Sunday, 22 February 2015
The Redemption of Sidi Ibrahim Dimson
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is the spiritual journey of our Tijani brother, Sidi Ibrahim Dimson. The story was written by him. I have only formatted it and edited the language where necessary. The spelling of the names have been left as Sidi Ibrahim Dimson spelled it. The style of the writing has been left largely intact to preserve its flavour.
“I have debated doing this for some time now, and I believe I am ready to delve into this topic now. I am sure it will make many of you look at me quite differently. My intentions are clear though. Perhaps I can help people realise what Redemption and Mercy really mean. Perhaps I can help people realise that as long as there is life in your body, there is always an opportunity to change. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder to myself that life without ihsan is meaningless.
My parents are the first real saints I have ever met. They are the epitome of goodness, charity and excellence. They raised us in a very moderate Muslim household, filled with happiness and always brimming with guests, the most memorable of them all being Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.). We were devout Muslims, Tijani-lovers and followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.).
For those that know what I am talking about, it was like being in a perpetual state of dzikr jama’ah, when it is at its highest point. Life was awesome! My mother and father took the thariqa’ directly from Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) himself and were the first people to host Shaykh Hasan Cisse (q.s.) here in America. Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) used to wear suits in those days. Other guests included people like our khulafat, Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.), Sayda Ruckaya Niasse (q.s.), and Shaykh ‘Umar Diop (q.s.). Our home was a meeting place for the awliya’ and the most comfortable place I had ever been. By the way, we lived in the projects in a 5-bedroom apartment in the South Bronx!
My father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.), was and always will be the most amazing man I have known. We traveled together all the time. When I was 3, he took me to Senegal to go and meet Sayyid ‘Ali Cisse (q.s.). Most people cannot remember anything at that young of an age but my memory of him is as clear as my memory of what I ate for breakfast yesterday. Sayyid ‘Ali Cisse (q.s.) would smile and light up the room. He was not known to be a big smiler but on the occasions that I experienced it, it was a smile that I now know came from his soul. He loved my father and treated me ever so kindly. I remember how well he concentrated on everything I would say. He would sit me on his lap and rub my head while he conversed with my father. He would eat and feed me directly. His warmth and love permeated my soul in an indescribable way. Perhaps one day I will share the picture of us that I have.
Senegal was our second home despite the fact that we were originally from Ghana. We have always been people of Medina Baye. Over the years, my father had traveled with me to visit various men and women of God, all of whom prayed for me. I believe those prayers have contributed to my survival through my days of rebellion and sin, and even now. Perhaps I will list all of them one day.
My youth was filled with goodness and blessings to say the least, but life is like a roller-coaster and I doubt if anyone can argue that point. As I got older, I was constantly in the company of my father and his companions. We all did wazhifah and dzikr in jama’ah together. We fasted together. We celebrated mawalid together. We laughed and mourned together. It was the first community of Tijaniyyah in America. It was the greatest time of my life. We were all poor. Our fathers were cab drivers and our mothers had the impossible task of maintaining households filled with rebellious children.
My mother, Hajia Halima Dimson (q.s.) is the complete manifestation of Rahmah, Mercy, for me. Contemplating her merciful nature kindness and loyalty to family and friends, has proven to be the one thing that has allowed me to understand that Tajalli, Manifestation of God, and to realise and witness that Manifestation has impacted me in the most profound way.
I remember my mother sacrificing her bed for months, so that Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) could be comfortable. I remember the delicious food she would prepare for the shaykh and hundreds of guests. I remember her cleaning up after the guests as they destroyed her home. She would never complain and would always go above and beyond to make everything just right.
When my father returned to his Lord in the 1990’s, my mother managed to shift from being a house-wife and mother to becoming an amazingly astute entrepreneur. She was the best cook in our community, so she used that talent to make money to provide for all seven of us. I was a teenager and began getting into some trouble. But that was nothing out of the usual for a teenager growing up in New York City in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Through it all, she would still manage to cook the most delicious food for us to take to the zawiyah for the brothers and sisters to enjoy after dzikr. It was a tradition that my father and her had begun years before. But now, instead of my father piling his trunk and backseat with food, my brother, Osman Dimson and I would have to strap the food to wheeled carts and lug them up and down the stairs of NYC train stations. We would be in a subway car and the African food would engulf the whole place! It was so embarrassing! Osman and I hated that, but, my mother was training us without us even knowing it. I can honestly say that she taught us the real meaning of khidmah, service, to the shaykh and community.
I had taken my thariqa’ at the hands of my father years before at the age of 11. But my mother is responsible for installing the love of Allah (s.w.t.), His Prophet (s.a.w.), Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.), and Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) in us. She refused to allow us to fall through the cracks of irreligiousness just because our father was gone. She became our imamah, shaykha and teacher. My father planted the seed and my mother watered and nurtured the sapling. I owe her my life.
Masha’Allah, my mother tried her best to curb the tied of the influences of the ‘hood. And she was very successful and at this point I can say that she won that battle. But Osman and I, along with the rest of the family, grew up in the concrete-project jungles of The Boogie Down Bronx! My mother never let us get lost in those jungles. We had to come home at swalat times and we could not stay up past 8 in the evening. If we were 10 minutes late, you would see ‘Miss Mary’ storming down to the park in full African garb with a broom looking for us and ready to whoop us is in front of the whole neighbourhood.
At first, it was embarrassing having to dress up in Islamic clothes on ‘Iyd or for a Mawlid, and it was wild walking around with my mother in her colourful garb. But eventually, mother instilled a pride in us for our Diyn and heritage. We garnered so much respect in the city that our homeboys would put the 40-ounce liquor away and put out the weed when my mother passed by. If something wild was about to go down on the block, the older dudes would make my brother, Osman, and I leave the area. We were truly Blessed and Protected.
All in all, my best buddy in junior high got shot and killed right in front of me in the school yard. After that, I began carrying a gun and fighting a whole lot. I persisted until my mother had to send me to Maryland to live with my aunt and uncle and their family.
I was a junior in high school and had never been exposed to whites. The only whites I knew were the cops and my teachers. I enrolled into high school in Silver Springs, Maryland, and that was the next turning point in my life. I was forced to be with people that I knew nothing about. And they were in complete awe of the ‘new’ guy. So, I was in culture shock! I was scared! I was pissed! But I quickly adapted. I discovered Outkast, Go Go music and I discovered the fact that I was smarter than most of the people in my school. My parents limited our television viewing to weekends only while growing up. So, the library became my favourite sport. I read all of Hemingway's books, Shakespeare, Clavelle, Wright, Achebe, and countless others. My dad wanted me to become a physicist so that I could contribute to the Diyn and Faydhah. So I read books on physics and mathematics and metaphysics.
I have always enjoyed learning and school, and my parents made sure we were adequately motivated to do well. I found out quickly, that I was just as good, intelligent and wise as our white brethren. I excelled in school and got accepted to every college I applied to. Of all the schools, I only visited two: Morgan State and Hampton. I chose Hampton University and began my career there in the fall of 1995.
I would like all of you to understand something about me up until this point. I was a lover of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). I performed all of my prayers and did my wird and wazhifah. At Hampton, I first majored in English. My love for English literature was huge. But by the end of the first semester, I realised that I needed to major in something more practical, something that would benefit my family and I. So I changed my major to banking and finance. Hampton University was a rich historically black university. I will never forget my first day at the school. I loaded two big duffle bags full of clothes and stuff and got on Greyhound bus from New York’s Grand Central station. It seemed absolutely normal until I arrived on campus. Other freshmen had arrived in their parents’ cars, with nice luggage. I will never forget the feeling that came over me. At that moment, I found out that I was poor materially. I felt so alone and out of place that day. As I finished registration and was struggling across campus with two huge bags, a car pulled up on the side of me and I heard a voice call out to me, ‘Oh shoot, that can’t be my man, Black?’
It was an old high school pal of mine from New York. He was also starting at Hampton. His name was Anthony Clouden. His parents were with him and they immediately embraced me as their ‘adopted’ son. We got the administrator to allow us to room together, and he remains one of my closest friends. Allah (s.w.t.) is so very Kind and Compassionate. In my time of extreme loneliness, He Manifested Himself through Anthony and his family.
College was a mixture of good and evil for me. On the one hand, I revived and became president of the Muslim Students’ Association. I was a student lecturer in the Islamic civilisation portion of the Humanities classes and I had begun to really study the Diyn and thariqa’ seriously. On the other hand, I pledged to a fraternity, had a girlfriend and did many things that you would typically find students doing in college, all of it contrary to my morals and Islamic ethical standards. Ironically, this rebellious period in my life was also one of the most enlightening also. I began to study my religion from a very analytical, unbiased and intellectual perspective. The only personal reference point that I had to do my cross checking with was what my father taught me. al-Hamdulillah, after serious researching, I deduced that Islam was, in fact, the infallible Diyn.
Almost simultaneously, I was being charged and indicted for a crime in northern Virginia that I had nothing to do with. It was my second year in college and I was spending most of it in a jail in Fairfax county Virginia, fighting for my freedom.
There were certain friends of my father that I must tell you about. These men stepped in to fill his shoes for my siblings and I at a time of devastation for my family. My father suffered for almost 10 years from kidney failure. For almost 4 years, I accompanied him every other day to undergo dialysis treatment. His passing stunned us and rocked the Tijani community in America. But I would be wrong not to mention the men that stepped in.
Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) has always been like a father to me, but to hear him tell me on the phone that night my father expired, ‘Now, you are my son; if you do not treat me as your father, Allah will be Angry.’ That floored me! From then on, I stayed closely connected to him. We traveled together and he knows me better than any person, even better than my best buddy, Baraka Dimson, and even better than my companion and closest friend, Osman Dimson.
Next was, Alhaji Jibril Madaha (q.s.). Words cannot describe what I owe this man. He is the kindest and brightest spirit I have ever met. He is a complete ‘arif and direct muqaddam of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). One day, I will recount his story to those interested. Next, there was a man name Muhammad Anan (q.s.), ‘Teacher’. He was the most knowledgeable man I have ever met. He is the one that was Given mastery of the Arabic language and memorisation of entire Qur’an with one handshake from Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), when he met him in Kotoka International Airport in Ghana. Teacher (q.s.) was my first teacher. He was an ‘arif with amazing gifts and he is the man that introduced my father to Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) back in the late 1940’s. Teacher (q.s.) was a ‘strange’ ascetic; he was a walking miracle. And finally, there is Hajj Ibrahim Mudaris, the student of Malam Idris Sufi (q.s.). He is still alive and is the one that taught me everything I know about Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.)! My tongue cannot adequately describe what my heart feels for this man and those I have mentioned. They are the ones that I owe my knowledge to and are the ones that stepped up when all else could not.
My car was stolen. I reported it to the cops. A week later, a crime was committed using my car as the getaway car. I get a call that my car was found in Fairfax, Virginia. I went to pick it up. But I got locked up for a year and charged with abduction, malicious wounding, and armed robbery. I thought it had to be a mistake. I just knew I would be out in 24 hours! Well, they tried to do me dirty and put me down with the guys that really committed the crime. Thanks to the efforts and support of my family, along with my amazing lawyer, Larry Brown, I was exonerated and acquitted after two mistrials. But my prison experience is what I would like to expound upon
Up to this point in my life, I had never encountered anything like Salafi ‘Islam’ and I did not know who Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was. I was clueless about the fatawa of ibn Baz, al-Albani, al-Fawzan and ibn al-‘Utsaymin. For those who do not know, these men are the propagators of a form of ‘Islam’ practiced in Saudi Arabia and is spreading all over the world. In prison, ‘Islam’ is practiced under the guidelines of the Salafi da’wah. The problem is, Salafism is extremely hostile towards any type of Sufism or thariqa’. And in prison, being a Sufi adherent or follower of a thariqa’ can be a death sentence. I kept to myself mostly. They kept the temperature at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the facility and made us all meander around in the day room from 6 am until 5 pm every day. The food was not fit for a dog and there was very little of it. All we had was one television, one open view bathroom and lots of steel and concrete.
My pod had 115 inmates in it. 35 of them were all long-bearded with rolled up pants: Salafis. Because I did not know any better, I befriended these guys and began teaching them Qur’an. They loved me. The chapel library had books on Islam but all of which were heavy with Salafi rhetoric and propaganda. I read all of their literature and devised a strategy to begin teaching them about real Islam, spiritual Islam. At the same time, a new book came into the chapel. It was called Ihya’ ‘Ulum ad-Din by Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.). This book changed my life.
Prison is horrible. What you see and experience there will change you forever. I witnessed men gang raping other men. I witnessed guards gang raping inmates. I witnessed suicides. I witnessed murders. I witnessed innocent people being found guilty and I witnessed guilty psychopaths set free. The hardest part for me to swallow was the fact that some of these atrocities were carried out by Muslim inmates. As you know, I am from the ‘hood, and I have seen things that most people will never witness. I was not unaccustomed to horror, but to see my Muslim brethren doing these things rocked me to my core. That was my introduction to the reality of the difference between spiritual Islam and ‘Islam’. I realised that most of the brothers had not discarded their ‘baggage’ from their previous lives before converting to Islam. Also, the type of ‘Islam’ they were studying was devoid of spirit, devoid of ihsan.
I have always been taught that the best way to teach is by being the best example of what we are teaching. So, I set out to show them what it meant to be a Muslim. In 6 months, the brothers had become the leaders of good and enjoining of goodness! We became a light shining in the deep darkness. We studied Imam al-Ghazali’s (r.a.) Ihya’ together and became better than what society thought we were. We became men of excellence.
All the while this was going on behind bars, I was fighting for my life in the courts. My first trial was declared a mistrial. I thought it was over, al-Hamdullilah! They took me into the property room to change out into my street clothes. They escorted me to the exit and after taking two steps out of the prison, six detectives came out of nowhere and re-arrested me. I was in hell on earth. You see, the American justice system allows for the prosecutorial authorities to re-arrest a person as much as they want for the same charge if there are mistrials at trial. My family was devastated. I was at my lowest psychologically.
Getting re-arrested after the mistrial really took a toll on me. I was in bad shape. All I could think about was the 32 years they were trying to give me. I refused visits from my family and I stopped eating. Truth be told, I was having a crisis of faith. I could not comprehend the reasons for which Allah (s.w.t.) was Putting me through this. I began to doubt a great many things. I abandoned my sessions with the brothers and I began to lose hope. Two weeks after the mistrial, when I thought things could not get any worse, marshals from Newport News, Virginia came to get me to take me for a hearing. I was being indicted for bank fraud at the bank that I was employed at. The bank did an internal audit and basically came up $25 short. So, I guess it just made sense for them to place the blame on me. I was facing a felony for $25. I will never forget the headache I experienced the whole ride to Newport News. I was in pain physically and spiritually. When I got there, they read the charges and the judge asked if they were serious? They said yes and that I was a hardened criminal facing time in Fairfax County and they had just received information that I fit the profile for two unsolved robberies in the area. They indicted me for those crimes also.
Words cannot describe the hell that I was in. I was at my breaking point. They took me back to my cell and told me they would drive me back to Fairfax county jail in the morning. I passed out and I believed I was on my death bed. Sadness, disappointment and anger had overwhelmed me. That was the first time I consciously decided to miss swalah and I had no intentions on ever praying again.
As I slept, I saw myself laying on the concrete cot in my cell. All I could do is stare at my own sad face. Then a guard came to open my cell and said I had visitors. I told him I did not want to see anyone and I just wanted to be left alone. He told me to shut up and stop being disrespectful. Suddenly, my father walked into the cell, followed by Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and the last person to walk into my cell was Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) himself.
So, the question many of you are wondering is, was this a dream or was this a real live visit? To be completely honest, I would characterise it simply as a life changing event. It was a mystical experience either way. It was the first of many more to come. In my most desperate moment so far in life, God Graced me with a visit from my father, the man that I have revered my whole life. With my father was my spiritual father, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.), the man who claimed me as his own when my father died. And finally the last of the three visitors was a man that was a legend in my household and community, the leader who taught all of us how to properly worship, love and obey God. He taught us good manners and etiquette. He taught us self-respect and fairness. He was the man that was my father’s teacher and also the teacher of my shaykh, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.). He is our connection to Allah (s.w.t.) and His Prophet (s.a.w.). He is Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). So now, I am lying there watching these three men discuss my situation. Two of them were no longer alive and Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was in Senegal. I was blown away and all I could think while lying there was, ‘What was going on?’
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) stood at the foot of my bed while the other two visitors flanked me. He asked my father, ‘Why do I know your son but he does not know me?’
Before my father could open his mouth, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) immediately replied, ‘He will know you soon, Shaykh.’
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) replied, ‘Insha’Allah.’ Then he remarked, ‘Why is he so afraid and ready to leave our path?’ There was silence. He continued, ‘Doesn’t he know that trial and tribulations are the sunan of all of Allah’s prophets, Messengers and the righteous?’ There was still silence. He continued, ‘We were Placed here to experience hardship and problems to test our faith. Our iman dictates the level of difficulties we face in life. It is the sunnah to suffer and struggle. Get used to it, Ibrahim Dimson.’ Then he smiled at me and walked out of the cell.
All I could think after that was, ‘Get used to it?
Now, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and my father began to talk. They talked for what seemed like hours about all types of stuff but not once did they mention me or my situation or what Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) had just said. It was like they knew I was there but had other important things to discuss.
Finally, my father looked at me and said, ‘Be strong.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) raised his hand to pray for me and after a moment he said to me, ‘They cannot achieve this, don’t worry. Next year, come to Medina [Kaolack].’ Then they left my cell.
I woke up the next morning refreshed. My headache was gone and I was so happy! I made wudhu’ and preformed swalah. I thanked Allah (s.w.t.) for His Help. That whole day, all I could do is think about is how lucky I was to have such wonderful Godly people in my life. I came to understand that a spiritual guide’s main duty is to lead us out of the wilderness when we are lost, to assist us by the Permission of God when we are in need of guidance. I swear to whoever is reading this, the inheritors of the Prophet (s.a.w.) are the best people after him and their inheritance from the Prophet (s.a.w.) is the guidance of souls from darkness to light. I was saved.
