I have finally found the time to make a quick translation of the interview on the Al-Jazeera program “Ziyārah Khāṣṣah” (Special Visit) between Sayyidah Maryam Ñas and Al-Jazeera's Sāmī Kulayb. The original interview in Arabic is available on the Al-Jazeera web site here. Here is my quick translation, and I invite any corrections or comments:
Maryam Niyās . . . Propagating Islam and teaching the Koran
Episode presenter: Sami Kulayb
Episode guest: Maryam Ibrahim Ñas, one of the pioneers of the memorization of the Holy Qurᵓān
Episode date: 24/10/2009
Sami Kulayb: Welcome, my dear viewers, to this new episode of the program “special visit.” I have traveled this time here to Dakar. I have come here to Senegal to meet with a lady who has dedicated her life to spreading Islam and to raising these children in the true religion. Yet she has also played political roles, in which she has mediated, for example between Senegal and Iran or between Senegal and Sudan. I am pleased to welcome in this program Sayyidah Maryam Ibrahim Ñas. Inspired by the Maryam of the Holy Qurᵓān, her father named her Maryam, and inspired by her father, she has dedicated herself to spreading Islam and to teaching the Holy Qurᵓān to the children of Africa, relying on the Tijani Sufi path. Her father is the most learned Tijani Sufi Ibrahim Ñas, who came to have followers and disciples in most African countries and in a number of Arab countries, and whose tomb in Senegal has become a pilgrimage site for the believers. After the death of Shaykh Ibrahim Ñas, his daughter Maryam completed the Tariqah far better than could be expected. We began our meeting with the story of this father: Do the Arabs really know him?
Her Father’s Impact, Memorizing the Koran, and Arabic Study
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: “Praise be to Allah who guided us to this, and we would not have been guided if God had not guided us” [Al-ᵓAᶜrāf: 43]. And blessings and peace on the best of God’s creation, Our Lord Muhammad, peace and prayer be upon him. “This is our gift, so believe or take hold without expense” [Ṣād: 39]. My father Shaykh al-Islam Shaykh al-Hajj Ibrahim is known throughout the entire Arab world, because he was one of the seven members of the founding Islamic World League.
Sami Kulayb: He is one of the seven.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, one of the seven who founded the Islamic World League. He was the Vice-President.
Sami Kulayb: He had a relationship with the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes. And he was the only black person to perform Friday Prayer at Al-Azhar.
Sami Kulayb: The only black person?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Who performed the Friday Prayer at Al-Azhar. To this day, there has been no other.
Sami Kulayb: In Al-Azhar Mosque. Yes.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Who performed the Friday Prayer at Al-Azhar, with Gamal Abdel Nasser by his side. I have his pictures here.
Sami Kulayb: We will see them shortly. Did you know President Abdel Nasser?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I was traveling with my father, but when Abdel Nasser died, my father had me accompany him to Egypt. I came with my father to offer condolences.
Sami Kulayb: From the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, passing to Al-Azhar Mosque, arriving at the Gulf, the father of Sheikha Maryam Ñas had strong relationships with Arab and Muslim leaders, and there was no African or Maghribi who had not heard the name of Ibrahim Ñas. Even the Emir of the Nigerian region of Kano visited the tomb of the Tijani teacher, exactly as Mauritanian and Senegalese disciples come to study and then teach with Sheikha Maryam.
Participant: It is her right to don any habit, whether Shaykh of tarbiyah [Sufi education] or Shaykh of instruction, for Shaykh Ibrahim was born in Tayba, arriving at his birthplace from his father, Al-Hajj Abd Allah and his mother, Sayyidah Aisha. He was raised in a house of knowledge, honor, generosity, and high rank. His father struggled [jāhada] against French colonialism, and they exiled him to Gambia. He returned after that and worked at teaching sciences of Islamic law, jurisprudence, and Sufism. There the Shaykh was raised by his father and drank from his knowledge what none of his other disciples did, who came one after the other from every region of the country. For it had been apparent since the Shaykh was an adolescent that he was a man who would have a brilliant future. We witness this today through the Tariqah’s spread through every part of the world and the spread of Islam, for now people are entering the religion of Islam and the Tijani Tariqah in droves thanks to this great, struggling man, who sacrificed himself, his possessions, and his energy wandering the earth. The man born in Tayba, arriving under a tree, has gone all the way to Peking, to China, to Bangladesh, to every place. Karāshī says[?], she has stayed behind the people of affection, who actively have made the religion of the Prophet victorious. They have clung to to the rope, the rope of Muhammad: men, children, and elders.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas went off in the prime of her life to visit Makkah al-Mukarramah with her father, Sheikh Ibrahim, to perform the duty of the pilgrimage. She told me that her father was a friend of the royal family in Saudi Arabia and was an advisor to their most prominent leaders, including kings, and after her father died, she continued to go to Makkah, whether at the invitation of the Government or of the Muslim World League. However,
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Every year I go . . .
