?m al-D?r?” meaning The Light [that guides] the night traveler [in search of] information about Tam?m al-D?r?. The text is a veritable account of his life. According to the best-known version of his life, Tam?m al-D?r? had gone out of his wife’s room to perform ablution on a dark night streaked with lightning. His wife, as a joke, said to him, “May the guardians of the night take you away!” A passing demon heard her, loaded Tam?m onto his back and sped off into the sky. He carried him to the farthest reaches of the known world. He was first captured by a tribe of unfaithful Djinn. With them he remained for a year, after which a tribe of believing Djinn attacked his captors and rescued him. He was brought before the chiefs of this tribe, who learned with joy that he was a Muslim. He was invited to lead the congregational prayers and to instruct the children.

This corroborates to a certain extent with the narrative widely told in the Village of Kartong. In Al Maqrizi’s work, Tamim’s mysterious or to some extent allegorical encounters are narrated. These encounters go beyond conventional understanding, as he comes face to face with Khidr, another equally mysterious character who is mentioned in the Qur’an. Then Tamim sees the archangels Gabriel and Michael and meets Dajjal, the antichrist, on an island. He describes him as a being of unbelievable stature, securely garroted and covered with chains from head to toe. This story is known in Muslim historiography as the Hadith al-Jassasah, which means “the Beast”.

Against the backdrop of these elucidations, we watch the sun set, dipping magnificently over the edge of the Atlantic. We continue on our journey, happy with this discovery. I cannot say for sure whether the tomb we visited is indeed that of the companion Tam?m al-D?r?, because some claim that he lies in Palestine, while others swear that his tomb has been lost and is probably in West Africa. Whatever the case, this mystery is yet another enigma among the mysteries surrounding the fabulous story of the night traveler.

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