A tribute is usually paid to either a departed relative or an acquaintance held in high esteem or a living relative or an acquaintance also held in high esteem for their lofty achievements that their admirers deem necessary to familiarize the public with. In so doing, they draft a short statement that outlines the sterling qualities of the person. Our tribute today is concerned with a brother, a friend and an acquaintance that is unique to both myself and Majmouatou Rawdatul Majaalis.
Baba Abubakar Drammeh is unique not only to his relatives and acquaintances but also to the whole of The Gambia. Baba, as he is fondly called, was born in Brikama but raised in both Brikama and Sintet. He was educated by his dear father of blessed memory, Abubakar Drammeh in the traditional Jahanka way i.e. Arabic/Islamic education. Spurred by some relatives and acquaintances who went to the Arab world for further studies, he convinced his father to send him to Egypt to hone his knowledge of Arabic and Islam. Baba left in 1963 to come back in 1971. During his eight-year stint, he completed his high school and university education in Arabic and Islamic studies. Since only the sky is the limit for him when it comes to education, Baba found it wise and necessary to enrol for English classes at an English language proficiency institute in Cairo.
Upon his return to The Gambia, Baba started his working career as an Arabic/Islamic teacher. As fate would have it, the Gambia Government decided to open an Embassy in Saudi Arabia in 1976. Koto Baba happened to be the most qualified Gambian Arabist at the time to secure the position of Arabic Translator cum Consular Officer. Baba had thus commenced a diplomatic career that did not cease until his retirement in 1996. During his diplomatic tour of duty, he climbed the ladder to ultimately become The Gambia’s ambassador plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia, all Gulf States, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia and the African Union. In a genuine bid to become a seasoned diplomat, Baba underwent a Master’s degree course in diplomacy at the University of Nairobi and at Oxford University. He did another Master’s degree in English<>Arabic translation at the Polytechnic of Central London.
After retirement, Baba dedicated his time to the service of Islam and Muslims in The Gambia. He became the Auditor of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, a position he steered for several years. However, he abandoned it because of the Council’s waywardness whereby our traditional Islamic values are flouted with utter disregard.
When the Council began disregarding our cherished age-old Islamic precepts and values among others such as determining Muslim landmark events based on sighting of the crescent in Saudi Arabia instead of The Gambia, the need was felt to establish a body that would strive to preserve our Islamic values.
Muslims, concerned about the danger of losing our orthodox and mainstream Islam, set up an organization called Majmouatou Rawdatul Majaalis in 2017.
When Rawdat resolved to appoint a president of international stature, they found the pristine qualities of such a person in none other than Ambassador Baba Abubakar Drammeh. Coupled with his excellent command of both English and Arabic, he has a wealth of experience in diplomatic finesse. So, he turned out to be the right person that could give guidance to members of the organization and steer its affairs in a manner that could help it achieve its set objectives.
Rawdat has not regretted one bit its decision to appoint Ambassador Baba as their leader. Over the past three years, he helped the organization to overcome the vicissitudes of infancy and to become a national religious entity to be reckoned with for having proven its mettle. He enabled the organization to achieve at least its goal of uniting the Majliskunda of The Gambia under one roof to counter the onslaught of the wayward Wahhabi cohorts that are in control of the Supreme Islamic Council. Important Muslim Calendar dates of landmark events such as Gamo, Tamkharit/Musukotoo Saloo, Laylatul Qadr/Kitimmo, etc are brought to the notice of the public through radio announcements unlike the Supreme Islamic Council, which systematically chooses to ignore such cherished occasions. Rawdat attends Ziyaras, collective recitations of the Quran and many other religious occasions that aptly depict facets of our religious outlook.
It is not out of place here to give a brief overview of why Rawdat came into being. Contrary to what its detractors would want people to believe i.e. it is intent on sowing the seeds of discord among Muslims is a spurious claim designed to obfuscate the truth. All Gambians acrimoniously recall the religious strife and divisions that the Supreme Islamic Council occasioned since it fell under the firm grip of the Wahhabis under the leadership of its former president, Momodou Lamin Touray.
It introduced the outlandish and the Sharia-incompliant notion of not relying on our own efforts to sight the crescent to determine major Islamic events and occasions but to merely count on the sighting of Saudi Arabia. It bred religious intolerance by castigating individuals and groups that do not espouse its own religious philosophy. For instance, some of its prominent members antagonized the Ahmadiyya community in The Gambia and called for its ban and banishment regardless of the Community’s valuable and lofty contributions to the overall welfare of disadvantaged Gambians. It instigated Yahya Jammeh to outcast Imam Bakawsu Fofana and forced him into exile in neighbouring Senegal simply because Bakawsu advocates the traditional and mainstream Islam that we inherited from our scholars through an uninterrupted chain of transmission from the Holy Prophet (pbuh) down to this day. It also
acknowledged to have spearheaded the arrest of several Imams including the Venerable Sheriff of Sangajor in the Fonis, Sheriff Muhideen Hydara of blessed memory. The list goes on and on. All this happened under the autocratic regime of Yahya Jammeh, whom the Wahhabi-dominated Supreme Islamic Council orientated and counselled on Islamic matters. Alas, we are living witnesses to the same toxic influence over the Adama Barrow regime.