Sami Kulayb: Every year you go on the Hajj?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I go on Hajj every year, but I have not performed Hajj for the past eight years.
Sami Kulayb: Why?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I do not know, I used to receive an invitation from the Government every year, but for the past eight years an invitation has not come!
Sami Kulayb: Invitations no longer come . . .
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: No.
Sami Kulayb: I asked why?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: There are matters that I will not reveal, but I know why.
Sami Kulayb: What is it?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: President Abdou Diouf used to treat me like a sister and provide me with everything every year, may God reward him with all good things on my behalf.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Mariam memorized the Holy Qurᵓān at the age of fifteen. Although memorization of the Qurᵓān has spread throughout Africa at the hands of her family and her brothers for a long time, unlike many Africans, she memorized the Qurᵓān, understood its meaning, and delved into the study of Islam. Was this difficult for her, particularly since she did not grow up in an Arabic speaking environment?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: It was very difficult at that time because there was no electricity. Later, everything came. It was difficult, but praise God, God granted me success in memorizing his book.
Sami Kulayb: How much time did it take you to memorize the Qurᵓān?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: It took seven or eight years.
Sami Kulayb: Eight years.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Seven years. Now I teach children to memorize in seven years.
Sami Kulayb: We will come back in a little while to how one teaches children to memorize, but who taught you Arabic? Did your father speak Arabic fluently?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, my father is the one who taught me. There is a professor named Ahmed Thiam with whom I studied some books—like Ibn Ashir, Risālat al-Akhḍarī—with Ustādh Ahmed Thiam. I studied with him as well as my sisters.
Sami Kulayb: Which Arabic books have you read?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I read many, as I told you. I began with al-ᵓAkhḍari, Ajrūmiyyah, Ibn ᶜĀshir, and the Risālah, I read half of Book One. I read many Arabic books before settling in Dakar, then I got married and came here.
Sami Kulayb: You came to Dakar, I believe, in 1951?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, that’s right.
Sami Kulayb: Is that not right? And this was the same year you founded a school, and your husband was the one who gave you the house to set up the school?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: [God] help me [to speak correctly], this is true. Before that I was teaching, assisting my teacher in teaching children while he was away, as well as in French schools whose students my teacher did not teach. Then I took to teaching girls in my mother’s house.
The Establishment of Schools and the Attention and Help She Has Received
Sami Kulayb: All right, Sheikha Maryam Ñas, you later began to found schools to teach the Holy Qurᵓān, and also to teach those children, many of whom we see at your house, the true Islam, moderate Islam, the Holy Qurᵓān, and the True Religion. So, how did this idea come to you, and why did to move in this direction?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: As I told you, since 1952, because my father wanted me to be a teacher of the Koran, and I began to love the Qurᵓān with all my heart, and I began to teach the Qurᵓān in my mother’s house, when I came to my husband everything was easy for me and I taught many children who later became ministers, and I continue to this day to teach their children and grandchildren.
Sami Kulayb: Children have been coming to you from many African countries, not just Senegal.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Many come from Ghana. Some of those children whom you have seen are from Ghana and from every African country, praise be to God.
Sami Kulayb: I also understand that the children consider you to be their mother.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: It’s true that they only know me and consider me to be their mother. I have been traveling with them for years to greet their parents and bring them back, praise be to God.
