by Abu Sofian Eunos
A Life-changing Journey
Hafez, the Persian poet once said, “Even after all this while, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me!’. Look at what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky!”. If I were to attempt to describe to you my experience of having the Qurban ritual in Senegal, West Africa, that piece of wisdom would well describe it. No matter how hard I try, explaining through words what I experienced will never do the experience any justice. It’s like trying to tell you that milk is creamy, white and tasty but you’ll only truly know for certain when you have a glass to taste for yourself.
Medina Baye, City of Saints
In September 2015, two of my friends and I embarked on a journey that would forever change our lives. We had all decided to visit Senegal in West Africa to immerse ourselves into the culture and to perform the Qurban ritual under the banner of the humanitarian company, “Sout Ilaahi”. This was also a way to celebrate Eidul Adha with the community in the city of Medina Baye inside Senegal.
Thoughts before the flight
We were about to set foot on the African continent for the very first time and this would be the furthest that I would be physically away from my family. I was 23 years old and my two friends were in their early 30s so we all had the eagerness of youth inside of us. I didn’t realize it back then but I had left Singapore with many misconceptions about Africa and Africans. The media had portrayed such heart-wrenching images of those in starvation and the ghastly stereotypes of Hollywood movies had tainted a horrible picture in my mind. I was keen to know the truth of it all, so I wanted to see for myself and taste the glass of milk, instead of merely describing it.
I had heard stories of the majestic city of Medina Baye from friends who had described it as a haven with a spiritual community of Saints. I saw a quote at Wardah Bookstore in Singapore by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad that said, “The purpose of society is to produce saints” and since then, I’ve been immensely curious to know more about them. Who were these men and women named the “Rijal Allah”, that embodied the Muhammadan Character in word, deed and state? This curiosity was coupled with an eagerness to be with them. I had heard stories of such saints who we immensely generous and had such compassion for the entirety of creation that they were truly Prophetic in their actualization of the Muhammadan teaching.
When we finally bade goodbye to our family in Singapore, I remember a voice in my heart telling me, “This is it. We’re never going to come back the same people again”. Our transit was at Istanbul and we would need to transfer at Nouakchott, Mauritania for a brief moment. I remember seeing the horizon while the plane was mid-flight and I was reminded of what Shaykh Hamza Yusuf said, “The angel Gabriel’s wings would extend the entire horizon”. Seeing for myself such profound beauty also reminded me of the verse in the Noble Qur’an that says “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?”. I wondered what it meant to see signs within my own self and whether I could find the answers in Senegal.
View of Mauritania and Medina Baye
The flight was more than 22 hours long and upon reaching Senegal, we still had a 4 to 6-hour car ride to the city of Medina Baye. We reached Senegal at about 11pm and as we walked outside the airport, it didn’t really occur to me that we were in an entirely different continent. There was nothing peculiar to note other than the fact that the city was bustling with activity even at such a late hour. Upon exiting the airport, we took a car ride and fell into a deep sleep. As the car drove over a hump, I woke up and saw the green dome of the mosque built by Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, the saint who transformed millions of lives all around the world. That sight was so profound that my heart leaped for joy. My heart felt so serene and alive. We had finally reached our destination.
Reaching Shaykh Mahy Cisse’s Home
It was around 3.15am when we reached Shaykh Mahy Cisse’s home. Shaykh Mahy Cisse is the grandson of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and his home was always open to everyone, from beggars to students of knowledge and anyone in need. As we exited the car, three boys took our luggage and we made our way into our rooms. The next day and every morning throughout our stay, the same boys would serve us orange juice, tuna spread, 2 french loafs and fruits. These boys were about 25 years of age and they were so hospitable and kind. Once, when our toilet was jammed, they were the ones who helped us with it. They did so without ever displaying any signs of anger or displeasure. One of them named Ibrahim was a student of the Quran school yet he had such grace in service. We were silenced by their noble character.
Meeting Sayyidah Aisha
The following day, we visited Sayyidah Aisha, the noble wife of Shaykh Mahy Cisse and I remember her leaving a prayer for us saying, “May Allah accept your ziyarah (visitation)”. To that, we said, “Amin”. The house had several goats inside, and it was about 3 stories high with rooms for the Qur’an students. It also was home to several orphans from all parts of Africa. It ran on very little electricity and on our way back from the mosque we could see the vast night sky with stars everywhere. Just a 10 min walk away from where we stayed lies the Qur’an school, the African American Islamic Institute (AAII) that’s run by Shaykh Mahy Cisse. This school has been producing memorizers of the Qur’an and it has garnered great support from the international community.
As part of our daily routine, every morning we would wake up early to collect water as they would turn off the supply for conservation. We would make do with about 3 jerry cans of water for our bathing, ablution and washing. It struck just how little water we needed and showed me how much I’ve been wasting all these years. Bathing using a small pail allowed us to save a lot of water compared to the shower heads we were used to back home. Our time was spent mostly at the home, the mosque and in preparing for the Qurban ritual around the vicinity.
The Qurban Experience
When it was time for the Qurban ritual, we gathered the villages from the area and they lined up waiting eagerly to collect the meat. We handed the meat to them by hand and I could see just how much of an impact the food had for their families. They would bring it home and have a meal with their loved ones afterwards. It was mostly the women who were there to collect on behalf of their families and they all shared the load to bring it back to their families.
