The Khalifah of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (Ñas), Shaykh Ahmad Ibrahim Ñas (Cheikh Ahmed Ibrahim Niasse), has passed away in Morocco.
I first met Shaykh Ahmad, better known to disciples as "Pàppa Daam," in June of 2001, about two weeks after his older brother, Al-Hajj Abd Allah Ñas (better known as Pàppa Aas) had died and had left him as the eldest son of Shaykh Ibrahim. The Khalifah was the closest friend of Barham Caam, my host father in the holy city of Medina Baay, who introduced me to this gentle, soft-spoken Sufi.
Shaykh Ahmad was an understated man and never had the high profile of his older brother or his nephew, the Imam Shaykh Hasan Siise (d. 2008). When I arrived in Medina Baay in 2001, Shaykh Ahmad spoke several times in the Medina Baay mosque, for example delivering a widely circulated address at the annula Mawlid celebration, always speaking very softly, his words being relayed over the loudspeakers by a griot. Although he assumed his new office with grace, shortly after becoming the Ñas family's Khalifah, he was taken seriously ill, and thereafter he rarely appeared in public or received guests. Although his stamp of approval remained imperative for any activities undertaken in Medina Baay or elsewhere in the community's name, he had very little public presence after his first month as Khalifah.
I therefore knew Shaykh Ahmad less as a public figure than as a gentle father whose sincere love for his children and grandchildren was perfectly transparent. I knew him as a generous host who would signal with a wave of his hand that any of his guests' needs should be taken care of. His easy conversation was pleasant to hear but sometimes carried deeper meanings whose significance I only learned later.
In July, 2001, I accompanied Shaykh Ahmad and Barham Caam to Tayba Ñaseen where he went to greet and pray for the disciples who had come from the neighboring villages to spend a day working in his peanut fields. At the end of the season, the peanuts were mostly to be distributed to the poor. As we ate lunch, the Khalifah turned to me and asked how I liked the ceebujën (fish and rice). I commented that it was delicious and that this Saalum-Saalum (from the Saalum region) ceebujën was different from the ceebujën I had tasted in other regions. He answered, "But we are not from Saalum; we are from Jolof." I had read that during the nineteenth century his ancestors had migrated from Jolof to Saalum during the religious was of Màbba Jaxu Ba. But I had been unaware that the Ñaseen and related families still identified themselves with the Jolof region, identifying themselves not as “Saalum-Saalum” (people from Saalum) but as “Njolofeen” (people of Jolof).
Sometimes I have heard reports of an intense rivalry between the sons of Baay Ñas, who are publicly recognized as Baay Ñas's “Khalifahs,” and the sons of Sëriñ Alliw Siise, whom Baay Ñas designated as his Khalifah in his will and poetry. While it would take me some time to puzzle out the many different implications of the word “Khalifah” and the ways in which one might refer to more than one person as a Khalifah without real contradiction, my first meeting with Shaykh Ahmad Ñas convinced me that he saw himself as working in a partnership with Shaykh Hasan Siise, the Imam of Medina Baay. When I told him I was American, he immediately told me that he would contact the Imam and recommend that he help me with my research, telling me that the Imam would be my best contact in Medina Baay because of his command of English and his long experience dealing with Americans.
I never had the impression that the title of “Khalifah” changed all that much for Shaykh Ahmad. Although I did not know him prior to his succession, he seemed the same man my host family described as knowing their whole lives—a simple, good-natured friend who loved to smile and laugh, and who had left no room in his heart for malice or envy.
His brother Shaykh Ahmad Tijani Ibrahim Ñas will succeed him.
Here are some more stories about him, which I will update as I encounter more of them:
|< Prev||Next >|