Sami Kulayb: Very well. How does it work? Their parents bring them here and leave them in your custody, and they don’t see their parents afterwards?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: No, I allow anyone who memorizes the Qurᵓān to go to his family, and I tell them: if you memorize it I will do this and bring you to Mecca and to your family, and so they memorize quickly and I carry out what I have promised them.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Mariam founded many schools in Senegal to spread Islam and teach the Noble Qurᵓān, and as I was visiting these pioneering educational and religious institutions in Africa, despite modest conditions, I saw the eyes of young girls and boys the age of blossoming. It is notable that some of those wno came to these schools at the age of four have returned as teachers and assistants to Shaykha Mariam, who raised them, to continue educating others. For example, the case of a young man who came from Guinea, whom the Shaykha named “Sibawayhi Harith” [the father of the Arabic discipline of grammar].
Sibawayhi Harith, teacher at Sheikha Maryam’s school: The first school is the Mother. She has become my loving mother, and she is everything we have received in learning and everything, and she even got me married last year, when I traveled with her to Nigeria, and she told me: you must go to your parents to get married. I went there immediately and had no problems because of her invitations in order to [incomplete], God willing. As it is still as the summer time, if you do not cut him off he will [not?] cut you off, and immediately we recite for you the Qurᵓān what makes things easy for us in the Holy Qurᵓān. My name is Harith Sibawayh, student at the Institute for Memorizing the Holy Qurᵓān of Sheikha Maryam bint Shaykh al-Islam, the servant of the Holy Qurᵓān in Dakar, Senegal.
Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas in Senegal has a particular way of teaching children the Holy Qurᵓān, for she is not satisfied with teaching them to recite the verses superficially but instead has them understand their meaning and their moral.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: My way is first to write for them: “In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, ᵓalif, baᵓ, taᵓ, thaᵓ, jim, haᵓ, until they know the letters, and I teach them the “fathah” [“a” sound] first: “alif” is a fathah, “baᵓ” is a fathah, then the “dammah” and the “kasrah,” and so on until they know all the consonants and the vowels. I have them begin with “In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, and I write for them “Muhammad is the Prophet of God, Mim, Ḥaᵓ,” etc., until they know it, then I teach them the Opening Verse [Fātihah], the Verse of People, and so on. For everyone capable of memorizing a verse, I write it for him, and whoever is capable of memorizing a price[?] from God’s book, I write it for him.
Sami Kulayb: Yes, all right. Now, it is known that in many African countries, Shaykha Maryam, many excel in the Holy Qurᵓān, and memorize the Holy Qurᵓān, but without understanding its actual spiritual, intellectual, educational, human, or social meaning. Do the children here with you comprehend, for example, what the verse means, do the just learn it by heart?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Praise be to God, who blessed us, for my father explained the Qurᵓān to us each year from “The Cow” to “The People.” Every year he would explain the entire Qurᵓān to us, and we understood the Qurᵓān and interpreted it, praise be to God.
Sami Kulayb: Also, as you have said in one interview, your father also taught you some of the secrets of the Qurᵓān. Were there secrets that he possessed that were unknown, for example, in Arab countries, in Islamic countries in general? Is there a particularity in your interpretation of the Holy Qurᵓān, here in your family and in Senegal more generally?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Of course, there is a particularity, praise be to God, but these are secrets that cannot be . . .
Sami Kulayb: Cannot be divulged.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: and they are kept secret.
Sami Kulayb: Can you hint, for example, what you mean?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: There are verses that children learn in order to repeat every day before sleeping, and we will go to them now. My father gave me verses to recite that contained secrets, and he likewise commanded me to complete a recitation of the Qurᵓān every Friday, by reading it daily throughout the week beginning by reciting “The Cow” on Saturday and so on until the end of the week, in this way finishing the Qurᵓān. This is what I do every day by order of my father.
Sami Kulayb: We will go with you shortly to see how the children learn the Holy Koran and how they excel in the Holy Qurᵓān. But I would like to ask you about some of the Arab countries that help out, that is, some of the Emirs of Saudi Arabia, including Emir Sultan and Emir Nāyif, and also, according to what I read, the former Algerian President Ash-Shadhili bn Jadid helped you. Shaykha Fatima and Shaykh Zāyid also, may God have mercy on him.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: They pledged.
