Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Yaya Sillah commonly known as Yahya Pacharr. I was born and raised in The Gambia here in a place called Jarra Sutukung, LRD now LRR.
How would you describe yourself?
I come from a conservative Muslim family, conservative in the sense that we only follow Islam. My people are very serious in the way they practice Islam. The culture comes from the Jahanka background. Jahankas and Mandinkas are almost the same but there is a little bit of difference if you follow our family lines. We call ourselves Jahankas because we have a different culture and the way we proceed with our affairs. That is why I would describe myself as a Jahanka person. Our culture is rooted in learning, teaching, preaching and inculcating discipline in young people like our Islamic students. So in that process you get to know a lot of things including spirituality which is very deep through which one can reach the level of sainthood called waliyu or get to know secrets through the help of Allah. These secrets are passed from generation to generation and through following that path you can become a marabout. I earn my living as a spiritual advisor and also advise people socially.
Inherent in spiritual maraboutism is the art of foretelling the future. Could you disclose to me how you go about this esoteric process?
Istikhar is part of the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. He is the one who commanded Muslims to do Istikhar in anything we want to do but the way he pronounced it and the way we do it now is different. I am going to say how we do it now. You have to pray two raka’at and after that you do a special prayer and go to sleep. Normally you ask God to give you the information of that person and what they are looking for. In the Istikhar, you don’t find much information; it is not like reading a book. Rather, it is about showing the person a passage, a way out and a light at the end of the tunnel. You pray to Allah to give you a sign: If there is peace, show me fire or light; if there is hardship show me darkness. Then if you wake up in the morning you know that if it is fire that person has a good future, health and long life. If you see candle you tell the person he has a very good future, he will become somebody big in the future like a president, minister, alkalo, seyfo or whatever. When you see darkness that is not a sign of a good future. These are the symbols that you follow.
You have authored a book titled Marriage and Society. What motivated you to write this book?
I have always loved reading ahadith and books since my childhood. I was inspired to write the book by somebody called Dr Abdallah. He wrote a book with the title Marriage and Family Building in Islam. I bought this book in Saudi Arabia in 2007 when I went for the hajj with my wife. The book became my friend because I found it difficult to talk to the people I move with because they were older than me. When I started reading this book I was amazed because I had the same ideas. Many of the things he was talking about are the same things that happened to myself. It occurred to me that his ideas and thoughts are mine too. If he could have the same ideas like I already have, I can also write a book. From then I started research and spent a lot of time in libraries especially London. I joined the library since 2006 so I was allowed to borrow up to 50 books a week. I was like a mad reader; like it was my second wife. I read non-fiction books because I wanted to read about the reality of life as opposed to fiction which is sometimes decidedly different from reality. It is out of my ideas and observations about problems in society that I decided to write a book.
From your research and observations, what do you identify as the biggest obstacles to successful marriages?
There are two major underlying issues which I have highlighted in my book. Among them is the over-expectation on both sides – men and women. Most people only want to marry somebody from a particular family and expect too much. Most marriages are motivated by greed. People are so greedy for wealth that they only want to marry somebody who is famous and has status in society. These are the sort of people women want to marry now and this is not helpful to our society at all. These are the biggest challenges I find in society. And that is the biggest problem I see in my own clients who come to me as a spiritual advisor. Most of them have marital problems and these are invariably the underlying problems.
What do you see as the solution to the northward tilt in such problems in today’s society?
First of all, as a true believer in Islam, there is nothing more important than a prayer and supplication to Allah. If you are having difficulties in your life, the first thing to do is to offer prayers to Allah and ask for health and peace in your marriage. Second, you always have to communicate with your wife. If there is a particular issue about the husband or the wife, it must be discussed. The problem affecting most marriages is that they ignore issues until they are too late. You have to make sure that you communicate with your partner properly. Communication is the key to a successful marriage. It is the key to the survival of the marriage. There is also a lack of knowledge about the role of the husband and wife in marriage. Most people don’t know this. Most people don’t know how to perform their marital duties.
What do you have in mind when you talk about the role of women in marriage? Being submissive and subservient to their husbands?
That is a misconception of the role of women in marriage. A woman has to obey the husband by doing things which are acceptable in Islam. You do not have to obey your husband on something which is forbidden by Islam. Men should not expect their wives to be subservient to them. I always refer people to Adama and Awa because marriage is the oldest tradition in any society. Women do not have to be subservient to their husbands but they should support them when needed and be partners.
Mr Sillah, excuse my curiosity but how did you get the money to buy such an expensive Range Rover SUV working as a spiritual advisor?
