This is a collection of diverse data about the life of Baay Ñas and his role as understood by his disciples and others.
Much of this is discussed in the profile of Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas.
Birth and Early life
Sources do not agree concerning which year Baay Ñas was born, and even the same author often gives a different date depending on whether writing in French, English, or Arabic. There is a strong tendency to claim that he lived for exactly 75 years, which according to the Islamic calendar would be from 1902 to 1975 (1320–1395) and according to the Western calendar would be 1902 to 1975. Thus, Arabic accounts tend to give his birth as 1320 (1902) and accounts in Western languages as 1900.1 As most people use the Western system more routinely, 1900 is almost universally cited as Baay Ñas’s birthdate in formal and informal speech.
This originally led me to believe that Baay Ñas was likely born in 1902 contrary to popular belief. However, Rüdiger Seesemann called my attention to the fact that the Islamic date 1320 seems to originate in Sëriñ Alliw Siise’s biography of Baay Ñas written in 1934 and published with the first edition of Kāshif al-ᵓIlbās but that Baay corrected in a letter to Sëriñ Alliw the following year, telling him that the probable date was 1318 (1900). Despite this correction, the biography has been published unchanged in subsequent versions of the book, and Arabic biographers have generally continued to take their date from the biography. Furthermore, Baay’s favored date of 1900 is more in line with archival documents that say his father left Tayba Ñaseen in late 1900 or early 1901, an event oral accounts situate after Baay’s birth. (My dissertation, Chapter 3, goes into more detail on sources and such.) If we accept the day and month Arabophone biographers generally give, Thursday 15 Rajab, and substitute 1320 with Baay’s corrected year of 1318, this suggests that Baay Ñas was born on November 8, 1900, a Thursday. This is not a sure date as we have had to piece it together from several sources long after the fact, but it is more acceptable than any of the proposed alternatives.
Baay Ñas (officially, ᵓIbrāhīm, pronounced Ibrayima in Wolof) was born in Tayba Ñaseen to Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas, who by that time had become the major Islamic leader in Western Saalum. His mother was ᶜĀᵓishah Jànqa, now generally called Maa Astu (Grandmother Astu), and immigrated to Saalum from Jolof like the Ñas family. Unlike them, she immigrated without her own family and was effectively adopted by Ñaseen relatives of Baay Ñas. During his youth, Baay was often called Ibra Asta, following the local custom of following a person’s name with that of his or her mother. [Need to copy details from my dissertation, which is more detailed and accurate on this part.] Baay was reportedly born during his father’s last year in Tayba Ñaseen, days before his family and close disciples exiled in Kër Sàmba, just over the border of the English colony of Gambia (see the profile on Allaaji Abdulaay). Warned that local Senegalese and French colonial authorities considered him a threat due to his growing influence and that Manjaay Ba, the Imam and chief in Ñooro was planning a raid on Tayba Ñaseen, Allaaji Abdulaay exiled in Gambia. Soon after he left, Ba did indeed send armies to burn and plunder Ñaseen Waalo and Tayba Ñaseen.
Thus, Baay spent almost his entire first decade in Gambia, and toward the end of this period, Allaaji Abdulaay was away in Fās, Morocco, where he received an ᵓijāzah ᵓiṭlāq, which no one else in Saalum had received at the time (the revolutionary leader Màbba Jaxu had received a limited ᵓijāzah). Around 1911, Allaaji Abdulaay returned from Morocco, although it was neither clear that the French would allow him to move back to Senegal nor that he wanted to come back to live under the French. Allaaji Maalig Si, the Tijāniyy leader with the largest following in Senegal at the time and the one with the closest relations with the French, acted as a mediator, convincing Allaaji Abdulaay to come back and convincing the French that he would not pose a risk to them. The French gave him a tract of land within the boundaries of Kaolack, a small French river port where the region’s peanuts were shipped out. He moved called his family and disciples to join him there, calling the new settlement “Lewna,” or “It is deserved.”
As Lewna was an urban environment on the banks of the saline Saalum River, it was not suitable for farming. Its main activities were religious and educational, and much of the population only stayed during the dry season, returning to their families’ villages during the rainy season to farm. Instead of commuting to Tayba Ñaseen or Ñaseen Waalo, where many of his relatives lived, Allaaji Abdulaay chose the much closer village of Kóosi Mbittéyeen as his primary agricultural village. He continued to play a more indirect role in farming projects in other villages, but he and his sons were directly responsible for cultivating and overseeing fields in Kóosi.
