A couple of months ago, the Youza dance was created/introduced in Senegambia. Living abroad, I try hard to keep in touch with issues and trends back home. My love for mbalax always had me looking out for the latest videos on Youtube, Seneweb etc. Now, when the Youza dance came up, I logged into my Youtube account and searched for videos. Then, the title of one of the videos caught my attention. It said ‘Youza Cheikh Bi”. I clicked on the link and I was very much unprepared for what I saw.
Sometime last year, on June 30th to be precise, I was alone in my room watching Senegalese TV. Serigne Mouhamadou Lamine Barra Mbacke, the Khaliphe General of the Mourides at that time, had died. Given the importance attached to these ‘Sheikhs’, the Senegalese media had almost all its programmes dedicated to the sad event. They had correspondents in major regions of the country sending in testimonies from religious leaders and ordinary sympathisers. One testimony that got stuck to my memory came from this woman that was very much in grief. With tears falling helplessly on her cheeks she said (I translate), ” Now that our Serigne is gone, we are worth nothing. All our hope was in him and now he’s gone. We do not know what to do.We have no-one to turn to for our survival.” At that instant, my flat-mate and I both shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’. My mind kept wandering off. I asked if the women knew what she was saying. What has become of putting our trust and hope in God? Similar testimonies were aired on the different stations and I ended up switching off my TV. I could not take it anymore. I grabbed my PC and decided to do some research on the ‘worship’ of these Sheikhs. Given my little knowledge of Islam, I didn’t want to write off their statements immediately, even though a part of me was never going to support them. I came across the word ‘Shirk’, which means associating partners with God. I wanted to know more and made a mental note to do some more research on the topic. The aim was mainly to broaden my knowledge of Islam, but also to justify the fact that those statements were not completely acceptable to me.
I come from a family that is known to be faithful adherents to the Tijanniya sect. The Njacken and Chamen families would embark on spiritual journeys to Kaolack very often, and most especially during Mawlud. My grandma used to host Serigne Rohey Niasse, niece to Sheikh Ibrahima Niasse Baye, when she visited The Gambia. She would ask us to come over for blessings and would sometimes give us concoctions to bathe with or drink. I had always had a negative perception of the whole ‘Saafara’ idea. On some of these occasions, I would neither drink nor bathe with the liquid for reasons best known to my young self. However, when we went to visit, I would see people coming in to seek blessings and prayers. Some would come with gifts for the woman. They would sing praises about her family, especially her uncle Baye Niasse. At that early age, I developed a sort of repulsion for what I saw as the ‘worship’ of these religious leaders. I also happened to share living quarters with a devout Tijani this year. After praying, she would say, ‘Jerejeff Baye’. This would get me uneasy, but I didn’t say anything to her. Back to my Youza experience! I share the video that got the question of religious fanaticism rearing its head in my thoughts again.
I watched this and was left in utter disbelief. Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not being judgemental but who would think this was a gamo if they were not told. From the dancing to the ‘weddings’, I found myself being repulsed by almost everything in the video. However, when the followers of the Shiekh rubbed their hands on his shoes and went on to rub them on their fore-heads, I decided I had had enough. That, to me, was nothing better than worshipping him. I then asked if it was purely fanaticism or had they committed Shirk. I still haven’t come to a conclusion but then a Wiki search gave me this and this . You might have your opinions about the video, which you might want to share. I’ll be glad to read from you , my Linguerites and Linguerians.
I am all for emulating our religious leaders on the condition that we do not worship them. I like to believe they are ordinary human beings like you and I, at the mercy of Allah. Putting all hope in them, worshipping them in life and even in death is something I wouldn’t deem fit to do. Down in their grave, THEY need Your prayers, not the other way round. Follow their good deeds. Listen to their advice. Give them the respect they deserve as leaders but do not take them as your God. I end with this citation from the Holy Quran . “And they worship besides Allah things that hurt them not, nor profit them, and they say: “These are our intercessors with Allah.” Say: “Do you inform Allah of that which He knows not in the heavens and on the earth?” Glorified and Exalted be He above all that which they associate as partners with Him!”