Sami Kulayb: Pledged assistance, but did not help?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: They told me to go directly to Dakar because Sheikh Zāyid said he would send it. I traveled to the Kingdon [Saudi Arabia] and was their guest, and they called me at my home number and asked my children for me. They told them I had not yet arrived. So they asked for my number in Saudi Arabia and called me and told me I must go directly to Dakar because Shaykh Sāyid was going to send his adviser Ibrahim.
Sami Kulayb: Possibly Ibrahim ᶜābid, perhaps?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Ibrahim Riyād is the one who came here and wrote that the children are studying, and we agreed on everything as you did and we went to the plot and recorded everything, but when he went. . .
Sami Kulayb: The help did not come.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: There are matters that are not revealed, as I told you earlier.
Sami Kulayb: All right. In any case, in this interview, God willing, I mean, perhaps some of the authorities in the UAE will see you and will remember this assistance that did not arrive in the past. Saudi Arabia, around 400,000 Dollars . . .
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: When [Senegalese President] Abdou Diouf was given the letter, he gave it to me and told me this is the assistance that has come.
Sami Kulayb: 200,000 dollars.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: But I will talk to him, who is my brother, God willing, and I take the letter and he said all this is still from my own pocket. He asked me, how much do you need to build this? I did not answer his question because I was ashamed to respond.
Sami Kulayb: 200,000 dollars.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes. He gave me 200,000 dollars and then I began establishing the kindergarten until Emir Nāyif came here . . .
Sami Kulayb: Emir Nāyif.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I saw Emir Nāyif and told him that Emir Sultan had donated two hundred thousand dollars. He said, and I will help you with 200,000 dollars. He gave me the amount in cash on the spot.
Sami Kulayb: So, Emir Sultan paid 200,000 dollars and Emir Nāyif 200,000 dollars? What about President Shādhili?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Shādhili is the one who did everything—he bought the house, and as I told you he sent me those monthly expenses.
Sami Kulayb: The expenses for the children and the teaching?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, every month. But when he went . . .
Sami Kulayb: Does President Bouteflika help the house?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: We have not asked him for help and have not seen him.
The Schools’ Development and the Educational Project’s Aspirations
Sami Kulayb: Whoever visits Shaykha Maryam’s schools and institutes Ibrahim Ñas knows where this money is going. But some of those who want to keep Islam in Senegal and Africa within narrow bounds say that some of the money has been squandered in the wrong places. How does Sheikha Maryam’s son respond to this?
Sheikh Omar, son Sheikha Maryam: Everything goes back to its history. That is, because we have received from our ancestors, who were preachers and teachers of the Qurᵓān and Arabic, so from her grandfather and her grandfather’s grandfather. So if this has been their family occupation for more than two centuries, it is not possible for us to say that we entered into this occupation to earn something. Moreover, if you follow the development of my mother’s work, she was a woman in her house, that is (foreign words), that is, in her house with her husband. And you have seen, as God willed, all she has accomplished, which, you know, if there had not been faith . . .
Sami Kulayb: She was a homemaker.
Sheikh Omar: Just a housewife, along with memorizing the Qurᵓān, and she believed that there was a calling because her father had told her, told her through his poetry: “Oh daughters, compete to attain the greatest heights, but not in bodily things.” So they [daughters] must compete with sons in attaining the highest things, that is, the highest station of knowledge and status, and in piety in sainthood, but not just in showing off in worldly matters.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas has her Tidjani Sufi family’s secrets of worship, which they do not reveal to anyone. They limit themselves to saying that they are committed to teaching the Holy Qurᵓān and its verses. And the important thing is that she has succeeded in enabling seven-year-old children to memorize the Qurᵓān, and she has taken them to the Gulf, where she met with Shaykha Fatima, the widow of Shaykh Zāyid and toured their schools in the Gulf, and they were met with great acclaim.
Thus, Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas writes characters on an old wooden board in the fashion of the schools of her grandparents and our grandparents and then writes prayers through her students’ hands.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I’ll tell you a secret. You asked me about the secret of the Qurᵓān.