Kóosi became the movement’s rainy-season capital, as Allaaji Abdulaay, his family, and many of his disciples were based in Kóosi for roughly half the year. This seasonal migration from city to countryside during the rainy season remains a wisespread pattern today. Like Lewna, Kóosi attracted a large number of Islamic teachers dedicated to following Allaaji Abdulaay during the rainy season, and parents sent their children there to study with these teachers and to work periodically in the fields.
According to their descendants, several of Baay Ñas’s earliest and most well known disciples committed themselves to Baay during Maam Allaaji Abdulaay’s lifetime and while both Baay and these disciples were in their teens. They say that Allaaji Abdulaay encouraged this, knowing that he would soon be gone and his disciples would have to rely on others for their guidance. Although Baay was not a muqaddam at the time and could not technically be their shaykh, they showed him the deference due to an important shaykh. One of Baay’s closest disciples, Sheex Omar Ture, who was only slightly younger than Baay became attached to Baay as a teenager and announced to Maam Allaaji Abdulaay that he would be his disciple. According to Sheex Omar Ture’s son and successor, ,
Baay Sheexu Omar was already a disciple of Maam Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas. During a visit to Maam Allaaji Abdulaay in Kóosi, he saw Baay for the first time studying the Qurᵓān under the direction of his father Maam Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas. [Baay’s] penetrating voice and his behavior drew the attention of Baay Sheexu Omar Ture, and he told Maam Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas that he chose [Baay] to be his guide. Maam Allaaji Abdulaay accepted this request and during Sheexu Omar’s periodic visits to Kóosi he drew close to Baay significantly and sincerely. . . . Maam Allaaji Abdulaay recognized this relationship and commended Baay Sheexu Omar Ture.2
Yet Omar Ture would not officially become a disciple of Baay until after Allaaji Abdulaay’s death in 1922, when he renewed his wird with Baay Ñas. The descendants of Baay’s early disciples often emphasize narratives of a childhood bond between Baay and their ancestor, who, it is implied, recognized Baay’s unique qualities before anyone else. Despite Baay’s many early admirers, the Fayḍah did not begin until seven years after his father’s death. Histories enumerating “the first Taalibe Baay” begin counting with those who first received tarbiyyah after the beginning of the Fayḍah at least a decade after Baay’s peers decided to follow him, and those who personally followed him before this are not considered to have been “Taalibe Baay” in the strict sense.
After Allaaji Abdulaay’s death: Establishing himself in Kóosi
Between his father’s death in 1922, when Baay was approximately 20 years old, and the official beginning of the Fayḍah in 1929, Baay became closely associated with his father’s farming village of Kóosi Mbittéyeen, where he took over his father’s agricultural and educational projects despite being one of the younger sons. After Allaaji Abdulaay’s death, his oldest son Muḥammad (b. 18??) succeeded him as representative of the family and spiritual leader of his father’s community of disciples. Outsiders often describe the disputes that arose in 1929 as a succession dispute, yet Baay and his disciples have never called into question Muḥammad Ñas’s role as Allaaji Abdulaay’s khalīfah. Indeed, it is rare to hear anyone affiliated with any Ñaseen leader, including Baay, refer to him by any name other than “Xaliifa.”3 Baay even named a son, who was elected mayor of Kaolack in 2004, “Xaliifa” in his brother’s honor.
When Xaliifa asked his younger brothers who would oversee the family’s fields in Kóosi, no one volunteered, and finally Ibrayima offered to do it. For the next eight years, Baay continued to spend his rainy seasons in Kóosi, much as he had done for years, but now, as the resident son of Allaaji Abdulaay, he was in charge of the farming operation and was also the village’s highest spiritual authority. The young men who had vowed before his father’s death to become his disciples now surrounded him, and when they were not farming he would teach them Islamic texts in his informal Arabic school (majlis). Yet at this point, however strong his pupils’s personal devotion to the young Ibra, narrators today do not typically consider this early period when enumerating the first Taalibe Baay but rather count only those who received tarbiyyah, which was unavailable before 1929. Before the Fayḍah, there was no “Baay” to be a disciple of; Ibrayima Ñas’s disciples were simply Tijāniyys attached to Ibrayima as muqaddam. Although the Fayḍah is typically described as a single event, it seems that many began to be convinced of the uniqueness of Ibrayima’s mystical teaching years before the official event.
