By Suntou Touray
The Gambia/Senegal region has seen a fair bit of its own self-style Islamic scholars. Many of these men were of impeccable and dedicated character and persona.
The history of Islam in Gambia/Senegal is dominated with the influence of sufi doctrines and tariqas. This orders made it such that, student follow the sufi code of obeying a sheik/teacher or master.
A master or sheik is seen as a guide. The guide has total control over the student or seekers of knowledge-talibe. The sheik decides how to impart knowledge and wisdom to his band of students. The culture of students gathering round a sheik or teacher has a long and illustrious history in Islam, starting from the sahabas to our present generation. (in kuffah, Basrah, medina, Hijaz etc)
Islam recommends students to learn from experience and charismatic teachers. But the methodologies defer from teacher to teacher. Again depending on the school of taught one adheres to, the teacher is suppose to follow clear patterns in figh, usool, hadith, philosophy, the Qur’an, history and many other sciences.
The early scholars never instruct blind following. Scholars like Imam Malick went out of their way to say (750-850 CE) that, if my ruling is found to be incorrect, then follow the correct ruling. They aspire to follow the sunnah of the prophet to the later. They never want to make the religious affairs about themselves.
Imam Malick was commission to write a book of jurisprudence and hadith collection. The book was the Muwatta. The book can be read today in its Arabic and translated form. Many other scholars, including Imam Al-Layth in Egypt, Abu Hanifah, Imam Ash-Shafi, Hambal, Abu yusuf, Ibn Taymeeyah, Ibn Kathir, Zafar, etc left their mark. By 850 CE the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad was completely collected in books and figh has taken roots. The scholars then concentrated on new challenges posed by new cultures and people that came under the sway of Islam.
The new cultural infusion with that of Islamic teaching posed a danger of cross contamination and a breeding ground for innovation and distortion. New methods must be implemented to deal with the new situations. This is how qiyas, and mutual consultation was instituted to come to terms with new problems. The Muwata of Imam Malick is a classic example of new ways to tackle the wide range of problems, this includes: hadith ruling, opinion of sahabah, students of sahabah etc.
The scholars of the past wrote extensively to find solutions within the prophetic tradition in dealing with problems of their time. They wrote books and pronouncement about issues. Their students also continue on this trend. Cross- scholar consultation and debates were taking place to make sure, each ruling is accurate and within islam.
Kitab al-kharaj by Imam Abu yusoof, Al-umm by Imam Ash-Shafi, Hadith scholars such as Imam Bukhari (810-870 CE), Imam Muslim (817-875CE ) and other scholars arose in response to the needs of the time. Books by eminent scholars include the al-mudawwanah by Imam Ibn-alQasim dealing with problems to the community. No gamo or celebration is done for this eminent noble scholars.
The rise of many other scholars who left an indelible mark in the sand contributed in strengthening the Islam as we know it today. But since societies rise and fall in the quest for knowledge and the determination to make a society better. Islamic states also went through this natural process of rise and decline depending on the rulers at the helm of the state.
The famous muslims scholars that are well known and quoted daily never created any avenue for their sanitification. They wrote books, teach and guide students who also went on to teach and guide others. The chain continues.
The rise of the sufi orders made it possible for scholars to concentrate on the mythical and monastic style of things. Students in tariqas rather elevate their masters to levels never seen before. The masters were so much praise, they left a legacy of them self becoming the centre of attraction and their message hardly talked about.
This is what happen in the Senegambia region. Although our great scholars write extensively, their work is mostly known in limited circles. Since the scholars follow a strict order or tariqa, their teaching and rulings are based on such limited realms. Their students continue clinging on only to the words and teachings of the founding teacher of their order.
The students maintain and promote their dikr and salutations prepared by the master. This process opens the door to uniqueness and exclusivity. Factionalism in tariqa creates barriers and supremacy by quality and number of followers. The vast majority of followers hardly know anything about the teaching of the master. The ordinary person is shown the mystified side of the master, his legendary family line, his perfect birth, origin and many other fabricated stories linked to the master and his house hold.
The beginning of the gamos and diara:
The master who in most cases started by belonging to one of the well known sufi orders: the tijaniya or qadiriya orders. Then the master perfect his own brand of weard or salutations and then write poems and short prayers mixed with general Islamic teachings. But the main reference point in our own self-style sufi scholars is their personified writings and prayer books. Only insiders can benefit from these books.
The gamos and diarras took roots after the founders of the diara or karanta dies. The unislamic practise of grave veneration takes roots. An annual commemoration of the passing of the master sheik is celebrated. His children benefit from the influx of admirers and students all over the place. The late master and his family are mystified and unnecessary attachments created. The start of generations of confusions open doors to ignorant practises and passive scholarship.
The offspring of the departed sheik adopt a preaching style never seen before. They dare preach serious issues for fear of turning away followers who hardly has the basic understanding in Islamic education.
We don’t need to create an aura of mysticism around our late sheiks or scholars. We don’t need to make them super human and infallible. We don’t need to stick only to their Islamic teaching and close doors and eyes to other doors of knowledge.
The books of this late scholars can be translated and made available to the wider readership. The art of reading should be encouraged. Criticism of text should be tolerated and allowed to happen. The errors of the masters rectified and mysticism taken away from the reality. More emphasis placed on the sunnah and qur’an than on hyms and poems by the masters.
That is the challenge. If we from Senegambia wish our scholars to be quoted and widely read, then their work should be placed in the general public domain. A detachment culture adopted and the family of the scholars left alone to continue teaching instead of making them into something they are not. Halal and haram made clear in all matters, from food, drink, social interaction, entertainment, cultural practises etc. A clear distinction is made as to what is our culture and what is religious, where they conflict, the scholars rise to the challenge of finding solutions to these issues. Our culture also documented and where necessary promoted for good value. Islam does not challenge cultures that don’t conflict with the basic tenet of monotheism and good moral values.
The evolution of Fiqh by Bilal Philips 2005
The religious brotherhood in Senegal, by Gadem Mbacke
Beneficial Answers by Shaik Saalih Al fawzaan 2004
A lecture By Abu Murtaza Khan
A lecture by Abu Usamah Halal and Haram