Sami Kulayb: She did not want to explain this in front of everyone, but she later explained to me that through writing a secret of the Tijani Sufi Order by hand, teaching the Holy Qurᵓān to those children becomes easier because it is closer to the spirit and to faith, not merely the intellect. Her institutes, which collected donations through the sweat of their brow, and through her and her family’s knowledge of Arabic, they have become like a balm for the cultural, educational, and religious injuries in Africa, as her son, Shaykh Tijani Omar, tells us:
Sheikh Omar: So, as I told you at the outset, I think yesterday, we found an opportunity to visit my mother’s school, which is my mother’s family house that she lived in for 35 years exercising the profession of teaching to memorize the Qurᵓān, until the time when God, that is, she received help from Algeria and bought this house, which is the second house, in 1989. Then things developed to the point where she bought a third house, which is the second center also for memorizing the Qurᵓān. Yet the work, that is, witnessed a qualitative leap in 1994, when my mother was able to build the first educational institute, Sultan bn Abd al-Aziz, through help from the Sultan. And here I should mention that President Abdu Diouf had granted to the Shaykha from 1982 a piece of land measuring 35,000 square meters. The teacher graduated hundreds of students who had memorized the Qurᵓān, since she started practicing this profession in 1952, that is, because the practice of teaching to memorize the Qurᵓān has never stopped. As you have noticed there three centers of memorizing the Qurᵓān, but each is different as the Shaykh established a pilot school that combines formal [modern] education with Islamic education and Qurᵓānic education, which began in 1994, and of course this school of course is based on the official program in Senegal, but it adds Arabic and Islamic education. The number of students has now reached 1500, in the formal school, that is, recognized by the government, from kindergarten to the last year of secondary. She even has a project to build a university and an integrated project, that is, she has been planning it for 20 years but has only carried out a part of it, because, as I told you, Shaykh Zāyid had pledged a million dollars in 1987 to adopt the project. At that time, the projects’ costs were estimated at four million dollars. Unfortunately, none of it has been realized, although we have begun to realize bits and pieces. Also, the Sultan Nāyif helped in 1992 and we were able to open the first kindergarten, then we began the middle and high schools. There is a boarding school, a conference center, a mosque, dormitory for girls and for teachers—an integrated project that we will show you, and we look forward to accomplishing it.
Sami Kulayb: Shaykha Maryam’s first project existed with help from the former Senegalese President, Abdou Diouf, who appears to have been impressed by her great ability to teach children the Holy Qurᵓān. He saw a child like this child whom Shaykha Maryam held in her arms and named Ahmad Yāsin, after the late leader and founder of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmad Yāsin. And Islam here is related to the love of the Ñas family, Shaykh Maryam, and her family for Palestine.
Sheikh Omar: Because we have solidarity with Palestine since our youth, since it was in, I think, the ‘60s, that there was a delegation from Palestine that came, that is, refugees, and lived in our house for years, that is, in the Shaykha’s house, in the first family house, and they also went to her father’s house. And our grandfather is the one who raised us to love Palestine, and he fought for Palestine and for Islam and for the Arabs. His whole life was for that, and we, it became something natural for us. And Ahmad Yasin was born on the occasion of, on the day that Ahmad Yasin, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin of Hamas was murdered. So the Shaykha decided to give him this name.
Sami Kulayb: The child Ahmed Yassin does not know his family, and he believes—as most of those here at this Qurᵓānic school believe—that they are sons of Shaykha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas, who passes her day watching over them and educating them in the principles of Qurᵓān and the foundations of worship. Shaykha Maryam is attached to the child Ahmad Yasin, raising him, feeding him, and keeping him at her side until he becomes a young man capable of facing life. I was thinking of the patience of this great and noble eighty-something woman, who still carries her delapidated wooden tablet with great faith out of concern for her orphans and students.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I recite the Qurᵓān in its entirety every day with the children.
Sami Kulayb: Every day?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Every day they come to me at four o’clock, we give them a lesson, then they read and memorize their lesson. Then, after the morning prayer [around 6:00] we immediately begin the complete Qurᵓānic recitation. We finish it, then I pray to God for myself and the children and for Senegal and the whole world.
Sami Kulayb: Many who grew up in in the atmosphere of Shaykha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas in Senegal and grew up in her living quarters return to her, and some of them have become important officials and government ministers, and they return to bear some of her burden. Such is the case of the young African man who goes by the name of Muhammed III.