Narratives about Baay’s youth consistently describe the first public test of Baay’s knowledge as occuring during Ramaḍān sometime before 1929, when the people of Kóosi requested him to deliver an interpretation (tafsīr) of the Qurᵓān. (My narratives do not mention the year.) Baay continued to deliver Ramaḍān tafsiīrs throughout his life, and the cassette recordings of these tafsīrs are still often heard, especially during Ramaḍān. The Ramaḍān tafsīr is very common throughout Senegal and other Islamic areas, as residents of many villages or neighborhoods organize a month-long tafsīr in mosques, where the most qualified religious scholar available speaks for two or more hours each afternoon throughout the month. A speaker who comments on two of the Qurᵓān’s sixty ḥizbs each day can finish the whole Qurᵓān in the month’s 30 days.4
Accounts of the Kóosi tafsīr say that after the villagers repeatedly requested Ibrayima to deliver a tafsīr, he approached his older brother Xaliifa to ask his permission. The practice of seeking permission of the highest authority possible before organizing a tafsīr is still the norm, as I observed with several of my informants. According to several accounts [to be documented soon], when Xaliifa told Ibrayima that he did not have the experience to do a tafsīr, Ibrayima told him that he had asked for permission out of respect but that he had higher permission and would deliver the tafsīr regardless. He then asked his brother to lend him the book Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, which is still the primary tafsīr reference throughout North and West Africa. When his brother refused again, Ibrayima responded that he had asked for the book because to use it is common practice, but that he already knew what he would say and did not need to refer to it.
Narratives of the tafsīr often relate that Xaliifa send two younger brothers (accounts differ on the names) to listen to the tafsīr and to report back to Xaliifa regarding how well Ibrayima performed. They became enthralled by Ibrayima’s performance and spent days longer in Kóosi than Xaliifa expected. When they returned to Lewna, they reported to Xaliifa that they had never heard anything like Ibrayima’s tafsīr, and that if their father knew all the things Ibrayima had spoken of they certainly had never heard him say them.
The Kóosi tafsīr is generally related as the watershed event that established Baay, up until then generally seen as among the younger and minor sons of Allaaji Abdulaay, as a formidable leader. His followers saw him as not simply having a large quantity of knowledge but as teaching things that no one else had ever heard.
Ibrayima’s distinction as a qualitatively different kind of leader became irrevocable at the Lewna Gàmmu in 1929, when Ibrayima arose, pounded his chest, and proclaimed himself the bringer of the Fayḍah, saying that anyone who wanted to know God should follow him. That night, narratives tell us, many people “knew God” immediately and without any process of spiritual apprenticeship. They shrieked, cried out, and otherwise showed clear signs of a ḥāl, a state of spiritual transformation usually associated with tarbiyyah. Baay would have been around 27 at this time, assuming that he was born in 1902.
Ibrayima’s declaration of the Fayḍah and his disciples’ consideration that they had something distinct from what other had led to tensions between his disciples and adherents to the main branch of the family, who objected to the young Ibrayima’s claiming a higher spiritual station than that of his elders. Yet Baay spend much of his time in Kóosi, apparently even during the dry season, enjoying relative autonomy and not having to worry about confrontations with others. Confrontations are typically described as occurring at large gatherings such as the major festivals, gàmmus, and Friday prayers, as during ordinary times Baay’s disciples occupied their own space.
Calling the Fayḍah: The Community of Kóosi
Many interviewees told of their own experiences or those of their ancestors who found themselves inexplicably drawn to Baay and to Kóosi, where the first community of disciples congealed. It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of this charismatic period to many Taalibe Baay’s imaginations of their community and its distinctiveness. Although I present some generalizations based on many narratives I heard, most of these narratives concerned individuals and their experiences and not sweeping social changes and general trends. As a revolution, the Fayḍah is most often presented in terms of its transformation of the individual believer’s soul through divine knowledge rather than in terms of broader social changes. Disciples typically understand the Fayḍah’s large-scale and historical effects largely in terms of its effects on themselves.