It is for all these foregoing reasons among others that some ordinary folks of our society pooled minds and resources to establish an entity called Majmouatou Rawdatul Majaalis to counter-balance the Supreme Islamic Council under the wayward influence of Wahhabism. Rawdat received the unreserved blessing of the vast majority of our Imams as well as all traditional Quranic schools of the country. As a result, Rawdat, after over three years of diligent work, has become ineluctably a household name because of the visibility of its fine and genuine efforts to preserve our centuries-old Islamic values and principles.
To understand Rawdat’s and its president’s deep concern about the unfettered infiltration of Wahhabism in our society in particular and in all Muslim societies in general, it is worth mentioning briefly the history of this intrusive and pernicious creed in our Islamic fabric.
Islam, throughout its nearly one and a half millennial history, has been bequeathed to succeeding generations of Muslims in all Muslim societies from the epoch of the Prophet’s companions to this day through a consistent and uninterrupted chain of transmission called in Islamic jurisprudence “Isnad”. It is a system of knowledge transfer and preservation that is unique to Islam and unprecedented in the academic sphere. Through this methodology, scholars could easily detect any deviation from orthodoxy and would advise against it. This is how Sunni Islam came to be distinguished from Shia Islam and how Sunni Islam has been efficient in detecting anything alien to the system it refers to in Arabic “Ahlus Sunna Wal Jamaa’a”.
However, roughly two hundred and fifty years ago, a creed alleging to be a reformation movement burgeoned in the desert wasteland of Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, which is generally labelled Wahhabism in relation to its founder, Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab. He was roundly condemned by contemporary scholars of the Najd region including his father and his brother for his unorthodox and outlandish views about basic tenets of the Sunni Islamic creed.
Having realized that he could not apply his novel and alien ideas unless through coercion, he joined forces with a warlord called Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz. They made some forays into the Najd region and into the Basra region of Iraq as well as Medina in present-day Saudi Arabia. Their military exploits were however
short-lived because of the onslaught of the Ottoman forces, which were in control of the Hijaz region, where Mecca and Medina are situated.
With the advent of the twentieth century, the Wahhabi ideology, which lingered on despite the death of its founding father, Muhammad Ibn Wahhab, rose from its ashes at a time the Ottoman Empire was on the wane owing to its involvement in World War I on the side of the defeated Central Powers: Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Wahhabis, in coalition with an offspring of Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz, namely, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, were able to overcome all resistance in a large swathe of the Arabian Peninsula, which they later established as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the Ottomans were dispossessed of their dominions by the British and the French through the League of Nations.
Wahhabi association with the ruling family of Saudi Arabia through a pact between the two family partners, coupled with the rise of Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil exporting country, contributed immensely to the propagation of Wahhabism in the Muslim world. It came in stealthily as an anodyne creed designed to upend the centuries-old Ahlus Sunna Wal Jamaa’a creed.
For the purpose of brevity, it condemned entrenched Muslim practices of tomb visitation including that of the Holy Prophet, celebration of the Prophet’s birthday, collective recitation of the Quran, etc.
Wahhabism calls for not only non-adherence to any of the four schools of jurisprudence, which is misleading, because Wahhabism is based on the Hanbali School. It also outlaws Sufism, which is the spiritual dimension of Islam. It considers it alien to Islam; so, all its practices are haram. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Muslim scholars consider Sufism the quintessence of Islam.
Rawdat, aware of the long-term danger of Wahhabism, since it is the breeding ground for intolerance and religious extremism and terrorism joined hands with Ambassador Baba, who in turn was resolute, given his knowledge and experience, to consolidate the nascent organization, which has now stood on its feet and become a thorn in the flesh of obscurantist Wahhabism in The Gambia.
I personally owe Baba a debt of gratitude for motivating me to join him in the organization together with a brother and dear friend, Muhammad Imam Sambou Gassama, of blessed memory, who joined the fray, but alas, was untimely snatched from us by Allah the Almighty.
So if you do not want your women folks to be covered from head to toe with dark scary gowns, made to take care of only household chores and deprived of the sweetness and rewards of work and be deprived of many human rights Taliban style; if you do not want your children to become radicalized, if you do not want to be deprived of the right to visit a God-fearing person for spiritual
help, then join Rawdat in its crusade against Wahhabism and in its struggle to strip The Gambia of the dangers of religious extremism.
We thank you Baba for championing the noble cause of this organization. I hope that Gambians would understand the way you understand the danger of Wahhabism and stand with Rawdat to eradicate this growing malignant cancer in our society. May Allah bless you with many more years of good health and a fulfilling family life. May Allah grease your elbow to continue your lofty struggle in any other form you deem fit.