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Jahanke clerics: The transfer of leadership and authority

Jahanke clerics: The transfer of leadership and authority

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By Foday Kallah Kebbeh,

Talibeh of Kang Seedia Jabbi.

The perception that is generally shared by many who have argued that the Manding tribes refer to all those people whose origins have been traced to the ancient Manding Empire is a research that at best can be called work in progress. Even if the empirical evidences available would uphold that assertion, it would be interesting to note that the different tongues spoken by the Manding tribes would not be the only factor that shows the differences between these different clans of the Mandingo people. Cultural practices have led another school of thought that postulates that, despite the upheld belief that all those who originate from Manding are Mandingo, there are those who insist that the Jahanke is a set of people that many people claimed to be a fusion of the Soninke, the Manding and the Arab tribe. One can be led to believe in this notion by examining the way of life of the Jahanke people and contrasting it with the above mentioned tribes. Research has shown that since the twelve century AD the Jahanke people have been known to be engaged in various fields of production amongst which is the teaching and learning of the Arabic scripts. It is also reported by the imminent professor of theology, the late professor Lamin O Sanneh in the book titled the “Jahanke Muslim Clerics” 12th edition that the Jahanke scholars translate Arabic scripts using the Soninke dialects and it’s also true that the ways of life of the people referred to as the Jahanke show similar traditions to that seen in many Arab cultures for the overwhelming majority of Jahanke are Muslims. One striking similarity between the traditions of the two cultures (Arab and the Jahanke) is the way they practise control over their families when it comes to authority and who wields power over whom. The social structure of the Jahanke especially the clerics is based on very distinct levels. There is always a leader who is not elected and or selected by any known democratic principles but who seamlessly assumes leadership based on seniority. The eldest son would always be the leader when the father dies and the next leader would be the next brother whose authority is always absolute. There are unwritten codes of conduct that must be strictly adhered to by all within a set that governs the relationships between the leader and the led. Each of them would observe boundaries in their interpersonal interactions.

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 The head of the set/group/family/clan is always expected to give the final word in any decision(s) and the others would follow the directives of the leader to the letter for failure to follow and obey would lead to not only ex-communication but a likely curse.

This is a belief system that is innately embedded in their psychology. Their preference to maintain an extended family system living together in one big enclosure (Majlis) is a strategy they employ to maintain and increase family cohesiveness. While they recognize and pay their dues to central authorities wherever they are found, their Majlis acts as a mini state within a larger state. This social structure can be found within the Arab family structures too.

They are generally considered to be Mandingo because the language they speak is similar to the Mandingo except the marked differences in the pronunciations. In many cases, the Jahanke can understand every spoken Mandinka words but many other Mandingo people would mal comprehend the Jahanke version of the same spoken words. The Jahanke Muslim clerics, apart from being teachers and propagators of the Islamic religion in West Africa and the Sahel for close to thousand years, as research shows, they are also considered as marabouts who offer spiritual guidance to people who seek spiritual services. This practice has been generally misunderstood by many who hold that being a marabout tantamount to glorifying Sikr( a belief in Shatan). This is a fallacy of hasty generalisation leading to illogical conclusions and it is also born out of ignorance of what a marabout truly is. These Jahanke Muslim clerics are seekers of divine interventions and mostly are engaged in prayers and spiritual meditations (Kalwa) for inspiration. Most of them would only pray and direct seekers of divine help to give alms/charities to solve their problems. To understand deeply the process of this spiritual practices require a deeper research into the origins of the Mandingo word “Moriya”.

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The transfer of authority within the conservative Jahanke social structure always happens when a leader dies and the next eldest of the founding father of the Majlis will always assume all the leadership responsibilities of running the affairs of the group/ Majlis.

This traditional practice was recently showcased in Brufut Madina Jabbi Kunda in The Gambia when the head of the Islamic settlement (Majlis) founded by Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi in 1972, Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi ,died  on the 19th October 2021.

Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi was born in Kuntaur Badala in Central River region in 1913. He was the third son of Kang Sambou-Lamin Jabbi of Jarra Sutukung and Mama Jakhongba Kanyi of Nyani Bakadaaji. Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi later left Jarra Sutukung after the death of his father Kang Sambou Lamin Jabbi to settle in many towns and villages in the West Coast region of the Gambia, namely, Brikama, Marakissa and Tujereng in the 1950s. He later returned to Jarra Sutukung when his stepfather, Kang Dembo Jabbi and his elder brother Kang Bakodaye Jabbi all passed away too. He became the next eldest of the huge clan of his grandfather and his father and automatically the caliph general of all their Majlises in 1966.