Although not the site of any major religious event today, Kóosi consistently appears in narratives as the place where divine knowledge was first made known and as a powerful magnet pulling in individuals from the diverse villages of Siin and Saalum. Husbands threatened to divorce their wives if they went to Kóosi, only making them more determined, and wives returned to bring their whole families into the Fayḍah. Students took definive leave of their teachers, sometimes breaking the strong obligation to seek one’s teacher’s approval in all things. Baay commanded some of them to return to their teachers, the most scornful of whom saw the change in their students and followed them into the Fayḍah. Narratives of the beginning of the Fayḍah overwhelmingly describe it as something that most people scorned and saw as folly and that those who joined did so not because someone convinced them but because something mysterious and unknown to them pulled them in. Even adherents affectionately describe it as a kind of folly. Many describe themselves walking for days, perhaps unaware of where exactly Kóosi was, toward Kóosi after hearing a passing comment or seeing Baay in a dream. (For narratives of early disciples’ adherence to the Fayḍah, see the profile on the Fayḍah.)
Exodus to Medina Baay
A definitive rupture occurred immediately after the mid-morning prayer of ᶜĪd al-fiṭr (korite) in 1929. No one can tell exactly how it started, but after the prayer fighting broke out between the two factions.
Accounts differ on how much time elapsed between this event and when Baay staked out what would become Medina. A nephew of Baay who is considered an authority on Medina’s history told me that Baay and his companions did indeed leave Lewna that day, but they went to Kóosi for several months as they arranged with the French administration for permission to settle in Medina. But the two remaining companions of Baay who accompanied him when he first entered Medina said that they left the very day of that fateful prayer and walked northeast, spending their first night in the Séeréer village that is now called Medina Mbàbba, and that the next day they arrived in what is now Medina, spending their first night exactly on the site that would become Baay Ñas’s room.
Upon arriving in what is now Medina, the first activities were to build a mosque and to build a dwelling for Baay. Both structures were originally made of thatch, wood, and millet stalks, and Baay’s house was soon rebuilt with the same mud bricks that he lived under until his death—a fact often cited as a demonstration his humility. The house was placed across from the mosque, and a large, open space (bayaal) was cleared between the two, as is commonly done in villages with a clear authority figure.
Only a relatively small group accompanied Baay atfirst, and the rest of the disciples gradually trickled in from Lewna, Kóosi, and surrounding villages.
1930s: Spread of the movement in Saalum
1940s: Spread to Mauritania and Nigeria
1960s: Spread to other West African countries
In a study of Beninois graduates of Arab universities, Galilous Abdoulaye describes the religious field in Porto-Novo:
Au cours de nos enquêtes, la Qadiriyya n’est pratiquée qu’à Porto-Novo par un nombre infime de Qadiri (adeptes de la Qadiriya) jadis réunis autour du feu Shaykh Muhammad Tessilimi (décédé en 1996). Le champ socioreligieux demeure largement dominé par la Tijaniya de tendance "niassène". Cette régression de la Qadiriyya en faveur de la Tijaniya qu’annonçait déjà Marty, fut consacrée surtout par les tournées spirituelles dans les années 1960 à Porto-Novo et à Djougou de Cheikh Ibrahim Niasse (Kaolack/Sénégal), grand propagateur de cette confrérie en Afrique de l’ouest. Ce dernier y a sacré des shaykh (notamment les feux Shaykh Abdoulaye Soilihou au Nord et Malan Ibrahim Yaro au Sud). Animée par de riches hommes d’affaire et d’hommes politiques influents, la Tijaniya constitue le principal rempart du [contre le?] Wahhabisme. Le champ islamique jadis monopole exclusif de ces deux confréries est, depuis une période récente, partagé par d’autres nouvelles sensibilités religieuses à savoir l’ordre soufi Nimatullaye, la confrérie Alawiya, la Shi’a et le mouvement islamique Ahmadiya. (Abdoulaye, 2003: 9)
Thus, followers of Baay Ñas are the dominant Islamic group in Benin.