God had Given me a boost of iman and I was absolutely sure that this was the end of my ordeal. A month or so went by and I received a visit from my lawyer. With him was the detective and prosecutor of my case. My lawyer told me that they wanted to discuss some kind of deal. I was excited because I just knew that they had come to apologise for the whole situation and basically cut a deal to drop the charges in return for an agreement that I would not sue them for false imprisonment or something.
The detective said, ‘We know you’re probably tired of the shit by now. We all know you didn’t have anything to do with this situation but you got the short end of the stick and now you’re knee deep in a pile of shit. And ain’t nobody gonna pull you out, Dimson. So we can do a plea deal for a max. of 10 years if you agree to plead guilty. 10 is better than 32.’
The prosecutor agreed. ‘Yeah, and we can even talk with the commonwealth attorney down there in Newport News and see if we can get them to drop those charges. We don’t mind doing you that favour son. All you gotta do is sign this.’ He pulled out papers from a brief-case. ‘And stand in front of the court and plead guilty and say that nobody forced this plea on you, you’re doing it of your own free will.’
To this day, I firmly believe that at that moment, I experienced a minor heart-attack. I could not move and my heart was thumping uncontrollably hard and fast. I experienced fear, anger, sadness, fatigue and dread all at once. These guys knew I was innocent but wanted me to plead guilty anyway? Was this really happening? I did not say a word. All I could do was get up and walk over to the guard and tell him to return me to my cell. In the three minutes it took me to get back to my cell, something changed in me. This change would affect me for the next 14 years. The dread that came over me when I got to my cell was too much. I had to call Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.).
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam Shaykh.’
‘Baye, how are you?’ That was the name he would call me by.
‘I’m okay, Shaykh.’ I began to sob uncontrollably.
‘Baye, haven’t you heard what Allah has Said in Qur’an:
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe” and that they will not be Tested? (Surah al-‘Ankabut:2)
‘You are right, Shaykh.’
Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.): ‘They cannot achieve this. Don’t worry, be strong.’
‘Thank you, Shaykh. I love you.’
‘I love you too, Baye. Next year, you come to Senegal. I have to teach you about Shaykh Ibrahim.’
That was the single greatest moment of my life thus far. I had totally forgot about everything with the exception of the words, ‘I love you too, Baye.’ The greatest man I know, a complete saint and inheritor of the Prophet of God (s.a.w.) just told me that he loved me too! At that moment, all fear vanished. He healed me with the Words of God and he forever bound me to himself by expressing his love for me. al-Hamdullilah.
The second trial was pretty much identical to the first. It ended in a mistrial. I got rearrested a few paces outside the jail and now I was ready for round 3. My family had had enough. The fight was on! My mother went to Africa to inform all of my father’s friends among the shuyukh. You see, in Islam, we believe that God Pays Special Attention to the prayers and supplications of a brother Muslim for a fellow brother Muslim. In this case, it was a bunch of saints praying for their little brother Muslim - me. They went to war for me. Their only weapons were Qur’an and sunnah. That is the way of the Sufi: fighting with prayers and supplication. All of these people were followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). I had an army of tasabih-slinging awliya’ fighting for me. I am Blessed.
State side, my siblings were also fighting with their wealth and hearts, especially my sister, Baraka Dimson. She has the heart of my mother. Baraka and I are the best of friends. She taught me how to navigate the streets of New York when I was young and she did all of my school science projects for me. She was my big brother and big sister all at the same time. As I was writing this short autobiography, she sent me a text message this past Wednesday filled with emotion.
To honour her words, I relate that text to you verbatim: ‘Don't forget when dad told me in my dream that night I cried myself to sleep in Hajjah Laila’s house to make sure Larry Brown [my lawyer] subpoena the nurse who did your intake and ask her about your height and weight. This was a game changer for us because that detective and the hotel worker described a completely different person in height and weight! After that testimony, Larry Brown said, ‘Who ever this Shaykh Hassan is, I need him to help me out in my other cases!’ Also the night before your trial was to end, Shaykh Hassan came to me in a dream and I asked him what to do to help you. He said to recite Swalawat al-Fatih and Qul Hu Allahu Ahad and Hasbunallahu wa Ni’ma al-Wakil until the trial ends. I wrote all this down on papers I still have, Black [my nickname]. All of this scared me because I saw power and spirits and I got scared. A week after you got acquitted, he called mom and asked her if I got his message? Mom was confused and asked me if Shaykh called me. I told her not in the traditional way.’
She continued, ‘I know! I have all of this chronicled in this notepad I still have. I had to write everything down because I just couldn’t think straight during that time. Everyone's names, date... I’ll look for it and give it to you one day, insha’Allah, but Black I saw so many miracles during that time. Things I don’t care to even talk about but I can tell you this much, we aren’t alone in this world and we are definitely practicing the correct faith. In the dream with Dad, he also told me to tell Larry Brown to test the soil of your boots and guess what? It didn’t match the soil in Fairfax! Larry brown and I were both shocked! I remember calling him like 3 am telling him we must get the nurse and test that soil. He thought I was crazy. I told him my Dad told me this. He said, ‘Uhm, isn’t your Dad dead?’ He was reluctant to call the nurse because she worked for the county. He said the only way to get her was to subpoena her.
I’ll find the book for you. I’m sure you will find it interesting. Black, Hajj Abdul Majid didn’t sleep until your case was resolved. Until the day I die, I will forever be grateful to that man! He truly loves dad!’
The 3rd and final trial was one huge miracle. 3 weeks before my 3rd trial was to start, all sorts of weird things began to happen. To those who are not privy to the deep spirituality that I am referring to, do not worry. It is not something that’s easy to understand or believe. Before I experienced it, I too had little understanding and was a bit of a skeptic of sorts. I had never really seen a miracle or ever really experienced an indisputable miraculous event, except for one time. But please understand that what I am telling you happened, and has been one of the sources of my increase in faith and gratitude to God. Most people will never experience anything like this, but for me, ever since this ordeal, I have seen miracles that would make most people faint from shock.
My attorney, Larry Brown, was in such a state of confusion by the time the trial was to start that he totally surrendered to our demands. He had a strategy that he devised and felt that it was very sound and reasonable. Basically, we were asking him to throw that strategy out and follow our strategy that was all based on information we received from the sources that he could not comprehend. After witnessing some of the power that was on our side, he finally relented and followed our instructions exactly as we communicated to him. I cannot fail to mention that my teachers, Mudaris, Teacher (q.s.) and Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) had all been awake praying for me for the three days preceding the 3rd trial.
The details of what happened in that courtroom are too many for me to go into, but a bit about that day, as the day progressed, the prosecution were baffled as to how we could have known their own strategy, and how we knew about all of the evidence they were hiding. The lead detective almost committed perjury because of the many times he was caught lying on the witness stand. It was a fiasco! An absolute scandal! It came out to the jury that an innocent man was being shafted. When all closing statements were concluded, I was sent to the back-room cell to await the jury’s deliberation and verdict. I passed out from physical and emotional exhaustion right there on the stone bench in the cell. I slept for what seemed like hours and drifted into a type of dream vision of Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) and my father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.) smiling at me while standing in the door-way of my cell. My father was saying, ‘Ibrahim, wake up, it’s time to go.’
All I could do is lay there and stare at him. Finally, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Shaykh Ibrahim is greeting you, Baye, let’s go home now.’ As I stood up to follow them out, I abruptly woke up as I walked into the hands of the guard that was to take me back into the courtroom. I was so disoriented at that moment.
When I walked into the courtroom, there was silence. The judge asked the jury if they had reached a verdict. The jury foreman replied, ‘Yes, your Honour.’ As the jury foreman read the verdict of not guilty for every charge they had placed on me, she began to cry, and all of the other jurors began to cry. Later on, I found out that they had deliberated for only 15 minutes. But the sleep I experienced seemed like hours. Almost everyone in the courtroom was crying. It was one of the most chilling moments in my life. It was over.
As they ushered me to the clothing change-out room, all I could feel was disbelief as to what had just happened. All I could do was prepare myself for the re-arrest that I had gotten use to whenever I was in that room. As I walked out of the jail, one step, two steps, then 3... 4... 5... Running now into the arms of my family... Words cannot express that feeling.
The other armed robbery charge in Newport News was dropped because the witness in that case said I was not the person that held him up. But the $25 dollar bank fraud charge that was unjustly placed on me was never dropped. It was their way of ending the whole ordeal with a pot shot. Basically, I was the only employee that was not present during the investigation, therefore I could not defend myself. The investigators ruled everyone out and concluded that it was me. That was all. No evidence whatsoever to prove the allegation. The judge declared me guilty and now they had me in there system. I was given 1 year probation, but now I was in their system. It was the beginning of a long and bitter relationship with the United States ‘Injustice’ system. All of the evil, lies, suffering and injustices that I had experienced was creating a monster.
The denigration of my name and reputation back at Hampton and back at home did not help. I was bitter. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt what I viewed as the ‘system’. But my mind was not made up yet. My faith had been Increased by Allah (s.w.t.), by Him Showing me His Power. But I was confused.
After my acquittal, I returned to Hampton to finish my studies. Upon my arrival, I found out that the school newspaper had featured my situation in a way that basically showed me to be guilty. They never cared to follow up with an article about my acquittal and exoneration. The entire campus now dealt with me with a sense of awe, fear and apprehension. It was a very hurtful time in my life. Few people could understand what I had gone through and fewer cared. All they knew was that I had been accused of something really wild and now I was back! Many of my friends remained faithful to our relationship but some treated me like a criminal.
After a year, I decided to go visit and thank my shaykh, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) in Senegal, West Africa for his help. I also wanted to visit and see my beloved younger brother, Osman Dimson, who was studying there. It had been many years since I had been to Senegal. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had my dear friend, Anyass pick me up with his driver from the airport. Although I had not seen Anyass for over 10 years, it was as if we had only been away from each-other for a few days. We drove a few hours from Dakar to Kaolack.
Osman was waiting for me by the gates of Medina. I had not seen him for over 4 years. He was a sight for sore eyes. We hugged and cried. He has always been my dearest friend. We are fortunate to be tied by blood, faith and friendship. I felt his prayers and concerns for me throughout my ordeal. He was anxious to take me to Shaykh Hassan (q.s.).
When we arrived at Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) house, I felt a type of peace and serenity that is hard to describe. When we entered his courtyard, that feeling had increased and when I was ushered into his room, his presence, I was in peace. He remains until this day, the most beautiful person I have ever seen. When you see Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.), you see the soul of the man before you see his body. The realisation that there are perfected souls comes only when in the presence of such a human-being.
He smiled at me and extended his hand for greeting. I humbly took hold of his hand and kissed it. It was his, along with many others’ prayers to the Almighty that set me free from jail. This was the man that was a best friend and spiritual guide to my father and my entire family. This was the man that I was proud to call my teacher. This was my shaykh.
After exchanging formalities for some time, he said to me, ‘Baye, I must fulfill my promise,’
I asked him, ‘What promise, Shaykh?’
He said, ‘The promise to our shaykh.’ He meant Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) I blinked in disbelief and amazement. He said, “’ promised that you will know him.’ My body became cold with shock. He continued, ‘Tarbiyyah for you, Baye.’
I asked, ‘What is tarbiyyah, Shaykh.’
He said, ‘To know yourself, your shaykh and your Lord. To experience this is different from learning about it in books.’
I asked him, ‘How long will it take?’
He replied, ‘Only Allah can determine that, but God has Made it easy and short for the followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse.’
I protested, ‘But I’m still in school.’
He simply said, ‘This is the real school.’
I could only say, ‘Okay.’
Then he turned to my brother and told him that he did not want me to be distracted in the least bit, so I would be sent to Kossi Atlanta to do my tarbiyyah. He said, “I will give him his tarbiyyah myself there.”
Two days later, I was in Kossi Atlanta. This place was a farming village in the desert about 45 minutes from Kaolack. It comprised of a few hut houses, an outside prayer gazebo and lots of farmland in a hot desert environment. It was a few miles from Kossi Baye, which is the birth place of our beloved shaykh, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). There were only three people there besides myself, and they were tasked to assist me in my training.
Those of you that are clueless as to what exactly tarbiyyah is, in brief, it is the process by which a seeker finds what he has been looking for. In this case, the seeker is looking for God. It is not an intellectual exercise. There are no books involved. All there is, are invocations of God’s Holy Names and concentration. As one progresses, the guide, in my case, Shaykh Hassan Sis (q.s.) moves the seeker through different stages until he reaches the final stage. It is the experiencing of ‘aqidah, not the intellectual study of it through books. It took me a whole month and a few days, but, al-Hamdulillah, I found what I was looking for. My life would never be the same.
Upon my return to the United States after my trip to Senegal, Hampton became one big boring and aggravating affair. I dealt with the whispers and rumours as best I could. What really bothered me was the lack of understanding by people, of what I went through and what millions of young black men have faced, currently face and will have to face in the future. My ordeal had opened my eyes to how foul the so-called justice system was, about how evil corporate America was and about how utterly trapped so many people were because of their criminal records.
My tarbiyyah, my spiritual enlightenment, in Senegal had created in me a deep yearning for justice, truth and help for humanity. But the treatment I received at Hampton was not healthy for me. I was ready to go back to New York. My mother had recently opened an African restaurant in New York and she asked if I would help her run it. With a major in banking and finance and a minor in entrepreneurial studies, it only made sense to do my own thing and be my own man. I said to myself, ‘Screw corporate America!’ I would excel in business and use all of my wealth to help my family, my shaykh, my Muslim brethren and all the people. I would use my wealth to help people find a way out of the ‘trap’. I would use my wealth to help people know truth. I had a mission. But what I failed to take into consideration was the fact that Shaythan had become my open enemy. He had waged war on me first because I was of the group of people that know their Lord, secondly because I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others know their Lord also, and finally because my help was not limited to just the Muslims. It was a desire to help all people.
I know it probably seems like a very lofty goal to most of you reading this, but for me it has and always will be a simple thing. The more of us that dedicate ourselves to helping humanity, the more of humanity that will be helped. My beloved Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) would always say, ‘Allah is Big, so think and do big!’
I am not a teacher, scholar, preacher or anything like that. I have always been a businessman, and I decided to use that skill to operate as a form of worship and gratitude to God. I would acquire wealth and use that wealth to help people, mosques and institutions. This was my goal. And Shaythan’s goal was to flip that good intention into something totally unrecognisable to anyone. For a time, he succeeded. The restaurant business in New York required a great deal of dedication, discipline and hard work. This was no problem for me, since my parents had trained us to value all of these things. Our restaurant was in the Bronx on Webster Avenue. It was called, ‘The African Food Temple. We specialised in foods from Ghana and Nigeria in general but we also catered to a large group of Senegalese, Gambians and Ivorians. We had two cooks, a waiter - myself, a bus-boy - myself, a manager - myself and security – myself. I did it all with my mother right by my side. At first, business was slow, but it eventually picked up and we began to do really well. Everything was good so far.
Since my return to New York, I had not gone to any activities or functions that were hosted by our community. So, one weekend my mother asked me to escort her to a wedding reception. You see, in our community, in New York City, we did everything together. We celebrated weddings and births and mourned deaths together. Our group comprised of mostly Ghanaian Muslims, Nigerian Muslims and some American Muslims. We even had our own little mosque that served as the focal point and main meeting place of our community. My parents were founding members and enjoyed a very prestigious standing amongst all. They were legends of sorts. Everyone knew our family. All of the men in the community were as uncles to me and all of the ladies were as aunts; we were one big happy family.
I was excited to be re-united with them all. I had not seen most of the community since leaving for college, so I was looking forward to this event. What I expected to be a warm welcome by my people actually turned out to be a nightmare! As I entered the event-hall, all eyes fell on me. The looks and stares were not those of love and happiness. Those looks were masked smiles that were hiding gossip-filled intent. It seemed strange at first because I could not figure out why I was feeling so uncomfortable. As I sat down, to enjoy the festivities an ‘uncle’ came by to say hello. As we exchanged greetings, he began to lecture me about how, ‘Now you must behave and be a good boy. Allah Gives us opportunities to repent when we have done wrong. So I hope you have repented and are ready to be a good boy now...’ I just looked at him with a very puzzled and confused look. I wanted to yell at him, curse him out! I wanted to tell him that I had not done anything wrong and that I was acquitted of the charges and found not guilty, so what was he talking about?
As the night progressed, I was approached by almost every one of the elders in our community and was given the same lecture. I immediately realised that these people did not care about what really happened to me. All they were interested in was the scandal itself. That day I learned a hard lesson. People care very little about the truth of a situation. What they dwell on is the scandal surrounding the situation and they make the worst conclusions. I was being viewed very unfairly as a rebel. It was a painful realisation and I can honestly say that it pushed me away from my community. They allowed the sheep to stray away from the pack. I was about to be devoured by the wolves.
What my community did to me has scarred me permanently. At this very moment, as I write these lines, I feel some anger. My community basically wrote me off as a problem child. It would be difficult for me to marry a daughter of the community, it would be difficult for me to attend and enjoy functions and now I had become the guy to secretly go to if you needed some nefarious business taken care of! What hypocrisy!
To think, part of my intentions was to acquire wealth so that I could give back to and help this same community. Instead of helping and embracing me, a son of the community, I was subject to ridicule and gossip. Instead of helping me turn my ordeal into success, I was shunned and turned away from. Is this what a community does to its youth? Is this the Prophetic model? Is this the way of people of truth?
I fell back from my community. I traded them in for a community of my own. A community that I founded. A community of ridiculed Muslim youth that all shared similar experiences as I did. A community from my own immediate community as well as other Muslim communities throughout the country. We were the bad-boys amongst the community of the faithful. Some of us were indeed wayward youth, but most of us were good kids that just needed support. Our common bond was the fact that we loved Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.) but hated the Muslims we grew up around. The hatred came from the inability of our elders to effectively communicate with us. It came from harsh treatment when we made mistakes. It came from being misunderstood Muslim youth trying to find our way through the jungles of America.
Our common goal was to get money whatever way possible without harming innocent people. Our intentions where to make money and give to those in need, to give back to the same communities that cast us out. We all understood that an unsuccessful criminal in a community is the object of ridicule, whereas a ‘successful’ criminal who gave back was a hero. This was and still is an undisputable truth in many Muslim communities around the world.