In 1972, he would leave the Jarras again to settle with his family and students in the coastal village of Brufut, Kombo North West Coast Region, while still serving as the caliph general of the family of his grandfather Timbuktu Foday also known as Foday Jamengo Jabbi.

He served in this capacity for 27 years until February 13, 1993 when he passed away and was interred beside his father in Jarra Sutukung.

Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi was the second settler in the part of Brufut then called Santosu which he later renamed Madina. Here, he established a majlis and began lecturing many students while engaging in large scale farming to sustain his growing family.

Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi had many children and the first son was Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi, followed by Alhagi Kajally Jabbi, Alhagi Dembo Jabbi, Alhagi Ibrahim Jabbi, Alhagi Karamba Jabbi, oustaz fasaikou Jabbi, Bakebba Keba Jabbi, Ba Jabbi, Alhagi Bafoday Jabbi, Mustapha Jabbi, Kang Madi Jabbi, Bakutobo Jabbi and Muhammed Basirou Jabbi. He had many daughters too the first being Hajj Aminata Jabbi.

As it is the sacred custom/tradition of the Jahanke Muslim clerics, the eldest son would automatically assume the leadership of any family unit when the father passed on. That was why in 1993, when Alhagi Sheikh Seedia Jabbi passed on in Brufut, his eldest son Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi became the substantive head of the majlis in Brufut Jabbi kunda.

Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi became the caliph of the Jabbi  kunda Madina majlis, a sub-set of the larger majlis in Jarra Sutukung wherein his step father was the general caliph of all other sub- majlises in The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau.

 On August 7th 2021, Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi’s assistant, Alhagi Kajally Jabbi passed on and Alhagi Dembo Jabbi automatically became the deputy caliph and on 19th October 2021, Alhagi Bekaye Jabbi, the head of the family and the custodian of the authority of his father’s Majlis also passed on.

 Alhagi Dembo Jabbi alias Alhagi Sutukung Jabbi then assumed the rein of authority of the Brufut Jabbi Kunda 26th October 2021 in a ceremony marking the 7th day charity of the late elder brother, Akhagi Bekaye Jabbi. He was given the staff of authority by the caliph general in Jarra Sutukung, Alhagi Alhassan Jabbi and a grandson of Serign Touba Mbacke, SERIGN Masamba Mbacke of Senegal.

Who is Alhaji Dembo Jabbi?

Alhaji Dembo Jabbi alias Alhaji Sutukung Jabbi is the third son of the late Alhaji Sheikh Seedia Jabbi. He was born in 1952 in Jarra Sutukung and completed his Islamic studies under the care of the great spiritual leader in Casamance Kang Jaalong, Sheikh Alhaji Kang Madiba Jabbi.

He would later join his father in Brufut to help him take care of the majlis after completing his advance studies of the Holy Qur’an in Kanjaalong.

Alhaji Dembo Jabbi soon became one of the lecturers at his father’s traditional learning circle locally called “Karantaa”in Brufut. He had also been very active at the farms to help his father sustain the large family.

In 1978, at the age of 26, he left the shores of The Gambia France. In France and as a renowned spiritualist, he was able to offer spiritual services to many nationals including Western Europeans. Among the people who sought his spiritual services included even white Caucasians who had great confidence in his works and prayers. During his long stay in Paris, he has never become a subject of any inquiry because of his works as a marabout. In fact recognising his total obedience and observance of the laws of France, the French government gave him citizenship status.

He is a quiet man who is also a good listener. Alhaji Dembo Jabbi is a very pious Muslim who rarely prays alone. He prays mostly in jamaat. In France he coordinates the activities of his grandfather’s clan in that European country and is a trusted person by all those who interact with him globally. He eventually became the focal person for the annual Muslim gathering organised by the members of his clan in France that is a growing phenomenon in Paris. He is married and has many children most of whom live in France.

May Allah Subhaanahu Wa Taala give the new Caliph of Brufut Madina Jabbi Kunda long life and peace of mind and may Allah the Almighty grant the souls of his late elder brothers Jannatul Firdaws. Ameen.

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