Muhammad III, teacher at Sheikha Maryam’s school: I studied the Koran with Sheikha Maryam since I was four years old, and I memorized it and continued my studies abroad, thank God. Now I’m back with her and I serve her and help her to educate the children, my brothers, praise God. Many people from Ghana, many, and Nigeria, and from Togo and from all the African countries are here, praise God, and we live at her expense and with her help and her cooperation, God willing, praise God, we praise God and thank him, and we wish for her to have long life and for God to preserve her and to realize all her projects, for all of them to see the light of day, God willing, with almighty God’s will.
Sheikh Omar: The Shaykha’s school is the only model in which children find Islamic education and Arabic language education beside French instruction. Because it is exemplary, there is a great demand for admission to this Institute, but because of our limited capabilities we are not able to admit every applicant. The people quoted, whether those of the church or secularists, the enemies of Islam of various colors, all gang up to fight and hinder us. As you have seen, the Sheikha is not dragged along behind the world. Because you have seen that, despite her ability to exploit children, you have seen that her sons and daughters are not in the house, all of them are employed and are self-reliant. She just takes the children of people.
The Political Side and Her Roles in Mediation
Sami Kulayb: Thanks to her and her family’s long history of Islamic preaching, she has played roles of political mediation between Senegal and several countries, including Iran, which occured when the previous Senegalese president Abdou Diouf had her carry messages to the Arab and African countries. The Iranian ambassador to Algeria summoned her during the great tension between Senegal and Iran.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: They sent asking for me and asked me, didn’t Abdou Diouf give you a message for us? I said, he did not give me a message, and they said, why? I said, I do not know. He didn’t give me any message. They said: If we sent you an invitation, would you accept our invitation? I said: yes, because God Almighty says “Respond to God and the Messenger when they call you.” [Al-Anfal: 24] and he said, “O my people answer him who calls for God” [Al-Ahqaf: 31] And he said: “I answer the supplicant’s call when he calls me” [al-Baqarah: 186]. But he did not give me a message. When I went to Saudi Arabia and they heard that I was there, the Iranian ambassador came to me while I was a guest of the Kingdom. The Senegalese Ambassador called me and said the Iranian Ambassador has come to us asking for your address, and we did not give it to him. Do not receive him because they do not agree with the Kingdom and with Senegal. I said: I will receive them, if they come for God, for I receive them because God said: “Oh my people, answer him who calls for God.” If they call, I will not send them away but will receive them, God willing. Before I could finish what I was saying, and they [called and] said to me: We ask you in the name of God if Abdou Diouf gave you all the messages? I said no. They said: If we call you, will you accept? I said yes, God willing, but I will ask the President first upon returning to Senegal. They came to me in Mecca and said, we would like to send you an invitation, and I said, after I return to Senegal. I returned and called Abdou Diouf and said: I won’t do anything without your permission and your agreement. What is your opinion? He said: Wait for me until tomorrow and I will give you the answer. On the following day, he called me and said: I will go to the Islamic Conference in Dubai—I believe the Conference was at that time—I will go to the Islamic Conference, let me return to Dakar first, then go.
Sami Kulayb: That is, he would go to the Conference, attend the Conference, then return to Dakar, after which you would go to . . .
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I would go . . .
Sami Kulayb: . . . in order not to encounter problems at the Conference by saying that you went to Iran? Then, afterwards, you would go to Iran?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: But he told me, that was how he told me, wait for me to return, I said no problem.
Sami Kulayb: Then you went to Iran?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: A day after the end of the Conference, they immediately brought me tickets and everything.
Sami Kulayb: You went?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: He told me shall we go? I said, In the name of God [yes]: if you resolve to do something, put your trust in God, and we went, and there I saw all the people, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had gathered at a big table. They did not even go to the hotel, and then they brought me newspapers and journalists, some of whom went so far as to tell me: I have a question; I said: ask; he said: Why did Abdou Diouf expel Iran’s ambassador? I said I don’t know. He said: Because he represents Islamic countries? I said: If that were the case, Abdou Diouf would have expelled the Ambassadors of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and all the other Islamic countries. He said: Why me? I said: I don’t know, but I think your embassy was intervening in Senegal’s internal affairs, which is why Abdou Diouf expelled your ambassador. He said to me: you are a poor coutnry, and we can help you. I said we are a poor country but since we expelled you, Abdou Diouf has forgotten that there is a country called Iran in the world. Since the time he expelled you, by God, he has forgotten that there is a country called Iran in the world.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas’s visit to Iran came at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, and at that time Iran was seeking to regain the support of Arab and Islamic countries. Indeed, she conveyed a message to President Abdou Diouf and successfully persuaded him to restore relations between the two countries. Her son had lived in Iraq for a long time shortly before the war, and additionally he was an employee in the United Nations Oil-for-Food and -Medicine program. It was said that some of the Iraqi officials asked him his Tijani family to pray for them to survive and triumph, and the hotel where he lived in Baghdad was bombed.