Baay’s involvement in international organizations and politics
Many report that Baay Ñas recited the Qurᵓān twice a week: each morning he would read part of it, and in the afternoon he would recite part from heart.5
Death and legacy
Baay Ñas died in 1975 in London. Le Soleil, the national newspaper, reported that he died on July 25, 1975. An obituary from July 29, 1975 (“Baye Niass inhumé hier à Médina-Kaolack” by Ibrahima Mansour Mboup), reads as follows, in my translation:
Last Friday, in a London clinic, El Hadj Ibrahima Niass, incomparable servant of God, gave up his last breath. To answer the call of the All-mighty, this man familiarly called Baye Niass, had done, as is his wont, two complete readings of the Coran. In fact, for over a half-century, El Hadj Ibrahima Niass went through the entire Holy Book twice each Friday, morning and night. And to carry out his acts of devotion, the Grand Marabout of Médina Niassène did not let any obstacle turn him back, even sickness. It was in some sense the source of his live, for as his faithful friend, President Senghor, often repeats, “one does not live from bread alone.”
Baye Niass has thus passed away, sated from spiritual food, after bequeathing to his family the greatest virtues of Islam. His remains, arriving yesterday afternoon by the British Caledonian flight, now rests under this ground of Médina-Kaolack, which he loved so much. Among his last wishes, Serigne Ibrahima Niass had indicated in fact to be buried before the news of his death was made known. This simple man that he had always been actually detested every kind of excess. His upbringing and his erudition made him exclude from his faily actions all that did not fit in with his divine principles.
Also, Baye Niass sought, since his youth, to be an exemplar of the prophet Muhammad, whose every attitude he knew and copied. Faced with adversity, insults, and calumny, he withheld vengeance; instead, he suffered and forgave every defamation against him. Serigne Ibrahima Niass spoke the truth without trying to control or harm others.
Generous and open-hearted, Baye Niass served every person and was consulted on all matters concerning Islam, whether in Senegal or abroad. Born just at the beginning of thiscentury, exactly in 1900, El Hadj Ibrahima Niass was a member of all the Muslim organizations in the world, and his teachings were prized everywhere.
From his youth, his father, founder of the village of Taïba-Niassène, where he came into the world, took on his education. El Hadj Abdoulaye Niass and Aïssatou Dianka, his parents, certainly gave the little Ibrahima a good upbringing, but the rest . . . is a gift from God. Already at the age of 21, the one who would become the Grand Marabout of Médina-Niassène wrote on Islam and taught the Coran to a multitude of disciples [talibés]. Today, those to whom he showed the divine way and inculcated the virtues of religion number in the thousands.
All over Africa, one can meet his faithful (Nigeria, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Gambia, Ghana, Upper Volta, Chad, etc.). In the Arab countries Baye Niasse has also left his mark, even among the great Mokhadams. In his country, here in Senegal, he worked to set up mosques, Coranic schools, and institutes for teaching Arabic. Tirelessly, as one of his companions told us in the presence of two of his sons, El Hadj Ibrahima Niass counseled to seek knowledge, and for that he sacrificed his fortune. He spoke to all those who approached him of divine goodness, this man who had gone over all the holy books with a fine-tooth comb and could lighten all the dark points of the religious path.
Consulted during the drafting of the Senegalese Code of the Family, Serigne Ibrahima Niass, as his children affirm, brought an amply positive contribution. Thanks to him, in fact, Islam was not made to vanish on this occasion, for he was here to deliver all the necessary information to each party. Nationalist [ . . . this paragraph is cut off in my version.]
In demonstration, invited two years ago to Morocco to a conference at the Mausoleum of the late Mohammed V, he retorted to an important personality from the Istiqlal who wanted to approach Senegal’s internal problems: “Sir, I ask you not to get involved in problems that only involve us, as Senegalese. First let me explain to you before you make a mistake.” In development, he was in the front lines of combat, having worked non-stop and advised his disciples to do the same. Ibrahima Niass kept this visceral love for his beloved Senegal for he knew better than anyone what the prophet Muhammad had taught: “To love one’s country is the expression of faith in God.” What is striking at this point is that he acted neither out of aspiration to glory nor to announce “look at me.” Such a man naturally could not go by unnoticed, and naturally, Baye Niass compelled admiration. President Senghor dedicated to him a faithful friendship and above all disinterested, which, by the way, he returned very well. This mutual attraction is owes no doubt, as a close collaborator of the head of state and a nephew of the grand marabout explains, to the fact that both had the same character traits.
A person full of wisdom, Serigne Ibrahima Niass was a member of organizations such as the World Islamic League of Mecca, the High Islamic Council of Cairo, the Community of Islamology Scholars of Algiers, etc. His sense of humanity led him to contribute generously to all acts of charity such as the Red Cross, helping the lepers, and other handicapped people.