Support from Local Media & Community
We put up the “Sout Ilaahi” banner and began to take pictures of the names of the people in Singapore who were so generous enough to entrust us to help fulfil their Qurban ritual in Senegal. We were very grateful that the community of young boys helped us throughout the few days. In fact, they did almost all of the work cleaning the area and helping to manage the distribution to other parts the city. We were amazed by their community spirit. Perhaps in Singapore we might call that the “kampong” spirit. A “Kampong” that would refer to the traditional villages that was home to the Malays, Chinese, Indians and British during my grandparent’s time. As the rituals ended, we were thankful that the trust that we were given had been fulfilled.
We had come all the way from Singapore and there were many Singaporeans who entrusted us to fulfil the Qurban ritual. In Medina Baye, they would seldom eat meat. Meat was what they would have only on big occasions like weddings. On most days, they ate a porridge-like bowl of “Cherry” and they loved to drink “Attaya”, an extremely sweet-tasting tea. Most Senegalese can speak Arabic and French. Only some of them could speak English and because we were not good in Arabic, it was difficult to communicate at times.
Everyday Life in Medina Baye
I remember one night, it was raining heavily and we were all in our rooms about to sleep. One of my friends told me to pass the extra blanket we had and to share it with one of the students. To my surprise upon exiting the room, I saw a boy about 6 years of age sleeping on the steps. We handed them what we could for the night. The next day, we went to the roof of the house and I saw a group of 4 to 6 year olds sleeping on the roof under a mosquito netting. The flies we also nearby. The boys donned soccer jerseys and shorts while neither of them had any shoes nor slippers – they walked barefoot all the time.
Culture and People of Medina Baye
Everywhere we went, the people had tasbihs (prayer beads) in their hands. They were people who remembered God all the time. For our dawn prayers, we saw so many of their elders in the mosque before us. Despite their old age, they walked with such grace, like giant mountains moving across the mosque floor. It reminded me of what a friend mentioned a long time ago that, “If you remember Allah when you are young, Allah will take care of you when you are older”. These elders had such grace and nobility in them. They would constantly be remembering God and uttering the Prayer for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Another fond memory I had was of the grand majesty of how women were treated in that space. Their African robes were of vibrant colours and these were truly striking patterns I had not seen before back home. I would see many of the women being the ones giving the husbands instructions around their homes. The men and women cooked together and to me, the women had so much authority in their homes that I saw the men doing a lot of cleaning and cooking with them. There were many memorizers of the Qur’an who were women in Medina Baye. Many of them taught the men the Qur’an. The women were so honoured and raised to such a noble standard unlike anything I’ve seen before. The women were the ones who made house decisions and I saw as the men frantically tried to keep up with the women.
Meeting Shaykh Mahy Cisse at the Airport
On our last day, we had still not met Shaykh Mahy Cisse as he was on a flight back to Senegal. We spoke on the phone with him, we thanked him and told him how much we loved him. I tried to hold back my tears as we told him how much we loved him. We had our food, drink, shelter and every affair taken care of and we were guests who were so ashamed of the great hospitality given to us. It is difficult to describe in words how we truly felt.
When we were making our way back to Singapore, on the long flight back home, I thought of our time spent in the blessed land of Medina Baye. I was reminded of the fields of Kossi, the quiet serenity in the air, the hospitality of its people and the rich heritage of those lands. I realized that there was so many things in my life that I took for granted. Being in Medina Baye felt as if the entire world didn’t matter. You felt that the only thing that matters is Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). You know in your heart that Allah is always with you. So many of the children, women and men in Medina Baye do not have the physical luxuries that we enjoy in Singapore. Yet, it seemed to me that they were much more alive spiritually in the words, deeds and state.
Their children are seen playing outside with one another, their youths are busy memorizing the Qur’an and their elders are teaching pearls of wisdom to the community. Africa, it seems, was a goldmine of spiritual advancement and knowledge. People come to their lands and try to exploit their resources but they are a people who are battered on the outside but so spiritually robust on the inside. These were not people from a “third world”, they were a people who possessed the actualization of Islam in their nobility, knowledge and behaviour.
Hafez, the Persian poet did say that “Even after all this while, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me!’ Look at what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky!”. God has gifted us with so much but how grateful are we as servants? I realized that a slave has no right to claim anything, own anything or demand anything except what his Master gives. And how Generous is God, indeed.
May Allah accept our ziyarah (visitation) and we hope to return to the blessed land again. Amin.
DO YOUR PART – HELP THOSE IN NEED: QURBAN 2017 IN SENEGAL, AFRICA
For the past 4 years, Sout ilaahi had been doing korban at Medina Baye, Senegal, West Africa. We had distributed many meat to the poor. There are too many poor Muslims in Africa for many years. Let us make them happy by contributing to them the korban meat on Eidul Adha. Let us do our part for our brothers and sisters in Africa!
For those interested, the price:
Goat – $150.00
Cow (shared among 7 people- $147 each) – $1029
Sheep – $240.00
We have representative going there from Singapore. We will also provide a Qurban certificate for those who request. You can Whatsapp us at 90687106 if you’re interested, or email email@example.com
We also perform Aqiqah for new-born babies. Do contact us if you’re interested.