Sheikh Omar: I mean, years later it was found to be bombed out, that is, everything above the third floor was destroyed, and what is astonishing is that all the belongings that I left there had remained as they were, and the books and all the things, I mean, because the community, after I got in touch with them constantly by telephone, and to this day, through Al-Jazeera I greet the noble Tāriq brothers, and I greet Uday and Abi Waqas, and I greet Riyāḍ, all of them good Tijani brothers still in Iraq. Praise God, that I, by God Almighty’s grace, and the secrets, the secrets of the Tariqah that I have given them, they said that they have benefited greatly and have been saved from all dangers, that is, that were surrounding them, and still, praise God, we are in touch and pray to God, and we have no weapon aside from prayer, and we have provided them with prayers and, praise God, they are grateful and today we thank God that calm has returned to Iraq, and peace, and we pray to God that this will continue until there is complete peace, well-being, and relief.
Sami Kulayb: The leaders of the Tijani Sufi order in Senegal, including our guest and her Ñas family have a significant impact on politics and politicians here, and it is said that a president could not stay in power without maintaining good relations with Tijanis. This Sufi order also has a direct impact on politics in Mauritania, and when I visited Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas, Mauritania was undergoing its election battle, and it fascinated me that some candidates came to her asking for her help, and I understood that the deposed Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi is associated with the Tijani Order.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, his father was a great muqaddam of Sheikh ar-Rashidi [Shaykh Ibrahim?].
Sami Kulayb: Currently in the elections in Mauritania, do they resort to you to support one candidate against another, for example?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Sure, of course, they all called me, but I told them I’m not a politician, for my politics is the Qurᵓān only.
Sami Kulayb: And you don’t support any candidate?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: There is one who is very interested in me and I am very interested in him, but . . .
Sami Kulayb: You will not mention his name?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: no.
Sami Kulayb: Is it not PresidentᵓIᶜli Ould Vall?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Who told you?
Sami Kulayb: Perhaps, I think. No?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: He and his son.
Sami Kulayb: ᵓIᶜli wuld Fall did not have much luck in attaining the presidency in Mauritania. Perhaps Shaykha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas’s calls for him did not succeed, or perhaps she truly did not interfere in politics. But she also played an intermediary role in Sudan in restoring relations between Dakar and Khartoum, and she has photos from her meeting with President Omar Hasan al-Bashir.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I am the one who opened their embassy here.
Sami Kulayb: Here in Dakar?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes, through ᶜAtā Mannān, who is in the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Saudi Arabia . . .
Sami Kulayb: ᶜAtā Mannān, yes, I myself know him—he was a former adviser at the embassy in Paris before coming to the Organization of Islamic Conference.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Yes that’s him. I helped them through this man.
Sami Kulayb: Allam, and based on this mediation I mean, how did you convince both parties of the need to restore relations?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Just Abdou Diouf, everything I ask him to do, he does, by God, praise be to God.
Sami Kulayb: Why is this so?
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: Our Lord alone knows.
Sami Kulayb: Because you’re honest.
Maryam Ibrahim Ñas: I’m honest and never lie, God willing.
Sami Kulayb: Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas entered politics through the door of religion, but she considers this accidental, for what is most important for her is to carry out her father’s and her Ñas grandparents’ mission, and to carry out the mission of the Tijani Sufi order in spreading Islam and teaching the Holy Qurᵓān in Africa, and perhaps in all of that she has truly achieved great success, and perhaps these voices of young people chanting “bismi Llāh” are the best expression of her history and her accomplishments. When I bid farewell to Sheikha Maryam Ibrahim Ñas, I was surprised that people in the neighborhood she teaches in share her children’s love for her and sing her praises as one of the most important symbols of their country, history, culture, and religion in Senegal
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