Shaythan had successfully convinced us that it was acceptable to rob from the rich and give back to the poor. In our case, the rich comprised of any bank, big corporation or drug-dealer that our sight would fall on. We would use any method available to get their money. We were getting money in all of the major cities on the East Coast and Mid-West. It was a small crew of Muslim youth with backgrounds in Sufi thuruq. There were approximately 10 of us. Most of us had grown up together as brothers in the same community. Our families knew each other. Trust was not an issue. If I start naming names, many of you would be surprised. But that is not my intention here. I will not go into what exactly we did.
Money began to roll in. I recall days when our biggest problem was counting the cash that was pilling up in the ‘Money Room’. Back home, the restaurant business was picking up, and now my beloved brother and best-friend, Osman Dimson, had returned from his studies in Senegal to help with the family business. It was like I had two lives. On the one hand, I was a successful entrepreneur with a thriving restaurant, and on the other hand, I was getting money in the most sinister of ways. I was a walking contradiction. My family did not really know what was going on with me but I am sure they suspected something. I would travel ‘out of town’ every week and I always had lots of money. At the same time, my brother and I would work 15 hours every day at the restaurant. I seemed totally focused.
My crew and I would always divide our ‘earnings’ into 2 parts. One part was for us and the other was to be used for charity. We would send money to all types of organisations, to families and individuals. We made sure our communities were being taken care of. We all knew better than to think that our people would approve of our actions, so we did everything anonymously.
In our minds, we were doing good work. In our minds, we would be Rewarded somehow because our intentions were ‘pure’. We were suffering from what I like to call ‘Robin Hood Syndrome. Besides our delusions, we had begun to really enjoy our new found wealth. We partied hard, bought luxury vehicles, drank alcohol, smoked weed and did many other things that my fingers refuse to type! If you saw us out in public or in the club somewhere, you would never believe that some of these guys had memorised the entire Qur’an or had studied at the feet of some of the greatest Muslim scholars of our time. You would never know that some of our parents were students of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.), and Saydi Aliou Cisse (q.s.) and Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.)! We were out of control.
It was really kind of crazy. In the midst of our wrong-doing, we would all make congregational prayer together, perform the wazhifah together and recite our individual prayer litanies without fail. We were misguided in the most dangerous way. We had justified our actions and convinced ourselves that we were righteous in a way because of our commitment to our religious obligations and charitable works.
And then I found out Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) was coming to the United States to visit! He was the paragon of beauty and saintliness. He had saved me at my lowest moment, and now he was coming to visit us here in the States! I was ready to show him how well I had done and was ready to give and assist him in his humanitarian work. I had $200,000 to give him as a gift. I walked into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel room that was filled with people. I will never forget the feeling that came over me when I saw my shaykh. It was as if only he and I were in the room. We were looking directly into each other’s eyes. He smiled and called out to me, ‘Baye.’
‘Long time no see, or hear from.’
‘Forgive me, Shaykh, I’ve been working hard.’
He got up and excused himself from his guests and told me to come into his inner bedroom. ‘Working hard should not keep you from calling me.’
‘I apologise, Shaykh.’
‘No problem. What have you been up to?’
‘Making money, Shaykh. I have a gift for you.’
As I pulled the bag off my shoulder to show him the cash Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) said, ‘Baye, that is not possible for me.’
I stared at him in silence. I was speechless. Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) smiled at me, reading me. ‘I just want to make you proud, Shaykh.’
‘To make me proud, you must work for Allah and His Prophet.’ I was embarrassed, but Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) said, ‘Don’t worry, you will get there, insha’Allah.’
We chatted for a bit about my family and the restaurant business and then he prayed for me and I left with the money. I never got to show him what was in the bag actually but my shaykh knew that the gift I had brought to him was impure. He had refused to take the money. He knew what I was involved in. He knew what I was doing. He did not scream at me, berate me or make me feel ashamed. He simply made me reflect: ‘To make me proud you must work for Allah and His Prophet.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had basically told me that what I was involved in was not good. I left the hotel in a daze. This was not the first time Shaykh had showed me a miracle, but miracles have always seemed to shake something deep inside of me. This one in particular was kind of different because it was calling for a total reorganisation of my life and priorities.
I would be a liar if I told you guys that I immediately stopped the work I was doing. I would be totally wrong if I lead you to believe that I even wanted to stop. I had gotten used to having lots of money all the time. It was a euphoric feeling to be able to buy whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted. Money was never a problem. My nafs was completely opposed to Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) suggestion. My ego was telling me, ‘You are working for Allah and His Messenger, Ibrahim! Shaykh just doesn’t understand exactly how.’
My heart said, ‘Yeah, but if he refused to take the cash in the first place, then I think he knew everything.’
My nafs retorted, ‘I think you’re reading too much into it man. Anyway, how are you going to tell the fellas that you’re done? Cold turkey? They depend on you. They rely on your contacts and leadership!’
And I said to myself, ‘You’ve got a point. Maybe I’ll wean them away from the whole thing gradually.’
And that is exactly what my ego convinced me to do. So, I was ‘complying’, in a way with Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) advice, but not immediately. I would go about it gradually, not for myself but ‘for the sake of my crew.’ That was how I justified staying in the game.
First, I tried to move us all away from the partying, drinking, weed and other foul leisure activities that we enjoyed. I failed. Next, I tried to slow down on all of the different ‘endeavours’ we were involved in. Again, I failed. Finally, I tried to increase my prayers and devotional works, thinking perhaps that the good works would outweigh the bad. It did not work. In hindsight I can laugh at myself and all of the feeble attempts that I made. The bottom line was that I was deep in the game and my nafs had a serious hold on me. Such is the case most of the times with the ego.
Almost nine months after Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had visited us here in America and gave me his advice regarding my lifestyle, I was faced with a dilemma. A close associate, worker and dear friend of mine was killed in Queens, New York. He had been kidnapped and tortured for almost four days by a group that was after me. They did not know me but wanted my guy to give them information that would lead them to me and my place of operations. The brother held out until they finally killed him. I was informed secretly by my people in the street about the whole situation and given detailed information regarding who was directly responsible. I had to act. I had to get these two guys. The law of the streets dictated that revenge be sought.
I got the call on a cold December morning. I decided to do the job by myself without involving any of my boys. Failure or success would fall on me and me alone. I was informed of the current location of the hideout that the two murderers were camping out in. I put all of my ‘tools’ on, recited a prayer for protection, called my brother, Osman Dimson, and told him to hold it down at the restaurant because I would be late. I got in my getaway car and headed out.
I was nervous, angry and scared all at the same time, but I was determined to accomplish my mission and avenge my boy. I decided to take the highway because I was ‘dirty’ with all of the weapons I was carrying. As I pulled onto the highway, my cell-phone rang. ‘Hello?’
‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Baye.’ Subhanallah!
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh, how are you?’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘I’m fine, Baye. I’m in Paris with Shaykh Tijani Cisse and Shaykh Derry and Chief ‘Abd al-Qadir. I want you to go to the airport now and come to me here in Paris.’
‘Huh? Shaykh, now?’ I replied.
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Yes, now, Baye. Your ticket is waiting for you at the counter at Air France Terminal. Tell them your name and they will take care of you. Go now to the airport, Baye. We are waiting for you. When you arrive, we will all go to Fez, Morocco to visit our Shaykh Ahmad Tijani. I’m waiting for you.’ And with that, he put down the phone.
I called my mother and brother to inform them of what Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had just told me. I disposed of all of the weapons as I crossed over a bridge and I went straight to JFK. I had no bags, maybe $200 in my pocket and was wearing all black. I walked over to the ticket counter not really believing what was going on. I actually expected them to turn me away because there was no ticket there for me.
I told the ticket lady at Air France ticket counter, my name and that I was to pick up a ticket to France. She looked in the computer and confirmed that I would be leaving in two hours to Charles De’Gaulle Airport in France, and that I had another ticket leaving from there to Rabat, Morocco three days later. She handed me my tickets, smiled and said, ‘Safe trip.’ I walked through security to the gate, waited a bit then boarded the airplane. It was first class seats all the way.
As we took off, all I could think about was whether or not this was all real or not. I slept the whole way. I was greeted at Charles De'Gaulle International airport by Shaykh Derry Cisse. He greeted me with that big smile of his. I was still in a bit of a daze but now, I was fully aware that this was real. Not a few hours ago, I was on my way to become either a murderer or murdered. That is all I could think about as we drove to the hotel that Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was staying at.
At the same time that I was diverted, as I was driving to JFK that morning, the cops were having a shoot-out with the two dudes that had murdered my boy. I came to find out that the cops had gotten a tip about the murderers’ whereabouts and were staking them out. When the cops moved in to detain the two killers, a shoot-out erupted and they were themselves shot to death by the officers. I found all of this out when I returned to the States two weeks later. Allah (s.w.t.) is Merciful.
Shaykh Derry and I arrived at the hotel. When we entered the room to see Shaykh Hassan (q.s.), I was greeted by Shaykh Tidjane Cisse, Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) brother, the current murshid and imam of Medina Baye Masjid. I was also greeted by Chief Abdul Qadir of Ghana, a shaykh and murid of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.), and also a close travel companion of Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). They both received me with happiness and cheer. I sat down as Shaykh Derry entered the bedroom. When he came out, he told me that Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would see me.
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) greeted me, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Baye.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh.’ I could not look him in the face. I kissed his hand and just sat there at the foot of the bed that he was reclining on. When I glanced up, I could see him smiling gently at me, reading me. ‘Shaykh, I’m Sor...’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘No need, Baye. You are tired. Sleep.’ As I moved to exit his room and go to find a place to lay down, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘No, it’s okay, sleep there.’ He was pointing to where I was sitting. I laid down right there and fell immediately into a deep sleep. I slept for hours. I could hear Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) tell someone to let me to sleep as they exited the room.
When I woke up, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was sitting on a prayer mat in a corner of the room. It was the first time I had ever seen him without a hat or head-cover on. He had on a simple two-piece white outfit and he was writing something. When I sat up, he spoke to me without looking at me. ‘I am going to take you to visit our shaykh, Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani. You must go to visit him with me, Baye. It is very important, okay?’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Go downstairs and find a homeless person and give that person all of the money you brought with you. It will not benefit you, but may benefit that person.’
‘Then come back and go with Shaykh Derry to the stores to buy clothing and shoes. Throw away all of what you have on when Shaykh buys the new clothes for you.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) then said, ‘I miss your father, Baye. He was too good. You must follow his footsteps soon.’ I was silent. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was smiling and looking at me now. ‘In time, in time, in time… You and Osman... In time.’
I was thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, right! My father was a pure soul, a legend, a murid of Baye and the work he did is beyond me!
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘You doubt?’ He laughed. ‘Sometimes, the best of us today were the worst of us yesterday. Allah is Capable.’
Shaykh Derry and I walked what seemed like the whole stretch of the Champs Elysees from the Eiffel Tower all the way down and back. He gave me some money and we went shopping. I bought him some shoes and we had a great time. We stayed in France for two more days. The whole time I was bonding with Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and his companions. It was my sinning self with four friends of God! It was unbelievable.
We boarded the airplane and were on the way to Morocco to make ziyarah to our shaykh, Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani’s (q.s.) tomb in Fez. It was a dream come true honestly. Traveling with Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) and his team is one of the greatest experiences any person can experience. Those that have done so, understand what I am talking about.
The flight was only a couple of hours. We landed in Casablanca, got into cars waiting for us and went to a huge cemetery, two hours away, in Rabat, where we prayed for a certain person that was buried there. From there, we drove two more hours to the city of Fez. We stayed in a beautiful hotel there. That night we walked to a restaurant close by. I will never forget that restaurant and what happened there. We were seated at a big table and the shuyukh immediately ordered tajim, a lamb dish, salad and other food.
As we sat there, conversing with each-other, a belly dancer came out. She was half-naked. I could feel the anger and tension as the shuyukh looked down at their feet. Then Shaykh Tidjane Cisse burst out with anger and started yelling at the woman dancing and the band that was with her. It was a stream of Arabic that was full of ‘Astaghfirullah’ and ‘Subhanallah’ and other words. He was going off. They all stopped the music and dancing and listened to him go off for about three minutes. When he stopped, they all skulked away, shamed. And everyone in the restaurant began to clap and cheer. Then the manager came out and apologised to Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was quiet, but he looked approvingly at his brother. I will never forget the feeling of shame and pride that I felt at that moment. Shame because the belly dancer was nothing compared to what I had been exposed to in the United States. I mean, she was actually overdressed by our standards. I felt pride because my shuyukh were talking the talk and walking the walk. These guys are so pure. It showed me that I had a long way to go.
We ate in silence the whole time there. When it was time to go, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) asked the waiter for the check. The waiter went to the back and came back with the manager who told Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) that he could not take our money. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) insisted but the manager said, ‘You have given us something that is more valuable than money, Ya Sayyidi.’ He kissed all of our hands and began to cry. He walked us to our hotel room and for the rest of the stay there, he supplied us with all our meals, sent directly to our rooms.
The next day, we commenced to visit our shaykh at his tomb. We walked from the hotel through a marketplace for almost an hour. I kept thinking, ‘We must be lost or something because we are in a street market. Wheres’s the tomb and zawiyah?’ But I was the only person in our group that was lost. Everyone else knew exactly where they were. Before I knew it, we were standing in the middle of the marketplace facing an old building that seemed to be under construction. The person at the door almost fell over in his chair as we walked up towards the door. He hugged Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and Shaykh Tidjane and began talking a mile-a minute. He ushered us into the zawiyah. It was under construction. There was scaffolding and sand and dirt everywhere. The actual tomb was covered with a plastic tarp. We walked towards the tarp and Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) ordered us all to sit at a specific location near the tomb. He faced the tomb and began to tell us prayers to recite for our shaykh. We prayed for almost 30 minutes. Then something happened. A man that was sitting towards the far side of the zawiyah got up and approached us. He said, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum,’ and as he moved into the light, his face was revealed. Subhanallah! And then I fainted.
After returning to the States from my life changing trip with Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.), Shaykh Tidjane Cisse, Chief Abdul Qadir and Shaykh Derry Cisse to the tomb of our Shaykh al-Quthb al-Makhtum, Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani (q.s.) in Morocco, I was Tested by the Almighty with severely. My life-long teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Anan (q.s.), who everyone simply called ‘Teacher’, passed away. He is one of the three men I mentioned earlier who stepped in when my beloved father passed away. Teacher (q.s.) was, in essence, like a grandfather to all of my siblings and I. He was the man who first introduced my father to Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) in the 1940’s. He had moved to the United States in the late 1980’s and lived with my older sister in Brooklyn. He was the first real Sufi that I had the honour to be close to. I use the word ‘Sufi’ for him because of his strict adherence to the shari’ah, his complete realisation of the Haqiqa’, his asceticism and his utter holiness. This guy was amazing. I would visit him several times every week in his closet-sized, book-filled bedroom in the basement of my sister’s home. He was tall, lanky, extremely handsome and always wore all white clothing.
I would sit with him for hours as he made me tea and fed me crackers. He would tell me about the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), the awliya’ and our beloved Tijani shuyukh. He never failed to mesmerise me each time. He would make my spiritual aspirations excel at those meetings in his room. He would make me see the Glory of God and His Magnificent Works. If I had any problems, he would always solve them for me with the Permission of God from the Holy Qur’an. He was the greatest spiritual doctor I have ever met. But I will not do him justice without fully recounting the reason why he was given the nickname ‘Teacher’ by no other than Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) himself.
The story I am going to tell you now was told to me by Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) himself, by his khalifah, Alhaji ‘Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.) and his khadim, ‘Ali, by my father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.), by my Qur’an teacher, Malam Mudaris and by countless others. Most importantly, it was told to me by Teacher (q.s.) himself. All of the great Tijani ‘ulama alive today can attest to the truth of this account. All of them.
Teacher (q.s.) started off as a Catholic priest in Ghana, West Africa. He was an extreme intellectual, quickly rising the ranks in Ghana. He was so pious and intelligent that he was sent as a special envoy by the Vatican to the Middle East to learn about Islam, so that he could return to Ghana and effectively refute the growing Muslim community. His mission was to learn and return to convert young Muslims to Catholicism.
Teacher (q.s.) traveled for a year throughout the Middle East and returned to Ghana a newly converted Muslim. He was the laughing-stock of his neighbourhood and a source of jokes at his job as an administrator at Accra International Airport. He told me that all he knew was Surah al-Fatihah and how to greet with the salaam. He barely knew how to pray and was embarrassed to approach the local Muslims because of his former hostile relations with them before converting. So he had a small pamphlet and studied it when in his office at work or at home. One day as he sat in his office working, a colleague came to him and informed him jokingly that one of his ‘people’ had arrived from Senegal and did not speak English or any of the Ghanaian languages and was simply sitting in the Arrival Hall. Teacher (q.s.) snapped at his colleague for ‘bothering’ him about such a thing and told him to go bother someone else. His colleague laughed and said, ‘He is clearly a Muslim because he has the Muslim clothes on and a turban on his head.’ Teacher (q.s.) slammed the door in his colleagues face and continued to work.
Minutes later, Teacher’s (q.s.) supervisor came to him in his office and repeated what the colleague had said about the ‘strange, quiet Muslim man sitting in the Arrival Hall.’ The supervisor suggested Teacher (q.s.) go try to see what his fellow brother in faith was waiting for and if he was lost or something. Teacher (q.s.) moaned and groaned and protested to his boss that he did not see how he could be of any help. He was actually quite embarrassed. But his boss insisted. Teacher (q.s.) relented and began to walk towards the Arrival Hall and the strange visitor. As he approached, he realised that there were actually three men there together. He immediately spotted the one who seemed to be the leader, with the turban on.
As he approached the man, Teacher (q.s.) said, ‘I began to get a strange feeling of fear and anxiety. This man made me nervous. As I approached him, he was sitting there with his head down. I stopped a few steps in front of him and all I knew to say was, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’’
Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) lifted his head to look directly at Teacher and replied, ‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam.’
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) extended his hand and Teacher grabbed it for a shake. Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) simply held on to Teacher’s hand as he elongated the salaam. When the Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) released Teacher’s hand, Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) smiled at Teacher (q.s.) and began to talk to him in Arabic.
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) asked him, ‘What is your name?’
Teacher (q.s.) replied, ‘Anan. Muhammad Anan.’