I have lived in the UK for over fourteen years. I have known a lot of people since then who have become family to me. Many of these people I have helped not only spiritually but socially by advising them on how to deal with their family issues. The biggest social problem facing Europe now is family breakdowns. When people come to me, I sit them down and give them advice and after I give them charms and holy water (naso).When they do this, they start seeing improvements in their lives. They become happier and introduce me to other clients most of whom give me big gifts. I remember in 2007 before I went to Mecca for hajj, I met this Indian couple from Leicester whom I helped with a problem concerning their kids and they donated 25,000 pounds sterling to me. They are a business couple and had a lot of money; they were just looking for a good cause to donate money to. I became like part of the family and I became like a peacemaker. People like them know my own needs, like cars and other things. Even the car I drive in the UK, it was given to me by one of my clients in the UK. I do Istikhar for them and give them charms or sometimes go to their compounds to read the Holy Qur’an.
Most marabouts don’t speak English although I stand to be corrected. How are you able to speak it so well?
I was sort of forced to speak English. I used to be at Ibo Town when I left Sutukung at 17. My uncle used to live in France and asked me to look after his compound at Ibo Town and collect monthly rent. My grandfather was very upset. He thought I would get spoiled and go into ghetto life. He was so worried because being in the provinces he heard a lot of stories about the urban areas. I used to have a friend called Kitab Minteh who was a pupil at Nusrat High School from whom I learnt a lot. I also used to go to Kandiba School for night English classes. I was motivated to improve because I was denied US visa in 1995 because I could not speak English. I was so annoyed (laughs)). From that day, I promised myself I would never be rejected anything because I could not speak English.
Couldn’t you simply have used your marabout powers to make them give you the visa?
I was still learning then and young. I later learned to do it well because my father was a marabout with clients in Mali, Senegal and all over the world. The same goes for my grandfather. Most of my family became marabouts. It took me a number of years to learn because it is very complicated work. It is not easy to learn. I learned it from different sources including Serahules and Fulas. Some of my teachers are still alive and they can testify that I was a good student.
Do you have potent enough powers to stop somebody going to jail?
Marabout work is not easy. What you do first and foremost is seek spiritual guidance and blessing. You can give them jujus but there is no guarantee that it is gonna work. That is what I tell all my clients. It is only 75%, not 100%. Juju started in the 11th century during the time of Abdul Qadri Jilani in Baghdad. During a war he gave some of his students written verses of the Qura’n to seek protection from Allah during the war for Jerusalem. He asked them to put it in their pockets promising them that by the grace of Allah they will survive the battle. That is when jujus started being used even though some people say it was being used even at the time of Prophet Muhammad but there is no evidence of that. It can help you in court cases, yes, and it can bring you good luck and protect you from evil spirits.
Marabouts have been identified by President Jammeh as the biggest problems for most young Gambians, now misleading them in their quest for instantaneous material gain. Do you agree?
In every culture and profession you have good and bad people. It is like my two hands; right and left. The right hand is very strong and the left is very weak. There are some people who dress and talk like marabouts but in reality they are not. Second, there are some professional marabouts motivated by greed and evil desires who cast spells on people to get their money. The problem affecting most people is that they don’t remember that when they die, they will be accountable for their actions. There are some marabouts who only take money and other goodies from clients and do not do anything other than pay lip service. The Qur’an even talks about this of the two angels Harut and Marut who could give magical powers. But the Qur’an makes it clear that they do not teach anybody without telling you they are only for trial. But some people use such means to break marriages. So Maraboutism is not a myth but a reality which you will believe if you meet good marabouts.
This, to me, is in conflict with the Islamic notion of predestination of divine will. I struggle to reconcile the two ideas: how can you change what Allah allegedly predestined?
It is a very complex notion. Some people have this belief that before you are even born your destiny is written by Allah. Therefore, you don’t have to pray. I have seen many Muslims in Europe who think like this. They do not go to mosque or pray because they believe their destiny is already decided by Allah. That is a wrong concept .But Allah said: “Ask me and I will answer you”. Marabouts only use the knowledge of Allah. Allah said He decrees what He pleases and perpetuates or changes what He pleases and He is the custodian of the book. So if you write something you can remove it afterwards if you like. For example, if you were to be a police officer, you go to a marabout to pray for you and through the mercy of Allah you can be a journalist! Even in the hadith there are statements that things can happen through prayer. That is something marabouts use to help people.
Mr Sillah, it has been fascinating talking to you, any last words?
Alhamdulillah. I am not proud as a person but I am proud of my efforts in writing a book. I want to talk to the youths who are my target. They are the future of the country. We will never advance in Africa without achieving three things: First, we have to eat what we grow and grow what we eat as President Jammeh says. We have to be self-sufficient in food. Second, we must have the doctors who can develop African medicines and finally we must have the scholars in Africa who will present the African perspective to the world. Without these three things we will never prosper. I believe that if anybody reads my book and follow the examples given, you will become a good human being. I have a friend in Australia who was born In Ireland and converted to Islam but when she read my book she cried because I identified the same problems that led to the breakdown of her marriage. She bought 100 copies to share among her friends. One of my friends from Bangladesh named Razia also bought 70 copies to share with her family. I want people to get a copy of my book. It is not for money but to transform society and most of the money accrued from the sales is going to charity. I thank Allah for giving me the health and mind to write this book and my parents who are both late. May their souls rest in peace.
With Sainey Darboe]]>