Follower of the great sect of Tidianes, Baye Niass had a very clear philosophy based on the Coran and the Hadiths. Some say he wanted to introduce innovations here and there, whereas one of his sons explains to us, such has never been the case. For example, as he pored over the live of the prophet, he discovered that the latter prayed with both palms on his chest, and he had his disciples take up this position. Courageous and putting the truth above everything, the deceased grand marabout of Médina Niassène leaves to posterity several important writings, including 7 poetic volumes dedicated to God and his prophet, as well as prose.
Two titles among his works are: “Fighting obscurantism” [Kāshif al-ᵓilbās] and “The Spirit of Virtue” [Rūh al-ᵓadab]. He wrote in his books that it does not suffice to proclaim Islam but rather to live it through acts as well as thought. Baye Niass also taught that man must expect happiness or sadness only from God. Today, such a man is called back to the Master whom he has served well for over a half a century. But his torch will not go out, for he has succeeded in giving his family and his disciples a solid religious education, reinforced by a good formation of character. His [au-?] like these lighthouses that light the oceans in the dark.
Baay wrote his will in 1973 (16 dhī l-ḥijjah, 1393 h.) in Paris and gave it to , whom it named as his successor. After Baay’s death in 1975, Sëriñ Alliw called Baay’s family and many muqaddams together and had read the will.6 Some say that at that time Sëriñ Alliw announced that he would not take the role of Baay’s khalīfah and would leave it to Baay’s sons, whereas others say he made no such pronouncement and remained Baay Ñas’s khalīfah.
Baay’s significance and the Fayḍah
Unique source of Divine Knowledge
Many of Baay Ñas’s disciples declare that there is no way to know God other than through Baay.
One elder insays in answer to the question of what sets Baay apart from other leaders:
What Baay did what no one else did, because he brought the Fayḍah. You know, it is only through Baay that one can come into the Fayḍah. Because you can’t know God without passing through his door.
A young man, also in, says something similar:
What we know about Baay is nothing if not Maᶜrifah bi-Llāhi—xam Yàlla (Knowledge of God): tarbiyyah, know your Master (boroom). That is, education that God Himself gave it to Shaykh ᵓIbrāhīm Ñas. When he gave it to Shaykh ᵓIbrāhīm Ñas, he became the only person who could give that particular education to the child of Adam to the point where he would would lose himself in his Master (jeex ci Boroomam).
* * *
[When he lost himself in God] Shaykh ᵓIbrāhīm was not there; Astu Jànqa [his mother] was not there; Allaaji Abdulaay [his father] was not there; Xaliifa Ñas, who was the senior member of the family, was not there; no one was there but God alone. That is the secret [mbóot]. The secret is losing oneself [jeex] in God. To know who God is, to know his attributes, to know all His names, is something that Shaykh ᵓIbrāhīm lost himself in. Because he knows who God is, he knows his attributes. Of each attribute, he can tell you that God is like this or that; of each name, he can tell you that God is like this or that. This is not something that just anyone can do. . . . Only he can know these things. That is why only he can lead us to know God, for whoever does not pass through his [Baay’s] door can never know God. You can’t know the Prophet, may God bless and keep him, Shaykh ᵓAḥmad at-Tijāniyy, may God be pleased with him, and God’s saints, without passing through Baay’s door in the ẓāhir and bāṭin.
Unique Relatiohip to God and the Prophet
It is often said that Baay is mystically one with Muḥammad and was given things that no one else was given.
In his speech at the 2005 Gàmmu, an event whose purpose is to commemorate Baay’s birth and life, Baay’s son Maamun Ñas said that whatever Baay pronounced came to pass, specifically recounting Baay’s pronouncement on a particular occasion that oil would be discovered in (which has not yet occurred, although this fact does not deter him from adducing it as an example of Baay’s prescience):
He said: Senegal will have oil, but I am certain that there is oil here in Tayba Ñaseen and the hills around it, and I can see it. . . . So it is certain that that will come to pass, ᵓin shāᵓ Allāh, if it pleases God. The Prophet is Baay, and everything that comes out of his mouth was written, signed, and stamped by God. It is immovable: whether one likes it or hates it, it is already a fact. If he says it, God has already done it and had him say it. He is the tongue of the community [péyi] of God, and whatever rolls off his tongue is the voice of the community, and no one can wreck that.