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) said, ‘al-Hamdulillah. I name you Teacher, Muhammad Anan. Allah has Answered my prayer and now you have the Arabic language. Also I pray He Give you the Qur’an Completely. Please take me to my students here in Ghana and be my interpreter.’
Teacher (q.s.) said, ‘No problem. Please tell me your name.’
Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) only said, ‘Ibrahim Niasse.’
Teacher (q.s.) said, ‘Okay, please wait for me here until I return. I must tell my boss that I'm escorting you.’
That was it. Allah (s.w.t.) had Made Teacher fluent in Arabic and had made him a hafizh of the Qur’an in less than a minute. From then on, he traveled with Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) and traveled as a lecturer and teacher to the Middle East on behalf of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.). Ustadz Barhama Diyyup famously said about Teacher (q.s.) after watching him speak about Islam on an Egyptian television interview. ‘Allah Made a stone speak words through the prayer of Shaykh Ibrahim.’
Teacher (q.s.) was responsible for my father’s and countless others introduction to Islam and Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). He trained people in adab towards the shaykh and he remained one of the miracles of God that was Given to us as a proof of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Greatness and His Favour towards Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.).
For those of you that find it unbelievable to believe that a person can be gifted with a language as well as memorisation of the entire Qur’an in an instant, I will respond as Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) responded to someone regarding this miracle: It is more amazing for a person to become s believer in an instant after being a kafir. This has happened countless times throughout our history.
Losing Teacher (q.s.) was the first blow that year. Soon after that, I was indicted by the Feds. The highs and lows of life were getting more and more extreme. I was on a roller-coaster ride that would not end. After losing Teacher (q.s.), I began to reflect on how fragile life actually was. There are certain people in all of our lives that we never associate with death. These people are larger than life to us and have such an impact, that we falsely assume that they will be physically present always. For most of us, it is our parents, but for some it is so for our spiritual mentors. That is exactly what Teacher (q.s.) and the other eminent people I have mentioned throughout are: spiritual mentors.
When I thought it could not get any worse for me, I received a call, while travelling to the Midwest, from my sister in New York. She told me that two detectives had come by the restaurant with my picture, asking about my whereabouts. I did not take it serious and continued on my mission to ‘retire’ from the business I was in. Retiring from the criminal life is not as easy as most may think. I mentioned some of the obstacles in an earlier post, but now it was different. I was trying to pull-out for real. That meant tying up loose ends so that I would not get bitten by them later. My crew was solidly in my corner with regards the ‘retirement.’ al-Hamdulillah, Allah (s.w.t.) began Working on all of our hearts. We had begun to experience a great deal of danger. Dangerously violent situations were taking place lately. Murders of ‘colleagues’ were taking place almost daily. Allah (s.w.t.) was Talking and we had begun to listen. One day, as we were all out getting dinner, our driver made an illegal U-turn and the cops were on us. We pulled over, as directed by the police. They walked up to the car and saw four young black men in a car and assumed the worse. But we were clean and had nothing in our car or persons that would cause us any problems. The cops asked for all of our identifications. We complied and they began to run our names through the police system to see if any of us had warrants for arrests or were wanted for any crimes. None of us were worried. The most that would happen, in our minds, would be a ticket.
As the cops came back to us, they informed me that I had a federal warrant out for my arrest. What? For what? I was taken to the detention center and was allowed to see a judge almost immediately to see if I would get a bond or not. The judge informed me that the warrant was for a crime I was being accused of in Trenton, New Jersey Federal court. Since I was out of state, he would either hold me until federal marshals from New Jersey came to pick me up or he would issue a high bond that I probably would not be able to pay. He issued the bond for $600,000. I would have to pay 10% of that, $60,000 cash, to get out. I was out in less than an hour. I was instructed to report to court in New Jersey the next day for arraignment. I drove 10 hours that night to get to court in New Jersey on time.
I found out that I was being charged for securities fraud, bank fraud and investment fraud. The government’s evidence hinged upon the testimony of an old college buddy of mine that worked at the investment bank that I was accused of defrauding. You see, this friend of mine, named Coltrane, had approached me almost a year earlier regarding helping him out financially. He knew that my business was on the ‘dark side’ and he wanted help to pay some bills and survive. I told him I would see what I could do. He said he had a plan, and I agreed to hear it out. After listening to his ‘plan’, I realised that it was a recipe for disaster, so I backed off. I told him that it was not my area of expertise and that I did not want to go in with him on it. That was it.
Without my knowledge or involvement, Coltrane tried to pull off his scheme. He got caught, as I had predicted, and was now facing Federal felony charges. This guy was a total square. He was a regular guy that wanted to live-out some fantasy of being a big-time criminal. He was a fool. Anyone that thinks criminal life and activities is ‘cool’, is a fool. Anyway, in exchange for not being charged for the crime, he cut a deal with the federal authorities to inform them about who the actual mastermind of the crime was. He told them that it was me. He put the whole thing on me and even went as far as to say that I forced him to comply at gun-point. I could not believe that this was happening. How was I being charged with something that I did not do, but not being charged with the many things that I had been doing? It seemed so crazy to me, twisted. Either way, I hired the best lawyer in town and prepared for this round of court battles. I was innocent and had money. Shoot, I was going beat this stupid charge. But in reality, I was worried. They were trying to give me 20 years for this one. I kept this a secret from my family. I was not going to put them through another court battle. I could not put that on my mother. This one was sure to kill her.
I contemplated involving Shaykh Hassan (q.s.), but I felt as if he would be disappointed that I had gotten myself into another situation. I think the fact that I was leading a crime-filled life actually made me feel less worthy of receiving help from my family and from the shuyukh. Although I was innocent of this crime I was being accused of, I was, in-fact, guilty of so many others.
I threw caution to the wind and decided to use my wealth and top-of-the-line attorneys to get me out of this one. I actually stopped calling my shaykh for fear that he would ‘read’ me and know my situation. A few days before my first court date, I received a call. It was Malam ‘Ali.
He greeted me, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Ibrahim.’
I replied, ‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Malam ‘Ali! How are you? How is Khalifah Alhaji Abdullahi?’ Malam ‘Ali was the khadim, personal assistant to the oldest living son and first khalifah of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). He was the caretaker of Shaykh Ibrahim’s (q.s.) town and masjid.
Malam ‘Ali replied, ‘I’m fine. Khalifah Alhaji Abdullahi told me to call you. He would like to talk to you. I will translate as he talks, okay?’
I was very nervous. This was a big-fish calling for me. I could only reply, ‘Yes, sure.’
Khalifah Alhaji Abdullahi (q.s.) began to talk in the background and Malam ‘Ali translated.
‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum wa Rahmatullah, Ibrahim. How are you, how is your mother and how is Osman?’
‘I’m fine, Shehu. How is your family, and the jama’at?’
‘al-Hamdulillah, they are all well. Why do you stay so long without calling me? Don’t you know I am your father too?’ I laughed. Khalifah Alhaji (q.s.) continued, ‘Anyway, I thought about you and wanted to say hello. Don’t forget us here. Whatever you need, we will pray for you. Any problems you have, call me and I will pray. I ask Imam, Shaykh Hassan about you often. He tells me you are well.’
I said, ‘Shehu, I have a situation here with the federal government. They are trying to accuse me of something and trying to give me 20 years in prison for it.’
‘They can never do it. They don’t have permission for that. Your mother and father have worked hard for Allah and Rasulullah. They can never do it. No permission. No permission. What Allah will Do to you will bring you closer to Him. Be patient until you realise the Decree.’ And then he hung up.
What does that mean? I was expecting some prayers or some dzikr to do. I could not understand exactly what he was trying to tell me until much later in life. Khalifah Alhaji Abdullahi (q.s.) died a month after we talked. Subhanallah! He called to talk to my trifling self. Allah (s.w.t.) is Merciful even to a foul dude like me. I know that many of you know very little about Khalifah Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.), so let me help you with a few accounts regarding this wali.
The former President of Senegal, Abdou Diouff famously said, ‘If the angel, Jibril, were to come down and question all of the scholars of Islam with the threat of destroying the human race if these scholars could not answer his questions about Allah (s.w.t.), I would not fear failure in the least bit as long as Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse was amongst the scholars being questioned.’
One day, as Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) was in the middle of delivering the Friday khuthbah, he abruptly stopped and told Shaykh Abdullahi (q.s.) to come up and finish the khuthbah and lead the prayer.
A scholar appeared in Chad, with the claim that he was the long awaited Mahdi (q.s.). The people began to believe this man because of his astounding knowledge. He began to preach and teach things that were not correct, and began to win the population over to the belief that he was, in fact, the Mahdi (q.s.). The news came to Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) about this man. Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) immediately dispatched two of his students to go and confront him, and prove to the people that this man was an imposter. The two students were Shaykh Hassan Dim and Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.).
As they were arriving at Chad, Shaykh Abdullahi (q.s.) said, ‘As you are much older than me, and more knowledgeable than me, I believe it would be wise if you allow me to engage this imposter in the debate first. If they see that that smaller fighter amongst us has vanquished the beast, then they will all be amazed and curious at the potential strength of the bigger fighter.’ Shaykh Hassan Dim agreed.
They set up the debate in the town square for all to witness. The false Mahdi began and Shaykh Abdullahi (q.s.) finished him off. It was not even a fair contest. The imposter was quickly dispatched and the people received the proof they required. They realised that the man was indeed an imposter.
After the debate, Shaykh Hassan Dim famously remarked, ‘The knowledge that I heard from the lips of Shaykh Abdullahi was even greater than what I know. That day, not only did he prove that the man was an imposter, he also taught me what I did not know.’
The veracity of each of these accounts can be verified by any of our shuyukh. When the khalifah passed away, I had no choice but to call his entire family to express my condolences. I had to call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). I greeted him, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Shaykh.’
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Baye, how are you, your mother and the family?’
‘They are fine, Shaykh.’
‘I just wanted to call and express my condolences for the loss of your uncle, Khalifah Shaykh Abdullahi.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Thank you very much, Baye. He loved your father and loved your family very much. Especially Osman and you.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) continued, ‘Baye, you know that you cannot hide anything from me. I know whenever any of you are in a problem situation. You should never feel ashamed to tell me about your big problems no matter what, okay?’
‘Okay, we will talk about it later.’ And then the call ended.
That same night, I dreamed of Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.). They came into my house together and sat down. They asked me to get a pen and paper and to sit down also. I did as they asked. They both began discussing what prayers they should give me to help with my court case. I wrote everything down as they told me to. Shaykh Hassan asked me the month of my trial. I told him it was September. He remained quiet for some time and then told me that it was not possible for September and that it would be postponed. I did not want to disagree, so I remained quiet. After some time, I woke up. I was happy to have had such a wonderful dream. As I woke up to get ready for swalah, I rolled over a bunch of papers on in my bed: It was the prayers I had written down in my dream.
As my court date of September approached and not hearing anything about a postponement, I began to feel like perhaps Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was wrong in my dream about the date being postponed. And if he was wrong about that, how about the prayers that were on the sheets of paper? Were they also wrong? The day after I had that doubtful thought, the World Trade Center got attacked and both buildings collapsed. My trial date was postponed until the following year. I never doubted my shuyukh ever again. Allah (s.w.t.) has Placed them to be my shelter in every storm.
The day the airplanes brought down the World Trade Center, my world and everyone else’s changed completely. That day, I realised that Shaythan was truly a slick creature! He uses the same tricks to fool us and have us believe that foul actions are justified somehow. The same way I had thought that it was acceptable to rob from the rich and give to the poor, is the same type of spiritual sickness those hijackers had. But their sickness was much more severe than my own.
al-Hamdulillah, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) had guided me to understand the Prophetic teaching that the ends never justify the means. So now, I was facing a trial and potential twenty-year sentence if I lost. Most criminals would begin to stash as much money as possible. The rule is to pay for a good lawyer, then hide as much money as possible, in case you have go into hibernation, or in case you have to do time. I did the actual opposite. I knew that all the money I had would not benefit me in the least bit but I could not just burn it. So I decided to give it all away anonymously. I distributed my illegally earned proceeds all over the place until I had nothing. I fell back and spent most of my time at the restaurant. My family still had no clue that I had a case pending, and that I was traveling weekly to New Jersey to meet with my lawyer for strategy sessions for the upcoming trial.
Under normal circumstances, this trial would have been a slam dunk for us. I mean, I was actually innocent of what Coltrane and the Feds were trying to do to me. The government knew that their case was weak, so a week before trial the Feds upgraded my charges to ‘conspiracy.’ The conspiracy charge is the trick that the United States government uses when they want to guarantee a conviction. The conviction rate for the Feds with the conspiracy charge is 98%. Basically, all you need to be guilty is to simply ‘know’ that a crime was about to happen. My lawyer was beginning to get worried. I must admit, I, too, was a bit nervous but all I could do was keep my nose clean and diligently do the prayers that Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) and Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.) had given me in my dream. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had not spoken to me or mentioned the prayers, so I thought perhaps it was the spirit communicating without the body knowing about it, in the world of the spirits. Either way I clung to those prayers as if my life depended on them.
The day before my trial, I broke down and decided to call Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.). I was scared, honestly. I called him in Kaolack bit got no answer. Then I called him in Dakar and got him.
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh.’
‘Baye, how are you?’
‘I’m okay, Shaykh.’
‘I see that now you are ready to do the last part of the prayer I gave you.’
‘What prayer, Shaykh?’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was laughing, ‘The one me and my uncle came and gave you. Anyway, before you leave the house tomorrow to go to court, recite the following,’ and said the du’a. ‘Insha’Allah, they cannot do what they want to you.’
So my assumption that the prayers given to me by Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and Shaykh Abdullahi Niasse (q.s.) in the dream was a communication only of our spirits was completely wrong. It was a communication that was real, body and spirit. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) knew about my case and had come to me in the dream to help out because of my reluctance to tell him directly. My shame almost got the best of me. He sensed this and ended our conversation thus: ‘The sick person will remain sick if he feels shame to tell the physician exactly what’s troubling him. And that shame should be limited because our sins are our sickness and is part of the human condition. All you need do is ask for the cure and the physician will do what God Created him to do: Heal people with the Word of God and His Messenger. I’ll see you when you return from school, Baye. as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
So as always, I was blown away. He hit me with another shot of iman and I was ready to do battle! But what did he mean by seeing me when I ‘returned from school’? I just knew I would get a fair trial. The jury that we picked was evenly set. There were an equal amount of blacks and whites and more than enough women on the jury. I felt safe with the idea that the verdict would not be racially motivated or anything like that.
The prosecutor’s case hinged around the testimony of Coltrane. There was nothing else to corroborate his story but the conspiracy charge made things a bit more difficult for me. All they had to do was convince the jury that I at least knew about the crime and that would be enough for a conviction. The conspiracy charge was my enemy. It was my biggest fear.
The prosecutor began with his opening statement, basically telling the jury about all of my arrests, even though I was found not guilty of the charges years earlier. He told them that I was a seasoned criminal that has been arrested multiple times. He told them that I was a convicted felon and that I was a criminal master-mind. But all of that was expected. What I did not expect, which hit me in the chest like a sledge hammer was that he also told the jurors that I was a Muslim that gave quite a bit to charities and often traveled all over the world for religious functions and events.
My lawyer objected and questioned the relevancy of telling them my religious affiliation and charitable activities. The judge sustained the objection but the seed was already planted in the minds of the jurors. Not only was I being charged for a major financial crime; now I was being charged with being of the religion of the guys that brought down the World Trade Center and killed all those people only a year before. I began to sweat and my lawyer began to sweat.
The trial was highly technical with lots of financial jargon that I am sure confused everyone in the courtroom. Finally, my accuser showed up to testify against me. Coltrane could not even look me in the eyes. He sat there and swore on the bible and lied about everything. I was disgusted. But what troubled me more than anything was the way some of the jurors were looking at me. I saw hate and fear in their eyes. My lawyer did his best in the cross examination. He effectively showed the jury that Coltrane was basically avoiding prosecution in exchange for testifying against me.
The trial lasted for a whole day and the jury was asked to either deliberate or return in the morning to begin deliberations since it was so late already. al-Hamdullilah, they chose to return in the morning. I drove back to New York in an extremely depressed mood. The trial went pretty well actually, but the part about me being a charitable Muslim; that was not cool. It was a low blow.
I played off my worry to my family and simply told them that my ‘business’ in New Jersey was long and that I was tired. I went to my room and laid down to think. I was thinking about the possibility of being found guilty and having to do 20 years. The only other option would be for me to get out of the bed and head to Mexico and leave from there to somewhere overseas. I could get money from my brother Osman and be far away before the morning. Over the years I have had to come up with these types of ‘hibernation’ plans in case something like this were to happen. Well now, it was a reality and I made up my mind to go on the run. But something told me to call one of my beloved teachers and surrogate father, Malam Ibrahim Mudaris.
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Mudaris, how are you?’
‘I am fine. But you are not well, Ibrahim. In your response of ‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam,’ I did not see a peaceful heart!’
‘You are correct, Malam. I have something that is troubling me.’
Mudaris said, ‘I know. But Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse just informed me before you called that you should call Shaykh Hassan now.’
I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.).
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh. I just got home from the first day of trial. Tomorrow, the jury will deliberate. Shaykh, I think they will find me guilty. They mentioned that I was a Muslim and I saw fear and hate in the jury. I want permission to run and leave the country tonight, Shaykh.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘No permission, Baye. None of us can run from the Decree of God. You must stay and face this tomorrow. Most importantly, you have to accept the Decree and Trust in Allah.’ I was silent. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Baye, do you trust me?’
I was crying hard now. ‘Wa Allahi, I trust you, Shaykh.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Then you must trust God. No permission for them in their intentions. Allah wants to Teach you something and you have to accept and move with His Decree. Don’t be afraid.’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘Remember that Prophet Yusuf was falsely put in prison, but Allah Promoted him to a high spiritual station while in there. So don’t fear anything but Allah. As for the 20 years they want to give you, that is not my agreement with Allah concerning you. Read Surah Yusuf tonight and understand the power of the madrasah of Yusuf.’
‘Okay, I love you, Shaykh.’
‘I love you more, Baye.’
I read Surah Yusuf that night and understood what Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was telling me. I felt some relief the next morning as I headed back to court. I knew that somehow, it would all work out.
The jury deliberated for three hours and came back with the verdict.
The judge asked, ‘How does the jury find the defendant on one count of conspiracy?’
The jury foreman said, ‘We find the defendant guilty.’
As soon as I heard those words from the jury foreman, I went into a trance-like state. They were finding me guilty of the one charge that I feared more than the other. I could no-longer hear or see anything that was going on around me. I found myself in a whole other world. Time had ceased. All there was at that moment was the voice of my shaykh, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.), telling me that I must trust in the Decree of God. My life flashed before my eyes. Everyone that was dear to me, my parents, brothers and sisters, my brothers in faith, my teachers and all of the shuyukh that cared for me; I saw and heard all of them. They were all smiling. I was smiling. I found myself feeling a sense of relief, peace, happiness. My will had surrendered to God’s Decree. Nothing mattered at that moment, besides the fact that my soul was completely satisfied and content with God’s Decree. I was found guilty and that had triggered one of the greatest moments I have experienced so far in my life. It had triggered complete submission to the Will of God and His Decree. At that moment, I did not exist. All that was left was God’s Will. I did not matter in the least bit. All that mattered was God Doing what He Wanted with His Creation. The only other time that I had felt that type of peace and annihilation was when I had done my tarbiyyah in Kose-Atlanta, years earlier.
While I was being annihilated by God, the jury foreman was reading the verdict for the rest of my charges: ‘Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty…’ My lawyer was shaking me really hard. He did not realise that I was ‘there but not there’. He was shaking me and trying to bring me back. He was saying, ‘Ibrahim, are you okay? Are you okay? Congratulations! Congratulations! They only found you guilty of the conspiracy charge. The judge said it only carries a maximum of 18 months based on your criminal history. You’ll only have to do 18 months, Ibrahim!’
I could hear him but it was not registering. I was still trying to deal with the annihilation in God’s Will that I was experiencing. I was not ready to leave that peace, that total submission. I was not ready to ‘return’. But when a person experiences annihilation of that sort, it is imperative that he return. I felt myself retreating from everything. I wanted to stay in this moment. I could see myself in the courtroom. All eyes were on me. The court officer was on alert because I was looking crazy while sitting there. I began to slump in my seat. I was fading, fading into the annihilation that I was experiencing. I was dying. I wanted to die, so that the feeling of total peace and calm would remain. But one of the jurors quickly came out of his seat and ran over to where I was sitting. He held me in his arms. As I focused in on his face, it was Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.)! He was one of the jurors? The shock of gazing into his smiling face and the words he said to me, ‘You must return now, Baye. Shaykh Hassan is waiting for your phone call. Return, Baye, return...’
I gazed at his blessed face without blinking! Here was my grand shaykh, an heir of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) holding me in his arms and talking to me, telling me to return from annihilation, telling me that Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was waiting for my call. But then I blinked, and he was gone. I was on the floor, being held by one of the jurors. He was a doctor. They thought I was having a seizure or something. I stood up on shaky legs, thanked and hugged him. He must have thought that I was insane for hugging him. Then I sat back down and my lawyer began updating me about what was going on.
The good news was that I was not going to do 20 years after all. I was being told that I had to do 18 months at best. The strange thing is, that news did not give me any happiness. I could have cared less. I had experienced such peace and happiness in God’s Decree and seeing Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.)! Nothing else could have compared. Nothing else could have given me more happiness. My lawyer was really confused. I thanked him, and allowed the guards to escort me to the jail house.
As I walked down the long underground corridor to the jail section of the court-house, I began thinking of everything Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had told me the day before, all of the stuff about me accepting the Decree of God, and about me having to do a 20 year sentence not being ‘the agreement with Allah concerning you.’ I began thinking about what I was yet to face in this ‘school of Prophet Yusuf (a.s.)’ that I was about to enter and stay for the next 18 months.
I found out later that the jurors could not see the evidence that proved that I was actually guilty of securities fraud, bank fraud or investment fraud, so they compromised and basically hit me with the conspiracy to commit these crimes instead of me actually committing the crimes. In their minds, that was the least that I could be guilty of because they just could not let me walk.
It never occurred to my lawyer and I that they could actually find me guilty of only one or a few of the charges and not all at once, which would have given me the 20 year sentence. So, my worst fear, the conspiracy charge, actually turned out to be my greatest ally. Without them adding that charge in, I am sure the jury would have forced a guilty verdict on the other charges.
That night, I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) from my jail cell. He picked up on the first ring and immediately knew it was me.
‘I’ve been waiting for your call. al-Hamdulillah, Allah can never lie!’
‘Wa Allahi, Shaykh, you are right.’
‘Make sure you learn and teach while you are there, Baye. This Faydhah will enter everywhere. Good places and bad places will taste it, and all will be overwhelmed by it. Now your work begins, Baye. Work hard. Work for Allah and Rasulullah.’
There was no need tell him the details of what happened. He already knew, by the Grace of God. He hung up the phone, and almost as soon as I moved to sit on my bed, the cell door opened. The guard was escorting my cellmate in. He was about a foot taller than me, with a beard extending down to his chest. He had a huge bruise on his forehead. His jump suit was cut at the legs, almost to his knees. He introduced himself as Abu Dharr al-Salafi. I introduced myself as Ibrahim al-Sufi.
I actually did not mean to introduce myself as ‘Ibrahim al-Sufi’. It was a natural response. I had learned a bit about Salafis and their ideology years earlier, but apparently, I had not learned enough. The Salafi guys that I was exposed to back in Fairfax County jail, years ago, were like puppies compared to Abu Dharr al-Salafi. He was the real deal. The hatred that permeated from his body and spirit was palpable. He was looking directly into the eyes of his avowed enemy. I. on the other hand, was looking into the eyes of a human-being that had been indoctrinated and taught to hate. There is a subtle difference between the natural or passive feeling of hate that a person can have for a thing and the deliberate teaching and indoctrination of hate for a thing. The Islam that I had been taught by my parents and shuyukh was one that had at its core, love and respect for every single thing in the universe. My tarbiyyah, years earlier, culminated into one single idea; Love for all. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had taught me to show reverence, respect and honour to every living creature because of its inherent nature. He had taught me that adab was the core of the religion and that everything was deserving of my good manners because everything had a special spiritual quality that made it worthy of me treating it with respect and good manners.
We stared at each-other for a few minutes until he broke the silence. ‘You’re the first Sufi I’ve ever met. You know your blood is halal according to the scholars, right?’
‘I don’t understand what that means, brother.’
‘I’m not your brother. It means, you people are committers of shirk, and it is permissible to kill you on sight.’
As soon as I heard that, I switched into defensive, street mode. This guy, who was supposed to be my brother in faith, had just told me that it was permissible by God, for him to kill me. You guys have to understand how wild this was to me. Just an hour earlier, I had felt the greatest peace and tranquility ever. Then I was given the good news that my sentence would be a small fraction of what I expected. And I had seen and was nurtured back to life by my grand shaykh, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) I had a wonderful conversation with my shaykh, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) and now, it seemed as if either I was about to become a killer or was about to be killed, by a Muslim. All of this in the span of an hour.
‘Why is my blood halal?’
‘Because you all are grave-worshippers, you follow ‘madzabs’, you worship the Prophet Muhammad, you worship your ‘shaykhs’, you cut your beards and you misguide people.’
‘I don’t do any of the things you described and I’ve never been taught to do these things. Where do you get your information?’
‘Yes, you do! Our ‘shaykhs’ say you do!’
Now, I was looking at the dude like he was crazy. ‘Yeah, you can believe whatever you want, bro, but I’m telling you that your information is wrong. It’s always best to do your own research before accusing…’
Before I could finish the sentence, Abu Dharr was lunging at me with a small and shiny object in his hand. I stepped to the side and he fell onto the bed. He recovered and now we were facing each-other, him with a shank in his hand and me thinking, ‘What the hell?’
He came at me. All I could do was pay attention to the knife in his hand. As we met for the second time, I grabbed his hand before he could stab me, my other hand clawing at his eyes. For a moment I thought I had him, but this guy was way too strong and managed to knock me to the ground. We wrestled for a bit but finally, he was able to stab me. He struck directly on the right side of my stomach. As soon as he realized that the knife was in me, he began to try and release himself from my grip. I let him fall away, as I lay there with the knife in me. I lay there in shock, not believing that this dude actually stabbed me for no other reason than the fact that I followed a thariqa’.
What was interesting was that, he had crawled to the opposite side of the cell and was sitting in the corner quietly watching to see if I was going to close my eyes and die or not. As he watched me, I was reciting as many prayers on the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) as I possibly could. All I could think of was that if I were to die there, I wanted to die with prayers on the Prophet (s.a.w.) on my lips.
As I lay there praying, with knife in my belly and Abu Dharr sitting there watching me, it dawned on me that I was not dying. When I finally brought myself to look down at the knife in my belly, I realised that I was not even bleeding. As a matter of fact, I was not even in pain. I took hold of the part of the knife in my stomach and began to pull it out of my belly. Abu Dharr laid there with shock in his eyes, shock and fear, as I pulled the knife out. I stood up and began peering at the piece of metal. The metal knife was actually a really big nail. As I lifted my shirt to look at my stomach, I realised that he stabbed me directly on the patch of skin on my stomach that was grafted onto my stomach at a very young age when I had an accident in my mother’s kitchen. That accident almost cost me my life when I was only about 2 years old.
I was in my baby-walker and running around in my mother’s kitchen when I bumped into the stove and a pot of boiling water fell onto me. It burned my little stomach and I nearly died from the wounds. A small patch of skin was taken from my thighs and grafted onto my stomach. That small patch of skin is much thicker than the rest of the skin on my stomach, and has always been a source of imperfection on my body. My mother still recounted the guilt and misery she endured for a long time because of that accident. Well, I have never told my mother this story and I suppose my brother, Osman or one of my other siblings reading this will in-fact tell her now. But, al-Hamdulillah, she should know that that piece of imperfect grafted skin, the accident that has haunted her with guilt all of her life, was the thing that saved me from dying in a dirty prison cell.
The nail that Abu Dharr stabbed me with penetrated my skin, but never reached a vital organ. The thickness and extra padding on my belly from the skin-graft actually served as a barrier. I did not even bleed. He sat there in total shock, amazement and fear as I stood there with his weapon in my hand. The law of the streets said that I was supposed to stab him back, and take this dude’s life. But, the Law of God called for mercy. I threw the weapon out of the cell and told Abu Dharr that it was time to pray swalah al-‘aswr. I walked over to the sink, made wudhu and turned to him again and asked if he would join me in the congregational prayer? He sat there in total shock. He finally got up from the corner he was sitting in, made wudhu’ at the sink and stood next to me for prayer. I asked him to call the adzan. He said he did not know the adzan. So, I pronounced the call to prayer and led him in the prayer.
After we finished praying, I told him that love will always defeat hate and that my love for Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.) was the only reason why I did not stab him back. I told him that the way of the Sufi aspirant was the way of ihsan, the way of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).
That was the first time that I had consciously realised that I was no longer the same person that I use to be. That incident changed me permanently. It was a tarbiyyah that has been of benefit to me in many other similar situations that were yet to occur. We spent the next two hours talking about Islam and taswawwuf. As the guards came to take him away to his next destination, Abu Dharr asked me, ‘Will Allah Forgive me for trying to kill you?’ I told him that Allah (s.w.t.) Forgives far greater transgressions. I told him that I would pray for him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes as the guards took him out and away from the cell. I have never missed a day praying for Abu Dharr.
I sat there in the cell by myself. All I could think of was how fortunate I was. I kept touching my stomach area where I was stabbed and kept saying, ‘al-Hamdulillah, al-Hamdulillah, al-Hamdulillah…’
My mind shifted to Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and how ‘interesting the next 18 months would be in this ‘school of Yusuf (a.s.)’. The guards finally came for me and told me that I was headed to Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. This place is the headquarters of the prison Salafi movement.
On the ride from the courthouse detention center to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, all I could think about was what had just happened. I was very surprised with myself. I felt like I had just earned a diploma or something. I had the power to exact revenge on Abu Dhar as-Salafi but my soul inclined towards mercy instead. I felt no internal conflict. It just felt like the only thing to do. The Miracles of Allah (s.w.t.) never ceased to amaze me. He had Protected me from being killed and at the same time, Protected me from becoming a killer. All of this occurring after being found guilty and experiencing annihilation in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Will. It was quite a bit to digest, but, it did not occur to me that I was on the way to a place that was arguably the Salafi movement’s headquarters here in North America - Philadelphia!
Abu Dharr was also being transported to the same place I was going. He was in a different marshal’s van than me. But we definitely were going to the same place. Philadelphia Federal Detention Center was a fortress in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. It is an imposing looking building from the outside and it is even more intimidating from the inside. As we pulled into the garage, I began to feel very uneasy. The United States marshal moved me from the van and led me in cuffs, waist chain and leg-shackles into the Receiving and Discharge portion of the jail. This area has huge cages that operate as waiting rooms for all new inmates. There, I was made to wait for almost six hours to be processed and assigned a housing unit. On this day, there were not too many guys in the waiting area, so I went to the toilet area and got a full roll of toilet paper. I walked over to an unoccupied corner of the holding cell and laid down to get some sleep. I used the toilet roll as a pillow.
I slept for hours before being rudely awakened by a Corrections Officer. It was my turn to get interviewed and processed. The whole process lasted less than an hour and I was ready to go to the housing unit that I was assigned to. They stripped me of my street clothes and gave me a green jumpsuit to wear. I remember putting on the jumpsuit to find that it had been crudely cut at the legs. I asked the guard for another jumpsuit and it was the same for the next. The guard told me that he would try to look one more time for a suit that was not cut. He said to me, ‘Those damned Muslims cut all of the legs of the suits because they say that it’s against their religion.’
After going through about five jumpsuits, he finally found me a pair that had not been cut. I was also given a laundry bag with a set of bed sheets, blanket, underwear, towels, soap, deodorant and toothbrush with toothpaste. Now it was time to be escorted to my housing unit.
As I walked into the unit, all eyes fell on me. There was complete silence as the guard looked through his files to tell me which cell was mine. I will never forget the feeling that came over me as I looked at each face that was peering at me. Almost everyone I saw had a long or scruffy beard, a bruise on their forehead and jumpsuit pants cut to the ankles. I was in a cell block that housed approximately 140 inmates, 85 of whom were Salafi. I mean, these guys were my avowed enemies. They were my enemies not because I had a problem with them. It was they who had a problem with me and what I represented.
The guard told me the number to my cell and escorted me there. As I walked by the other inmates, I could tell that they were trying to figure out if I was a Muslim or not. My cellmate was an old Panamanian guy named Mr. Richmond. He was a pleasant guy. He welcomed me into the cell, and helped me get comfortable. He informed me that that ‘Moslems run this jail. Most guys become Moslem for protection.’ He continued. ‘Yeah, they’ll be coming here to question you soon and see if you’re interested in converting or learning about their religion.’
I laughed and told him that I was also a ‘Moslem’. He immediately became tense and apologetic. He was afraid.
‘I’m so sorry if I offended you man. I didn’t know. It’s just that you don’t look like a Moslem.’
‘It’s okay. I’m not offended at all. I don’t look like one of them and I am definitely a Moslem. I’ll teach you the difference one day.’
‘Okay, thanks man, you’re definitely different.’
An hour later, we got a knock on our cell door. It was the imam of the Salafis. His name was Talib and he was with two of his ‘security’ guys.
‘We wanted to come and introduce ourselves to you and invite you to our classes. We are Muslims of the Salafi minhaj and it’s our duty to call people to the haqq.’
So, while he was telling me all this, I was thinking about what happened earlier in the day when I told another one of these guys that I followed a Sufi thariqa’. My mind was conflicted as to what to do. Do I tell these guys the truth and face a war with 85 Salafi gangsters? Or do I lie and pretend that I am not a Muslim or that I too, was a Salafi? This was one of those life or death decisions and I had very little time to decide. I made my decision. ‘That’s wonderful, brother. al-Hamdulillah, I’m a Muslim too.’
‘Oh yeah? What minhaj do you follow, brother?’
‘My teachers and all of my shuyukh follow Qur’an and sunnah. We are of the Thariqa’ Tijanniyyah. My shaykh is Shaykh Hassan Cisse, leader of over 150 million Tijanis around the world. I’m happy to be amongst all of you brothers.’
The look on each of their faces was one of horror and hate. These guys looked like they had just met the bogeyman. Thalib was speechless for a second, but then he spoke, ‘You’re an innovator. You’re on the wrong side. You need to abandon all of that nonsense and follow the only rightly-guided group - us.’
‘Sorry, brother, but I’m very happy where I am. And I respect your position. We just have to agree to disagree.’
‘No, you are gonna have to check yourself in within two days or take your shahadah over again with us and take bay’ah to us, or we gonna put them knives in you!’
All I could do was look at the Imam directly in his face and tell him, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, brothers. Please leave my cell now.’
‘Yeah, alright. Ima get the word and then you better be ready for war.’ They stalked out of my room.
It would be a lie for me to front as if I was not scared. It would be so untrue for me to tell you all that I was not worried. I was shaken to my core. These guys were going to kill me in two days if I continued to stand up for what I believed in. They were going to get permission from their leader, wherever he was, to kill me for being a Sufi.
That night as dinner was announced, I walked out of my cell into the main area and immediately noticed that everyone was looking at me and the entire cell block was quiet. As I walked down the middle of the block, I could not help but feel as if they were all watching a dead man. I could not eat. So, I went to the phone to call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) for help. ‘Hello, can I speak to Shaykh Hassan?’
Morr Jine answered, ‘Shaykh is not here. He has travelled’
Damned it! Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was not in Senegal and I could not get in touch with him. I called Shaykh Ibrahim Mudaris, but there was no answer. So then I called Shaykh Jibril Madaha (q.s.). ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Malam.’ The word ‘Malam’ is a respectful way of referring to a teacher or guide.
Shaykh Jibril answered, ‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Ibrahim.’
‘Yes, Malam, how are you?’
‘I’m fine. I’m sitting here with the daughter of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, Sayda Ruckaya Niasse. She told me to greet you.’
‘Wow, please greet her and tell her to pray for me.’
‘She said to tell you to relax, and stop being scared.’