I want to highlight two points from this quote: one is the identity of Baay and the Prophet, and the other, related to this, is the relationship between Baay’s word and the truth. Baay’s unity with the Prophet is mystical and only makes sense from a bāṭin viewpoint and does not mean that Baay is a new prophet or that he is an avatar of Muḥammad. Rather, it appears that although Baay is clearly a different individual from Muḥammad, he shares Muḥammad’s inner truth in a way that no one else does. Discourses about Baay constantly liken the facts of his life to those of Muḥammad’s life, taking these facts as visible signs of an invisible identity. Part of what Baay shares with Muḥammad is the role of God’s mouthpiece, meaning that Baay’s word is indirectly God’s word and is therefore true. The truth stems not from Baay’s power to make truth but to pronounce what God has already made true.
At the same gàmmu, one of the principal sikkarkats of the event told me that this event was as important as the Medina Baay gàmmu, which celebrates the birth of Muḥammad (which is usually the definition of a gàmmu or mawlid). He explained that “Baay is our Prophet” (Baay mooy suñu Yonent). Again, this should not be taken superficially as to say that what Muḥammad is to other Muslims Baay is to them; rather, “Prophet” (used in the singular as a proper noun) refers specifically to Muḥammad and to no one else, even for Taalibe Baay, and this phrase highlights Baay’s mystical unity with Muḥammad, not that he competes with him or aims to replace him. The sikkarkat might as well have said “From our point of view, we can see that Baay and the Prophet are one.”
Baay Ñas’s disciples credit him with numerous miracles, both exoteric and esoteric, although there is much disagreement about the importance and nature of these miracles. Some downplay miracles, saying that the only thing relevant to the disciple is what pertains to knowledge and following the principles of Islam. Others emphasize miracles as a demonstration of Baay’s unique status. There is a popular tendency among rank-and-file disciples to propagate miracle narratives with little concern for verification, although many leaders militate against the proliferation of miracle discourses.
I came across dozens of miracle narratives about Baay Ñas, both widely known and more personal ones told in connection with a particular family or person. I will only name a few here to give an idea of the kind of stories that are told. The inclusion of these stories does not imply that they are officially recognized or unanymously believed. They are simply part of the discourse surrounding Baay Ñas and his unique mission.
One Mauritanian woman who became a wife of a prominent Medina teacher told of how Baay liked cats and even had one that he had named Marem Mëti after one of his slaves. When Baay was in his room with guests, the cat would often climb on top of the bed. When the cat died, they carried it to the mosque and prayed over it, then carried it to the cemetery and buried it there. Not all cats were nice to Baay though. Another cat viciously bit Baay in the leg. Suddenly the cat’s snout was torn from its face, and its teeth were exposed. It is often said that anyone who opposed Baay met a similar fate, suddenly meeting either incapacitating or mortal misfortune.7
1. For example, in his recent French biography of his father, Baay’s son Mouhamadou Mahdy Niass (1997) gives 1900. Cheikh Hassan Cissé’s English biography renders the above cited Arabic date as 17 October 1902, although the French translation, published after the English version, gives 1900 (1984).
2. Interview by and with , , Gambia, 2004.
3. It is a common practice in Senegal to nickname a person (and everyone named after this person) by his or her title—Sheex, Imaam, Sëriñ, etc.)
4. Some have told me that Baay’s first tafsīr was actually before the Kóosi tafsīr, in the Siñi-Siñi village of Njaayeen Kàdd. It appears that Baay did indeed give a lengthy speech on the occasion of a funeral at a private home well before the events in Kóosi. As that speech continued, the crowd at the home gathered and the assembly had to move to the mosque to accommodate all the people who had come. Although this event doubtless contributed to his reputation in this village, Njaayeen Kàdd elders I spoke with agree that this single speech does not qualify as a tafsīr, which is a much longer and more formal affair.
5. One who reports this is Ibrahim Maxmuud (Barham) Jóob in his 2006 Medina Ziyārah speech.
6. Interview by letter conducted by Haraka Caam with Omar Caam, who teaches at the Waldiodio Ndiaye high school in Kawlax.
7. Interview by Baay Sàmb.
Abdoulaye, Galilou. 2003. Les diplômés béninois des universités arabo-islamiques : Une élite moderne ‘déclassée’ en quête de légitimité socioreligieuse et politique. Department of Anthropology and African Studies Working Papers.
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