How did she know that I was scared and tense? She did not even know that I was in prison. What was she talking about? But I simply replied, ‘Okay.’
Shaykh Jibril said, ‘She said to recite in the morning, ‘Hasbun Allah wa ni’ma al-Wakil’ 1,350 times in the morning and in the evening from now on. She said it is from the Qur’an and means ‘Allah Alone is sufficient for us and He is the Best Disposer of Affairs.’ She said, no harm will come to you by the Grace and Protection of God.’
‘Please thank her for me.’
That night, I repeated the verses 1,350 times as instructed. I did the same in the morning. I now had 24 hours before the word would come back from the leader of the Salafi group, to execute me. I felt somewhat better after talking to Shaykh Jibril and Sayyidah Ruqayyah (q.s.), but I was still worried. That day did not go by slowly. It went so fast. It seemed like only a few hours. It was evening time and in the morning it was going down. I recited the prayer and did every prayer that I could remember. I did not sleep that night.
In the morning, I saw a lot of movement among the Salafis. They were going in and out of Thalib’s cell. There seemed to be some confusion of some sort. I was on alert. I was ready for a fight to the death. If they were going to take me out, it was not going to be without a fight. I wrapped my stomach area with bundles of old newspapers and I wrapped my neck area with lots of thick socks. My cell mate had secured a long knife for me the day before. These guys were going to have to bring the damned swords out for me.
I sat in my cell waiting to be called out. Thalib and about eight other guys started walking towards my room. I told my cell mate to leave because this had nothing to do with him. He was a really good guy and thought that it would be dishonourable to abandon me, but I convinced him and he left right before they reached our cell.
I stood at the back of my cell. My strategy was to fight each of them in the small space of my cell as they entered. If I met them out in the open area of the cell block, I could be mobbed by many of them at one time. The smaller and narrower space of my cell would only allow one or two people to enter at a time. It was the old Spartan strategy. So long as I could hold my ground, I could survive for a few minutes.
al-Hamdulillah, all I could do was ask Allah (s.w.t.) to Forgive me for all of the sins I had committed in my life. The only words of prayer that my mouth could utter at that moment was Salawat al-Fatih, which is a great prayer on the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). It was the first prayer that I had ever known, even before Qur’an, and I never learned it, we grew up hearing it daily and I just knew it. If I was to die, then that would be the last thing I wanted on my lips.
Talib came and knocked on my door. I was standing there thinking, ‘What were you knocking for?’
He kept knocking and would not enter. Then he started shouting into my room, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Akhi.’
So now he is knocking and saying peace? I did not know what to do, so I stood there staring at him through the glass window of my door. Then something spoke to me in my head, saying, ‘Remember the prayer that Sayda Ruckaya gave you, Ibrahim? She said no harm would come to you, so long as you recite it at the specified times.’
My shuyukh had never failed me yet, and although Sayda Ruckaya (q.s.) was a woman, she was also my shaykha. She was the daughter of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) and a complete waliyah. She was also like a grandmother to me because my father was like an adopted son to her. I trusted in Allah (s.w.t.) by trusting in one of His representatives. I opened the cell door with my knife ready.
Talib said, ‘Can we talk for a minute?’
‘About this letter.’ He was holding a piece of paper in his hand.
‘Yeah, but only you.’
‘No, I need a witness.’
‘You think I’m stupid?’
‘I swear to Allah, no violence Ibrahim.’
One other brother entered the room and left the door open for the rest of the crew he had brought to my cell, to hear what was happening.
Talib said, ‘We sent word out to our leader to let him know that a Sufi was on our cell block and that we were going to kill you. We needed his permission to move forward. We told him your name and that you are a Tijani.’
He began to read directly from the letter: ‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Imam Talib. I received your kite [letter] and understand what you are asking permission to do. Thank you and all of the rest of the brothers for reaching out to me about this. Ibrahim, is a very good friend of mine. You cannot harm him. He saved my life, Talib. He is one of the most righteous and sincere brothers I’ve ever known. Don’t allow the word ‘Sufi’ to scare you away from learning from this brother. I’ve never met anyone like him. If you all appreciate what I’ve done for you and if you all love me and respect me, then you will follow my instructions and make him your teacher in Qur’an and let him lead you in prayer. Please give him a big hug for me and tell him that I said ‘sorry’.’ The letter was signed Abu Dharr as-Salafi.
I later found out that all of the Muslims in my cell-block were on one big drug conspiracy case together. Abu Dharr was the kingpin or boss of this crew and had agreed to take the fall for all 85 of his brothers. The prosecutors agreed to give everyone reduced prison sentences if Abu Dharr would plead guilty and agree to life in prison. These guys looked up to Abu Dharr for the sacrifice he made for them. They became Muslims when he became Muslim, and they considered him as their leader. The prison officials were keeping him in the segregated housing unit of the jail, which is basically solitary confinement. They would smuggle letters to him through corrupt guards. They sought his blessing to kill me, but Allah (s.w.t.) had other Plans.
Talib, hugged me and lead me out of the cell to meet the rest of the brothers. They were all staring at me with a look of amazement and respect. Each of the brothers came and shook my hand. Allah (s.w.t.) had turned hell on earth into a Paradise. That was the best 6 months I have ever spent behind bars. I learned about the history of Salafism and they learned about adab and Qur’an. Within two months, 20 brothers took the thariqa’ from me and the rest were my loyal friends, even until now.
Everything I learned about the Salafi movement would benefit me later in life. I understood what the movement was all about and I understood why it appealed to the violent side of people. This understanding would prove very useful later in life as I was confronted with the same situation. I just wish I could tell you that my meetings with other Salafis at other prisons was as good. It was not. I thank Allah (s.w.t.) for Giving me guides on His Path every step of the way. Hasbun Allahu wa Ni’ma al-Wakil.
My original intention was to move on without going into detail about my experience in Philadelphia Federal Detention Center, but after thinking about it, I have decided to talk a bit about my experience there with our Salafi brethren. This experience has forever changed my life because above all, I was afforded an opportunity to really learn about this ever-growing movement called Salafism.
Abu Dharr al-Salafi was so revered by his codefendants and brothers in my cell block that, they all bowed to his opinion and instructions to treat me as a brother and to learn from me. There were a few hard liners that still treated me with mistrust and skepticism, but it was cool overall. Everyone knew that I was a Sufi adherent, and they had been taught as part of their ‘aqidah that Sufism and thariqa’ were bad and to be avoided like a disease. They had been taught that in most cases, Sufis were all guilty of shirk. And sad enough, they had been taught that it was permissible to mistreat, rob and, in some cases, even kill Sufis. I am sure some of you think this is a generalization on my part, but it is, in fact, one of the core and fundamental principles of the entire movement.
Anyway, I had to seek guidance as to how to proceed. Allah (s.w.t.) was definitely up to something quite amazing, but it scared me. It was synonymous to a bunch of pit bulls surrendering to a bunny rabbit. I needed guidance, I needed idzn; so I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) again, but as before, I was told that he had traveled somewhere overseas. So, I reached back out to my beloved teacher, Shaykh Jibril Madaha (q.s.).
Shaykh Madaha (q.s.) picked up the phone. ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum?’
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Malam, how are you? It’s Ibrahim Dimson’
‘My son, how are you? Have you been doing the prayer that Sayyidah Ruqayyah Niasse gave you?’
‘Yes, Malam. Allah is Merciful. I’m no longer in danger.’
‘al-Hamdulillah. Never abandon that prayer, Ibrahim. It will keep you safe under all circumstances.’
‘Okay, shaykh. But now, the same people that wanted to kill me, now want me to teach them about Islam. I don’t know how to proceed; I’m confused.’
Shaykh Madaha (q.s.) began to laugh at me. Then he said, ‘That prayer has saved Ibrahim from the Fire again, I see! Don’t worry, Ibrahim. Don’t be confused or afraid. Teach them about the reality of Islam. No need to teach them about Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah. Teach them about Thariqa’ Muhammadiyyah.’
‘I don’t understand.’
Shaykh Madaha (q.s.) said, ‘Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah is, in reality, Thariqa’ Muhammadiyyah and Thariqa Muhamadiyyah is, in reality, the real Islam, and the real Islam is nothing more than good manners and respect towards the Creator and Creation. Teach them how to be good, Ibrahim. Teach them adab.’
Shaykh Madaha (q.s.) prayed, ‘May Allah Help you and Guide them through you. You have full permission to teach them, Ibrahim. Do well. as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, shaykh. Thank you.’
The way he simplified things for me was a blessing. It eased my fears and calmed my worries. The first thing I sought to do was teach them how to properly read and recite the Qur’an. They appreciated learning how to properly recite the Book of God. I truly believe that, above all, was what really softened their hearts towards me. As I taught them how to read and recite, I would also explain certain verses to them, as was explained to me by my father, who in turn learned the explanation from Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.).
The brothers began to flock to my cell at all times of the day, to talk with me about Islam. It was during these informal settings that I taught them the importance of adab. Adab, from a Sufi perspective, means the good manners, good thoughts and respect for God, for mankind and for yourself. It is the fruit of the tree of Islam. Ihsan was the branch that this fruit grows from. And the understanding basically has a deep reality that essentially trains the person to love and respect everything. Because everything is connected, everything comes from One, everything has a special and secret quality that must be known and treated according to that knowledge. This was the Thariqa’ Muhamadiyyah, the Path of Muhammad (s.a.w.).
When I was not teaching the Qur’an or answering questions or talking about adab, I was learning as much as possible about Salafism. Talib was my teacher in this. I thought it only fair that I have a good, sound knowledge of the founders and history of Salafism. I learned that Salafis respected and revered two men above all: Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab and his friend, ibn Sa’ud. I will not recount the entire history of the Wahhabi movement here, but what I will say is that I understood better why they hated Sufis and what made them so violent. I learned that Saudi Arabia use to be called only Arabia. I learned that the Ottomans were the khulafah of the Islamic world until ibn as-Sa’ud joined forces with the British to overthrow their fellow Muslim brothers the Ottomans. I learned that, in the process, traditional Islam and its sciences were disavowed by ibn Sa’ud and his shaykh, ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab and it was all replaced with their brand and interpretation of Islam. I learned that the Sufis were blamed by the Wahhabis for what they believed was corruption in the religion. Religious verdicts were created that basically made it legal to destroy all Sufi cemeteries, and graves of prophets and saints. This verdict also allowed for the murder, confiscation of property and abuse of Sufis and Shi’ites.
The religion was under attack ideologically, spiritually and physically. A ‘renewed’ Islam was being forced down the throat of Muslims by its self-proclaimed mujaddid, reviver, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab. The Muslim world was experiencing forced conversion from traditional and peaceful Islam, to a new ‘Islam’ that had violence as its modus operandi. I learned that Wahhabism had many names: Salafism, Izala, Boko Haram and many others, and was the ideological spearhead of most of the extremist and terrorist movements to date. The majority of Muslims that follow this way, all love and revere Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and ibn as-Sa’ud.
It was a sobering lesson in Islamic history. But it made me understand better, why my fellow inner-city young African-American brothers were so attracted to this particular brand of Islam. You see, it never removed gangsterism from their lives. It continued to allow them to set trip. It continued to allow them to identify their enemies because their enemies did not grow long beards or did not cut their pants to the ankles. Basically, the brothers replaced their gangster affiliations with one huge global gang. And the natural enemy was Sufism, which preached the polar-opposite of what they were preaching. The Sufi Islamic methodology is infused with spirituality and goodness and the striving towards excellence. It has, at its core, tolerance and respect for Muslims and non-Muslims. It is, and will always remain, the natural enemy of Wahhabism.
Please remember that everything I have posted here is based on my own research and opinion. It is not meant to offend. I am simply giving you all a glimpse of what has become one of the most important things to me. Learning about Wahhabism has created in me the yearning to truly work for God and His Messenger (s.a.w.) and the fundamental message of love. But at the time, I did not know exactly how that work would be performed. I knew that what was going on between myself and the Salafi brothers in Philadelphia Federal Detention Center was a rarity. Indeed, my experiences with Salafis after that has been very different. I understood them and they hated me more intensely because of that.
After several months, I was transferred to Fort Dix Federal Prison. It is the biggest Federal Prison Complex in the United States and my brief stay there was very interesting to say the least. Despite having been to jail before, I had never actually been to a real prison. All of the places I had been were detention centers, not actual prisons. You see, a detention center is where people stay when arrested and undergoing the trial process. Once you are sentenced, you get moved to an actual prison. The severity of your crime sometimes dictates what level of prison a person is sent to.
Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) was located in New Jersey, about 40 miles from Philadelphia. It is a huge complex that houses almost 5,000 inmates. It actually houses the most inmates out of all the other Federal Prisons in the United States. I will never forget the first day I stepped onto the prison grounds. I was expecting huge walls and lots of bars and stuff; you know, the way prison looks on TV. It could not have been more different. The institution was built more like an inner-city housing-project or apartment complex. It is a huge neighbourhood with buildings that are used for housing inmates, a dining-hall, a gymnasium and a prison work factory. It was one big plantation with 5,000 inmates and maybe 50 guards. It is the most unique institution in the whole country because it houses large groups of every nationality. There were Africans, Asians, South Americans, Europeans and Americans. Every group comprised of several hundred members. There were also divisions based on the part of the state that we were from. So, New Yorkers had a crew, Philadelphia, Virginia, Washington D.C., California, Detroit and every other state had crews. The next grouping was that of the gangs: Bloods, Crips, Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Niettas, MS, TRG, PowRule and dozens of other gangs. Finally, there were the religious gangs: Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Jews, Nation of Islam, 5 Percenters, Hebrew Israelites, Wiccan and a few others. And yes, I did say ‘religious gangs’. Every person there is affiliated with one of the many groups, and sometimes more than one. It is a microcosm of the world as we know it.
Everything went down at Fort Dix. Every type of criminal in existence was at Fort Dix; murderers, thieves, rapists, fraudsters, child-molesters, financial crooks, ex-mayors, ex-governors and even ex-presidents of foreign countries. Everyone was fighting to survive the horrors and misery of prison life. Everyone was clinging to some hope of one day becoming a free man again. Most importantly, everyone was about some business. My business was gaining closeness to God and staying alive.
My existence there was inevitably dictated by my religious affiliation. For the first few weeks, I tried to keep as much to myself as possible. I wanted to mind my own business and not get into any problems with the Muslims there. But that did not last long at all. The Muslims there were the biggest gang in the facility. They had over 1,000 members. They were the largest and deadliest group. When I found this out, it sickened me. I did not want to be bothered by the religious bickering I had previously experienced.
As expected, a few weeks after my arrival there, I was approached by a delegation of Muslims. They were Salafi. I told them that I was not interested in joining their group and just wanted to be left alone. They backed off. Soon after, another group approached me. This was a group that identified themselves as Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah. This group were followers of the four traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence. They were the avowed enemies of the Salafi group. I was very cordial to them, but told them that I was a simple Muslim and wanted to be left alone. After them, I was approached by the Shi’ites. I told them the same thing I told the others. Finally, I was approached by the inmate imam himself. He was a big guy with a beautiful smile and slight accent. His name was Abdul Ghani. He was a very nice and courteous man. With him was a brother named Eman. The two of them commanded a great deal of respect from everyone at the institution. They had each been in prison for over 20 years. I expected another pitch to join whatever group they were affiliated with, but they simply introduced themselves to me and asked me simple questions about where I was from. They brought with them two big bags of food and toiletries. They welcomed me and told me that I could come to them for anything. I felt very comfortable with them and assured them that I would. It seemed as if they wanted to ask me something but for some reason I felt like they were holding back. I was still skeptical about their intentions and did not plan on reaching out to them or anyone of the other Muslim groups that approached me earlier.
It was my custom to perform my prayers in a small empty room in the unit that I lived in. I would hide myself there and perform my obligatory prayers and my daily wird and wazhifah. I did not have prayer beads, so I tore a piece of my bed linen, tied 100 knots in it and used that as my counter for my dzikr. I avoided praying in congregation with the other brothers, and I stayed away from the Friday prayers. It was the one time of the week that all of the Muslims, no matter what faction, came together to perform the obligatory prayer.
One day, about a week after I was visited by Abdul Ghani and Eman, I went to my ‘hide-out’ to perform maghrib. As I began the prayer, someone entered the room and stood behind me as I prayed. I was incredibly uneasy. Damn, could it be one of the fanatics come to try and stab me again? Was it a corrections officer? Was it some pervert watching me as I prayed? I resisted the urge to turn around. I left it to God, and focused on my prayer. When I finished, I turned to see who it was and to my surprise, it was Abdul Ghani and Eman. They had joined me in the prayer. I said nothing and continued with my supplications. When I was done, I shook their hands and got up to leave. Normally, I would sit there and perform my wazhifah but I did not feel like answering any questions about what I was doing.
They just sat there, looking at me with an expression of sadness and expectation, waiting. I ignored their looks and left the room. It baffled me as to how they found me and why they chose to pray with me. Abdul Ghani usually led the prayers in the chapel with almost 200 other brothers. So why was he doing praying behind me in my hide-out? Anyway, that night, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned restlessly, thinking about what had happened earlier. I finally fell asleep. The dream came to me almost immediately. I was walking by the prison chapel on my way to the dinning-hall, when I heard a sound that was so shocking to me, that it made me pause. I could not move. I could only stand there and listen to the sound of people performing the Tijani wazhifah. I had not heard the congregational wazhifah in so long that it shocked me into stillness. What was even more alarming, was the fact that it was happening in the prison chapel. All I could do was walk into the chapel to investigate.
As I entered, I saw my shaykh, Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) sitting there, with a bunch of people that I did not know. These people were much bigger than your average person. In fact, as I continued to look at them and my shaykh in amazement, I began to realise that the people performing the wazhifah with him were not ‘people’. They were huge! I mean, they looked like giants! All of them. It may seem funny to some of you but the best description I could give to describe these ‘people’ is that they all looked like Shrek. I was totally amazed! My attention went to Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). He was leading the dzikr. He motioned for me to come and join. I hurried over to him and sat right next to him in the circle. The sound coming from the Shrek-like people was the most beautiful I have ever heard. I was mesmerised. As we finished, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) turned to me and greeted me warmly. He asked about my well-being. I told him I was fine.
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘I wanted to come and perform the wazhifah with you here because I’ve been traveling, and I know that you’ve been looking for me.’
‘Thank you so much, Shaykh.’
‘I sent two of my people to bring you to me, but they said you refused to come.’
‘Nobody came to me, Shaykh.’
‘Abdul Ghani and Eman didn’t come to you?’ I was struck speechless. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) continued, ‘They are your brothers, Baye. Perform the dzikr with them, okay?’
‘Yes, Shaykh. But I didn’t know.’
‘It’s okay. Just help them, okay?’
‘Okay, I’m sorry, Shaykh.’
‘No problem. Help them and teach them. You must also learn what they have to teach you.’
‘What are they going to teach me, Shaykh?’
‘They will teach you the language of the external scholars.’
‘You’ll understand soon.’
Pointing at the group that we were sitting with, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘These are your brothers too. They are always with you, Baye.’ He looked at me and smiled. And then I woke up.
What a strange dream. I had never had such a weird dream with Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) in it; the crazy looking creatures whom he called my brothers, and him mentioning ‘Abd al-Ghani and Iman, and them teaching me the knowledge of the ‘external scholars’. It was all very strange. I wrote it all off as meaningless. Normally, I would try to call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) to get some clarity, but I decided to just forget about it.
That evening I went to my private prayer room to perform the maghrib prayer. As before, I felt people enter the room as I prayed. When I finished praying and turned to look, I saw that it was Abdul Ghani and Eman again. They sat there and stared at me, like before. I shook their hands and began to leave but something stopped me. It was the thought of the dream that I had the night before. I decided to take a chance. I sat back down facing them. I pulled out my prayer counter made from torn linen and began the wazhifah. The two of them smiled at each-other and joined in. To my astonishment, they both knew the entire dzikr.
Afterwards, the imam told me that he was actually originally from Nigeria and had been incarcerated for drug trafficking. He had been locked up for 21 years. He said that his father was a Tijani and that he dreamt of me a year ago. He said, he actually saw me in the dream and that his father was telling him to look out for my arrival. He said that his father described me as one of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse’ (q.s.) students. I was speechless. Brother Eman told me that he was a Shadzili and that Abdul Ghani was his teacher and closest friend. He knew Swalawat al-Fatih, and wanted to perform the dzikr in congregation for the first time.
These two brothers became my closest friends. I taught them about thariqa’ and we did wazhifah together daily. In turn, they taught me the knowledge of the ‘external scholars’. They taught me everything I needed to know about fiqh and ‘aqidah. I became a minor expert in the fiqh of the four schools as well as the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools of ‘aqidah. You see, in prison, all we had was time. So, we used it to learn the things that were most important to us. I learned about the history of Islam and development of its scholarly traditions: fiqh, ‘aqidah and many others. This knowledge would become my shield against future encounters with Muslims that were totally against me and what I stood for. This knowledge would also help me better understand my own thariqa’ and the importance of our method of knowing God.
Everyone respected Abdul Ghani and Eman for their extensive knowledge of Islam, and now, everyone was beginning to notice me. The question everyone wanted to know was, ‘Who is the dude that Imam and Eman are always in conversation with? Who is he? He must be important.’
It was all good, for a few months until a bus load of Salafis were brought to our prison. Everything changed. The peace that everyone was living under was shattered. Each Muslim group was baited into division and sectarianism. It was a war between 1,000 Muslims, each group having at least 100 members, with the exception of my group: we were 3 - myself, Abdul Ghani and Eman.
The Salafis had rolled in on a bus and within days, had managed to completely agitate every group of Muslims on the prison compound. Their main target was the prison imam, my dear friend, Abdul Ghani. The Salafis wanted control of the Muslim population. The only way that could happen was if one of their own was to become the imam. You see, in prison, the inmate imam and his staff are given the responsibility by the prison administration to oversee their flock and all things related. It is the administration’s policy to allow inmates to run their own religious affairs. The imam would be responsible for ordering all religious literature, CDs and DVDs and would be responsible for inviting guests to speak to the congregation. The Salafis use this platform to create an ‘Islamic’ curriculum that revolves around their ideologies, their philosophies, their beliefs and prejudices. They can effectively turn a prison institution into an incubator for hardcore Salafis. I can say that 75% of the prison Muslim population in the United States falls into this category. All new converts are trained in Salafi beliefs and prejudices. They are trained to hate, criticise and deem everything that their knowledge falls short of as haram.
At first, they approached the imam privately and tried to intimidate him. Abdul Ghani was a veteran of these types of incursions, and he smoothly deflected their advances. But then, they became more aggressive at classes and even interrupted the imam at juma’ah prayer while giving his khuthbah. This enraged the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah group and even most of the other groups defended Abdul Ghani. He was a just and fair imam who accepted the different groups. He accommodated everyone and was the epitome of wisdom and respect.
A fight between the two groups erupted that weekend in the dining hall. War was declared! The Muslims had officially split and were at war for the imamate and ultimate power of the prison jama’at. It was surreal. You would think we were in Syria or Libya or Iraq. It was sectarian warfare in its purest form, and I was in the middle of it. The Salafis began to notice that Abdul Ghani was very close to Eman and I. They began asking around about me. When it came out that I was a man of thariqa’ and taswawwuf, it was as if the world was coming to an end for the Salafis. To them, I was a heretic, an innovator and a corrupter. I had to go and Abdul Ghani had to go.
I became worried for myself and for my two comrades. I did not fear any harm coming to myself because of the prayer I was repeating 1,350 times in the morning and evening. I knew that Hasbun Allahu wa Ni’ma al-Wakil, was working for me. I knew that the Words of God always Fulfilled its Promise, I knew that I was Protected. But I needed Protection for my friends as well. I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) to seek his permission to give the prayer to ‘Abd al-Ghani and Iman.
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) replied, ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
I knew his voice better than my own mother’s voice. ‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh.’
‘Baye! How are you? Long time no hear from.’
‘Wa Allahi, I’ve been calling for over a month, Shaykh. They said you traveled.’
‘It is true. I’ve been back for only two days now. How are your studies coming along?’
‘Good, but a lot has happened since last I spoke to you.’
‘I know, Baye. Anyway, no need to talk much. You have my permission to help your brothers. Give them Hasbun Allahu to do also. Do you have a pen and paper there with you?’
‘No, Shaykh, can you hold for a minute while I get one?’
‘Yes, go ahead.’
I rush to get a pen and notepad. ‘Okay, I’m here, Shaykh.’
‘I’m going to give you two more prayers to do. The first is called Hizb al-Bahr and the other is called Mussab’at al-‘Ashr.
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) dictated both of these prayers to me on the phone and gave me instructions about the amount of times to recite and time of day to recite. He told me to teach it to my two friends also. ‘Thank you, Shaykh. Thank you very much.’
‘May Allah Bless and Protect you, Baye.’
‘Don’t worry, no harm will come to any of you. Also, my other students are there protecting you as well.’ I knew better than to ask him about his ‘other’ students that were protecting me. ‘But you must try to read Qur’an out loud to them every morning after fajr. They have complained that you don’t do it and they want to hear Qur’an, so please do it for them, Baye.’
It may sound crazy to some of you but according to the Islamic belief, there are other Creations of God that inhabit the earth with us. Some are believers and doers of good, and others are not. They are among the first group to accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) after hearing him recite Qur’an. God Tells us about it in the Qur’an. So, I knew what my shaykh was implying and I gladly accepted that responsibility. I simply said, ‘I promise I will, Shaykh.’
‘Okay, Baye, do all of what I’ve given you and you will see the Power of Allah. Call me next week.’
‘Thank you, Shaykh. I will.’
After giving the good news to ‘Abd al-Ghani and Iman, and instructing them in how to recite the prayers Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had given me, I went to my bunk to rest for the night. I slept fairly well and woke up for fajr. After the prayer, I did all of my obligatory dzikr as well as all of what was given to me by Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). As I finished and got up to leave the room, I heard a deep voice in the corner of the room say in a very angry voice, ‘Keep your promise, Ibrahim!’ I turned to see who was talking to me, but the room was empty. I froze out of fear. I must have imagined that, so I turned to leave again, and this time, a very high pitched voice yelled right in front of my face, ‘Keep your promise, Dimson!’ This time, I knew I was not bugging out because I could feel the heat from its breath and the smell of his breath was that of pure cinnamon!
An ordinary person would have either fainted or ran out of the room screaming with fear. But, my experiences thus far in life with my teachers and shuyukh had created an inner fortitude that was capable of handling almost any unexplainable event. I immediately realised who was talking to me and what they were asking me to do. I have heard my father tell stories about the jinn and how an encounter with them often leads people into madness. The intensity of their appearance or even their voice can drive a person completely mad
I was in a very rough spot at that moment. I had not brought my Qur’an with me to the prayer room, and I was afraid to tell them that I had to go get it from my locker. I think I was more afraid of hearing a response from them if I spoke up. But I managed to control my crippling fear and say to them, ‘I need to go get my Qur’an from my locker. I’ll be right back.’
The response came back quickly: ‘We are waiting.’
I rushed to my bunk and into my locker and found my Qur’an. One part of me wanted to get in my bed and hide under the covers, but another side of me pushed me back to the prayer room. It was empty as before. I sat in the middle of the room, opened my Qur’an and began reading from Surah al-Fatihah. As I read on into the second surah, the room became extremely hot and very cramped. It felt crowded. I read on despite the feeling of nausea. The room began spinning, and I started to faint. I felt myself leaning over as if to fall from my sitting position. It was too much for me. As I keeled over, a gentle but strong presence caught me in mid-fall. I looked up to see who had caught me. Modesty prevents me from saying who that person is. All I could hear the Blessed One say was, ‘Be gentle with him; he is one of mine.’ I woke up lying in the middle of the room, on my back, with the Qur’an on my chest. All I could think about was the beauty of that person. Allah (s.w.t.) is Kind. I have never told anyone about this before now. Only Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) knows about this event. I think it will serve as a reminder to some, that we are not alone and that the unseen realm is definitely real.
We all recited our special prayers for three days. During that time, the Salafis stabbed six brothers and one was in critical condition. They made it known that their target was Abdul Ghani, Iman or me.
On the 4th day after receiving the prayers from Shaykh Hassan (q.s.), the Salafis decided to make their move on us. Abdul Ghani, Eman and myself were in the library chatting. They had timed us and were going to attack us all at once, in the library. They were coming in full-force, 25 strong. We had no clue that we were about to be ambushed. As we finished our talk and headed out the doors of the building, a large group of guys came into the building and headed straight for us. It had to be about 50 guys, all looking ready for war. Their leader approached us and greeted us. His name was Brother Mark, and he was the leader of the Christian inmate community in the prison. He addressed us. ‘What’s up, Imam. You got a crew of them Salafi guys headed over here to take ya’all out. They are two minutes away. One of our brothers overheard the guys scheming on you and informed us. I can’t let a good man like yourself and your two brothers here go down like that. So, we are here to help and protect you.’
At that moment, the Salafis came through the door. It was them against the three of us and a crew of Baptist Christians! The leader of the Salafi hit squad was a guy named Ubayd. He said, ‘We ain’t got no problems with you Christian dudes, so please leave us to handle our business with those three innovators.’
Brother Mark replied, ‘You gonna have to kill every one of us to get to these three brothers.’
The Salafi crew looked totally confused. They did not know whether to attack or retreat. There were twice as many of the Christians as them. ‘Ubayd was quiet for a minute and finally said, ‘It’s cool. We will deal with them another time.’ The Salafi crew backed down and began to exit the building.
Brother Mark and his Christian crew waited about five minutes and then escorted us back to our housing units. As we walked down the compound, we saw about 30 corrections officers standing over a bunch of inmates that were face down on the ground. Next to each inmate was a large pile of knives and blades. It was the Salafi crew! They had been stopped by the officers as they were leaving the confrontation they had had with us and were being searched. The officers were suspicious of them because they were all walking together and looking very pissed off about something. In prison, inmates cannot walk in large crowds together. If an officer sees more than two inmates walking together, it is an automatic stop and search. I guess the Salafi guys had forgotten that rule and were now in deep trouble. Getting caught with a knife was a guaranteed six months in the ‘Hole’ and after that, an administrative transfer to a maximum security facility. In one swoop, Allah (s.w.t.) had Removed all 25 of the Salafi hit squad from the compound. The remainder of the Salafis that were there at Fort Dix were placed under investigation and found to be responsible for the distribution and selling of cocaine in the institution. They too, were shipped out of the institution. Within a week, there was not a Salafi left at Fort Dix. I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) to tell him what had happened.
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh.’
‘Baye, how are things?’
‘Shaykh, all of our problems are solved now.’
‘Okay. Don’t stop doing the prayers I gave you. And never again say that all of your problems are solved. So long as there is Shaythan and so long as you are in this world, the problems will never end. Get used to it, Baye. That is the way of human existence; no rest as long as the enemy is alive, Baye! Continue your work. May Allah Protect you.’ Those words were imprinted on my heart from that moment on.
All I could think was, ‘Damn, what next?’
After the Salafis were transferred out of Fort Dix, there was a peace and calm that was absolutely wonderful. All of the Muslim groups, no matter the sect came together as one unified family. It was beautiful, yet sad at the same time, the fact that Muslims were shedding each other’s blood. But I learned so many lessons from that incident. Allah (s.w.t.) was truly Teaching me in this ‘School of Yusuf (a.s.)’. He was Teaching me tolerance by Making me deal with fellow brothers in faith that were very intolerant. He was Teaching me loyalty by Placing me in life and death situations with other brothers. He was Teaching me to rely on Him by relying on my prayers, supplications and special adzkar. He was Teaching me to trust Him by trusting His representatives, my shuyukh and teachers. But the one lesson that had the greatest impact on my heart was the fact that his Mercy and Protection could Manifest itself at any time and through anyone. The Christian brothers that came to our aid was nothing but the Manifestation of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Mercy and Protection. I realised the truth in the statement that Allah (s.w.t.) can aid the religion through an unbeliever and he can test the believers through their own. This was my first lesson of this sort and it would repeat itself a few more times over the years.
A month or so after the showdown, I was informed by my prison counselor that I was getting transferred to a minimum security prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama. My classification points had dropped and that meant, I could now be housed in the lowest security-grade institution in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I was being sent to the Federal Prison Camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. 30 of us were selected to go to the camp. Everyone was so happy and excited, except for me. Although I had only been there for less than six months, I was very comfortable there. Besides, I really did not want to leave the company of my two good friends, Abdul Ghani and Eman. But, I had to go. We said our farewells and parted ways.
The Federal Prison Camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama was nothing more than a college campus filled with ex-convicts. It was beautiful. I mean, it had manicured lawns, nicely kept dormitories, a culinary-arts school and a CDL- school for the inmates. There were no high fences, no barbed-wire, no guard towers, no cameras and best of all, no Salafis. The government was wasting money by keeping us there. There was next to no security there. A person could simply walk away. Our living quarters were also, very comfortable. We lived in 2-man cubicles. We had spring-mattresses and the entire building was air-conditioned. This place could not have been more different from Fort Dix or any other prison. The only indication that it was a prison was the fact that we all had to wear dark green shirts and pants.
There was a UNICOR factory there, which basically is a factory where inmates manufacture goods for the United States Army, Bob Barker industries, other prisons and other companies that supported ‘slave’ labour. I believe, the UNICOR pay rate started at 15 cents per hour. I cannot deny the fact that many men were able to send money home to their families because of UNICOR and that it was a way for inmates to lessen the financial burden on their loved ones, but I also know that it drives the prison industrial complex and has an impact on arrest and conviction rates.
I refused to work UNICOR, and the other jobs at Maxwell were not going to be good for me either. You see, the rest of the inmates would get on buses every morning and go to work in the Air Force base, as maintenance workers, clerks or grounds-keepers. These jobs put us in direct contact with civilians and Air Force personnel. There was widespread fornication and all types of crazy stuff going on! It was an inmate’s dream come true. Almost everyone had an Air Force girlfriend. I passed on that, and landed myself a job as a cook. Since Maxwell had the culinary arts school, it was imperative that it also had the best food in the Federal Prison system. I could honestly say that we ate better than most people ever do. My experience in the restaurant business put me in a very favoured position. I could basically cook whatever I wanted for the inmate population, and I made sure we ate extremely well.
I met and became friends with quite a few guys there but one friend in particular would prove to be my most lasting and beloved of all. His name was Eddie, later to be known as Abdul Mateen. Unknown to Eddie nor myself, we would one day in the near future, make history. The Muslim community there was small, perhaps only 20 brothers. The imam was a really nice brother named Bud. He and I became good friends. The Muslims at Maxwell were relatively peaceful. Most of them knew very little about the religion. Bud would sit with me for hours, asking questions about the religion. Soon after, all of the brothers there would stop by my cubicle to sit and chat about the religion. I became, in effect, the assistant imam there. Bud would try to get me to be the full-time imam, but I would always refuse. Every now and then, there would be some small controversy to erupt, but nothing big. I did my year there relatively smoothly and was released.
They gave me a one-way bus ticket to New York City. While at the bus stop, I changed almost $10 into coins just so that I could call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). I was anxious to let him know that I was free.
‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Baye, congratulations!’
‘Shaykh, Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam. Thank you so much"
‘May Allah Bless you and keep you safe.’
‘Amin. I want permission to leave here and come to stay with you in Kaolack.’
‘No, Baye, you have much more work to do there in America.’
‘Don’t worry, Baye, the Messenger of God has said that a person is always with the one he loves. We are always together Baye.’
‘For now, I want you to be in close companionship with Shaykh Jibril Madaha. He is not well. Spend time in his company and serve him. There is much to learn from him, Baye. He was one of your father’s close friends and one of the great muridun of my grandfather.’
‘Yes, I love him very much, Shaykh.’
‘Good. al-Hamdulillah. May Allah Love you.’
‘Now it is time for your next test, Baye.’
‘My next test?’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) laughed. ‘Yes, of course.’ Then he quoted Allah’s (s.w.t.) Statement in Qur’an:
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe” and that they will not be Tested? (Surah al-‘Ankabut:2)
I began to develop a major headache. ‘What is my next test?’
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) said, ‘The biggest test of all.’
I stood there for a minute wondering what the biggest test of all could possibly be. I decided to call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) back and ask him. I reached in my pocket to get more money to call him, but I did not have any more money. Suddenly, it hit me! The biggest test of all was poverty!
It is incredibly hard to describe the feeling of being released from imprisonment. It is one of the greatest feelings a person can experience. But to be completely honest with you, I was a bit sad. I know it sounds crazy, especially with all that I had been through, but honestly, there was a sadness there. On one hand, the pressures and guilt of having to leave your family to fend for themselves and missing out on all of the things that a free man is accustomed to, can make a person extremely sad while in prison. But on the other hand, I had experienced such growth intellectually and spiritually. I had time to read dozens of books, I had time to recite and contemplate the Qur’an. I had time to study the history of my religion. I had time to dig deep into the sciences of fiqh, ‘aqidah and taswawwuf. I learned about the amazing intellectual history of our religion. My prior incarceration only proved to be an introduction to these things. This incarceration afforded me the opportunity to dig deeper; it was a strengthening of my faith and conviction that God is One and Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is definitely His amazing prophet and messenger. It allowed me to appreciate my spiritual lineage also. I read every book I could get my hands on that had anything to do with Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.), Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.), Imam Ahmad az-Zarruq (q.s.), Imam as-Suharwardi (q.s.), Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), Imam al-Qushayri (q.s.) and my favorite, Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.). I discovered these giants of Islamic spirituality. I learned to love and appreciate all of the Sufi thuruq. I understood how each thariqa’ was tailor-made to deal with the spiritual sicknesses of its time.
On the beliefs side, I fell in love with ‘Aqidat ath-Thahawiyyah and its simplification of the intellectual understanding of what a Muslim should believe and understand. I learned to respect deeply, the four a’immah and their students and how they codified the ritualistic aspects of the Diyn in a way that actually made it easy for the average Muslim to perform all of the religious rites. I read everything written by the a’immah. Three books that really allowed me to look at the science of jurisprudence from a different perspective were Imam ash-Shafi’i’s (r.a.) ar-Risalah, al-Muwaththa’ of Imam Malik (r.a.) and ‘Umdat as-Salik by Imam Shihab ad-Din al-Miswri (r.a.), which is actually an extended commentary of an earlier book written by Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.). I realised that the world of Islam was full of flavour. It was alive and vibrant. It had a history that was being forgotten and I was blessed to have been exposed to it.
I am telling this because it all helped me to love and appreciate everything that my father had taught me about Islam in general and thariqa’ in particular. Knowing the history of the religion allowed me to sit in awe, at the feet of the two greatest people, for me, after the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani ash-Sharif (q.s.), and Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.), the possessor of the Faydhah of experiential knowledge of God.
I began to understand the enormity of what they had done for millions of people. I began to understand that they were to me, the representatives of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.). If I wanted to understand the Messenger of God (s.a.w.), all I had to do was look towards them and their students. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was the student of his grandfather, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.), and I was his student. That placed me within a chain of excellence that led back to the Prophet of God (s.a.w.). I did not and still do not deserve that honour.
All of the stories of the swahabah of the Prophet of God (s.a.w.) had suddenly come to life for me. I could relate my own, as well as others, experiences and better understand the type of reverence and love that was necessary to have for the beloved Messenger of God (s.a.w.). I was being Given a chance by God to enjoy a small taste of what it must have been like to be under the tutelage of God’s Prophet (s.a.w.). Please understand that in no way am I comparing myself to the swahabah or my shaykh to the Prophet of God (s.a.w.); I am simply trying to explain that the heirs of the Prophet (s.a.w.) are his representatives, and their students have a similar relationship. As foul as I was, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would never abandon me or shun me. As troublesome as I was, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would always welcome me into his embrace. As stubborn as I was, Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would deal with me patiently. He would always point me towards my ‘better self’, he would always point me towards Allah (s.w.t.).
Shaykh Hassan (q.s.), along with all of my shuyukh and teachers, treated me with the utmost kindness and respect. I was, and will forever be, undeserving of their kindness and guidance. There is no way for a person to truly understand what loving another for the sake of God means unless he or she has a shaykh. I say this because the shaykh is not your family, not your spouse and not your child. The only thing that binds you to him is the fact that he directs your heart towards God. When you love him it is for this reason alone, and that is the essence of loving a person for the sake of God. That, to me, is the best example of such love and was the example that we saw between the Messenger of God (s.a.w.) and his swahabah.
One of those shuyukh that I am forever indebted to is Shaykh Jibril Madaha (q.s.). Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had commanded me to stay in his company and to help him in his time of illness and old age. It was so very hard for me at first. I had just gotten released from prison, I had no money and everywhere I turned, the streets were calling me back. All I had to do was make a phone call, and I would be back in the saddle. All of my old criminal associates were eagerly waiting to see if I would get back in the game. al-Hamdulillah, my focus could not be swayed towards anything besides helping Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) go to his doctor’s appointments and sitting with him daily in his home in New York, listening to him tell me about Islam and Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) and the good old days. I swear, being in his company for that entire first year after release served as a protection for me. I was not allowed to succumb to the call of the streets. I had a duty to fulfill for my shaykh. I got a job as a breakfast cook at the Applebees restaurant on 42nd Street. I would work from 4 pm to 11.30 am, go home to shower, change clothes and then off to go sit with Shaykh Jibril Madaha (q.s.) until after ‘isha’.
Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) was barely in his teens when he finished the memorisation of the entire Holy Qur’an. His father decided to allow him to travel with him to perform the hajj. After settling all of his debts and providing for his family, father and son set off. They set off on foot from Togo, West Africa to Mecca Saudi Arabia. That is right; no Airplanes or nice hotel packages. They walked.
They anticipated the trip to take them about four years to complete. On the way there, Alhaji Madaha’s (q.s.) father fell ill and passed away. Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) was barely 14 at the time. So, he buried his father and continued to Makkah by himself. He arrived to the Holy House years later, performed the hajj rites and returned home to his family, now a young man. He was affectionately known to most people as Alhaji Madaha (q.s.), not simply because he performed hajj before, but because his hajj was performed in the manner of the old days.
When Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) received his Great Spiritual station, Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) was the second person in Ghana to be informed. He was the 6th person in the world to know about Baye Niasse. He was informed by his own shaykh, a man of God named Malam Idris Sufi (q.s.).
When Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) made his first visit to Ghana, he sat in his room as it was filled with crowds of students reciting Islamic poetry. At that time, the most famous poem that was being recited throughout West Africa was called al-Ishriniyyah by Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio (q.s.). It was a poem all about the greatness and beauty of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Everyone was reciting as Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) listened. When Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) began his recitation, Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) lifted his head, took off his spectacles and looked directly at him. Then he pointed at Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) and told him to come to him. When Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) walked over to Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) handed him a book and told him that it was his own Diwan, and told Alhaji Madaha (q.s.), ‘From now on, recite my Diwan instead of al-Ishriniyyah’ He was the first to begin memorising and reciting the Diwan of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.). Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) was the man that Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) would say, ‘Alhaji Madaha, come and recite the Diwan to me so that I can feel happy.’
Shaykh Jibril (q.s.) was the senior of Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) by more than 20 years, but every time he would visit Kaolack, even in his old age and sickness, he would lead the crowds of dzikr and jog in front of Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) car with loud dzikr to the masjid. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would get out and implore him to sit in the car with him, but he would always say, ‘Never can I sit next to my shaykh; only at his feet or leading his students in dzikr.’
It is a custom of the Ghanaian thulab of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) to not wear shoes in the Holy Lands of Makkah and Madina, and never in Senegal. They did this because they consider these places sacred, therefore making it impermissible to soil with their dirty shoes. They walk barefoot whenever they are in these three places. Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) continued this tradition for over 50 years.
Alhaji Madaha (q.s.) had moved to the United States in the late 1980’s. He lived in our household for a few years and I can honestly say that he was the most cheerful person I had ever met. He was a complete scholar of the Islamic sciences. One of the greatest things I had seen from him or any shaykh of his calibre happened one day when I asked him a question related to a story in the Qur’an. His simple answer was, ‘I don’t know the answer, Ibrahim.’ It was so striking to me that I stared at him and just blinked. This was one of the most knowledgeable and saintly people I had ever met and when posed with a religious question, he said, ‘I don’t know’. That display of humility left a lasting impression on me. This was who Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) ordered me to assist and keep companionship with in his illness. I remained in his service for some time until the inevitable occurred.
After the passing of my beloved teacher, Alhaji Jibril Madaha (q.s.), I fell into a state of severe loneliness. Every one of my teachers here in the United States was gone. I repeatedly implored Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) to allow me to relocate to where he was in Medina Kaolack, but each time, he would refuse. I could not understand why he would not permit me to leave America. It was a place filled with everything I was fighting to free myself from. I was penniless, everywhere I could turn, there would be a fresh opportunity to get back into the ‘game’. I will never forget a call I received from an old associate of mine. He said he wanted to see me about an important matter. I refused and told him that I was out of that kind of business. He insisted and promised me that it was not anything like what I was thinking. Since he was a childhood friend of mine, I decided to trust him. I invited him over to my apartment. He arrived late that night. I expected him to come empty-handed. But with him was a huge duffle bag. I let him in and invited him to take a seat in my living room. On the surface, I convinced myself that he was coming over for some advice of some sort, but deep down inside, I knew that it could only be one thing this guy wanted.
He sat down and placed the huge bag directly on the floor between us. ‘I know you told me that you were out of the hustle, bro, but I need you just one last time.’
‘Nah, bro, I’m good. I’m retired from all of that.’
He looked me straight in the face and opens the bag. Inside the bag was what amounted to $4 million dollars’ worth of ‘stuff’. I sat there quietly looking at what was at my feet. My mind racing, heart thumping! Here, in front of me, was about a week’s worth of work and my cut would be around $1.5 million. All types of thoughts raced through my head. Here I was, in a one bedroom apartment that cost me $1,000 a month that I was struggling to pay, no car and a bunch of fines that the federal government was forcing me to pay because of the crime I was convicted of, and just a few feet away from was the solution.
‘Let me just leave it here with you overnight, while you think about it and I’ll come back tomorrow to get your decision.’
By the time he said that, my moment of weakness had passed. ‘No, take it with you. I told you I’m out.’
He sat there studying me for a minute. ‘I can see you’re struggling, Black! You livin’ in this old apartment, you ain’t got no car and you are completely broke! I heard you were working as a cook at some restaurant downtown. Why are you allowing yourself to suffer like this man? I know you can flip this stuff in just a few days. Everybody still respects you and I know you still got all of your connections. Just do it this one time so you can get back on your feet. Help me and help yourself this last time.’
‘Sorry, I’m good. And please remember, I’m done.’
I escorted my old friend to the door and watched him walk down the hall with his bag of poison. I felt good about myself. I had stared temptation straight in the face and stuck to what was right. I tried to call Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) but he was not there. Then I went to call Alhaji Jibril Madaha (q.s.). It struck me like a hammer in the chest; he was gone! I felt so lonely at that moment. Nobody to confide in, nobody to encourage me, nobody to talk to. I had gotten so accustomed to always having access to either Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) or one of my other teachers. It was horrible! I went to bed that night feeling as if I was the only person left in the world. All I wanted to do was leave America and all of its evils and temptations. I wanted to go to my Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) in Medina Kaolack, but he would not give me that permission. I was afraid for myself. I knew that the tests would become more difficult and I was afraid of failing. I knew myself. I knew that Shaythan and my nafs were working hard to defeat me. I felt like an addict going through withdrawal. I was an addict going through withdrawal! I needed to enter a treatment facility, I needed my doctor and I needed counselors. This was my most pressing problem at the moment. I needed to escape, I needed support.
A few days after my test I received a call early in the morning as I was about to leave my apartment to go to work. It was Shaykh Mudaris (q.s.). ‘Ibrahim, as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam, Mudaris! How are you? Where have you been?’
‘I’m fine. I’ve been traveling throughout Africa and was staying in Makkah for some time now. How is everything?’
‘Everything is okay.’
‘No, I don’t believe you. You sound sad, Ibrahim. What is wrong?’ I remained silent. ‘Can you come and see me?’
‘Yes, I will come after work, insha’Allah.’
‘Okay, I will be waiting for you. Have you spoken to Shaykh Hassan lately?’
‘No, I think he is travelling.’
‘Okay. If you speak to him, please give him my greetings.’
‘Okay, I will.’
‘Thank you. as-Salaamu’Alaykum. See you later.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam.’ As I walked out of my building towards the train station, I got another call. I looked at the number on the caller ID and knew it was Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) calling me from somewhere. I anxiously picked up the phone. ‘Shaykh! as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
‘Baye, how did you know it was me?’
‘Wa Allahi, my heart told me. And nobody else calls from such strange numbers. Wa Allahi, Shaykh, it’s been a long time. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, Baye. I am in Nigeria. How is your Mother?’
‘She is doing well, Shaykh. Please pray for her and all of us.’
‘I will. May Allah Give her long life and happiness.’
‘Shaykh, I want to seek permission from you, again, to come and stay with you in Medina Kaolack. I want to be with you. Teacher is gone, Alhaji Madaha is gone… Wa Allahi, the temptations are too much for me here in America. There are no blessings here.’
‘No permission, Baye.’ I was silent. ‘Baye, Kaolack is easy. All we do is dzikr all day. America is the place of testing, hardship, temptation and most importantly, it is the place where there is a lot of Blessings! America is full of the biggest fitan, and that means it’s full of the biggest Reward for the ones that can overcome that fitan. I remember when your father called Shaykh Ibrahim seeking permission to leave America and return to Ghana. He wanted to leave for the same reasons you do. Shaykh Ibrahim told him, ‘No permission, Ahmad. My work for you is in America.’ Years later, it is he that I came to stay with, it is his house that we first performed the wazhifah with among the Americans. Your father welcomed everyone that came to America. Most of the Senegalese stayed in your father’s house first. Nobody can mention Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah in America without mentioning Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.) and Hajia Halima Dimson. You and Osman have to continue his work. Here in Africa, there is a lot of help for people. But in America and Europe and other places, they need help. They need the Faydhah.’
‘Work for Allah and His Messenger, Baye.’
‘Okay, Shaykh, but work how? Doing what?’
‘Allah will Show you. Be patient.’
‘Okay. Alhaji Ibrahim Mudaris is sending his greetings to you Shaykh.’
‘Masha’Allah. Greet him for me. Stay close to him, Baye. He is very knowledgeable and Shaykh Ibrahim loves him very much. He will help you with tarqiyyah.’
‘What is tarqiyyah, Shaykh?’
‘Once the murid has done tarbiyyah and knows Allah, then he must continue to move forward towards Allah. Water that is sitting in one place is bound to become dirty and impure. But water that is continuously flowing, will always stay clean and pure. Tarqiyyah is the constant movement towards Allah, once you know Him.’
‘Okay, Shaykh. Thank you. Will you be coming to the United States soon?’
‘No, but my brother, Shaykh Tijani will be coming soon. You and Osman stay with him and take good care of him.’
‘Okay, Shaykh. Thank you.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam.’
I had my marching orders: Stay in America and endure, fight Shaythan and fight my nafs in this country, work for Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.) and stay close to Shaykh Mudaris (q.s.) because he would help with my tarqiyyah. I promised myself that I would do as my shaykh advised. I stopped trying to leave America and I prepared myself for the inevitable struggles that were ahead. I sat at the feet of Shaykh Mudaris (q.s.) and learned more than I had ever learned. My iman increased incredibly and life was good - for a time. Unbeknownst to me, my greatest test and difficulty was yet to come.
For some reason, my focus shifted drastically towards the community that I grew up in, here in America. I had been disengaged for so many years. The hard feelings that I had harboured towards my community seemed to evaporate. Allah (s.w.t.) had Softened my heart and Made me understand that all of my experiences so far were nothing but a huge lesson for me. So I could not remain angry with Creation any longer, because in reality, it was all a Test and Education from the Creator.
In New York, the community of Tijanis and followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.) were not a homogeneous group. In the beginning, it was not so. In the beginning, the only zawiyah there was in the city was at 721, Tinton Avenue, Apartment #1J, Bronx New York 10455. This was where all of the Tijanis met each Friday afternoon for the communal dzikr, the haylalah. This is where Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) first called his home in America. This is where our group came together. It was the only place we had and it was in the middle of South Bronx, in one of the worse Projects of New York City. The Faydhah sprouted from the rubble and burnt-out buildings of the ‘hood in America. My neighbourhood had seen nothing like it, ever! America, had seen nothing like it, ever! It was a beautiful thing to see. And it was the most exciting time of my life, because 721, Tinton Avenue was my home. It was where I was born. My pride in coming from the Projects is only because of the honour we were given to have Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.), call it his home also.
My home was always busy. It was like a guest house for all of the shuyukh. If I go down the list of personalities and awliya’ that have called Tinton Avenue, home, you all would be shocked. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would send all of his family straight to us, whenever they came to America. Our apartment was huge. It had 5 bedrooms and extended the length of the entire first floor of the building. It was the most blessed house in America.
When Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) would come to visit, he would stay for months at a time, and each day, our house would be flooded with hundreds of visitors. My mother showed herself to be the greatest khadimat I have ever met in this thariqa’. She would cook for hundreds, clean-up after hundreds, break-up fights, personally make sure Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was comfortable and take care of her own children as well as others; all of this at the same time. She deserves my greatest tribute. It was she who taught us that the greatest position one can hold in this thariqa’ is that of khadim. She said that a khadim of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) is the same as an ‘abdullah, and she encouraged us to aspire to that, and that alone.
The African-Americans and Hispanics in my neighbourhood would watch in marvel as Africans of all countries, Americans, Arabs and every other ethnicity and nationality, would come through our apartment wearing beautifully majestic clothing and out-fits. It was so amazing to see. But what strikes me hardest is the fact that we were all united. We were all together under one roof. We were one family coming together for the sake of Allah (s.w.t.) and his Messenger (s.a.w.). We all recognised that our togetherness was because, all of us were yearning for the knowledge of God, for the love of God, for the love of His Beloved Prophet (s.a.w.), and the one man that could help us with this was Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.). Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) was set on a specific course, by Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), early in life. This course would lead him to become the khalifah of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) in the United States.
I became bothered by the current situation among the Tijanis in America. Over the years, as more and more immigrants came to the states and as more indigenous Americans became Tijani, things began to change. To make a long story short, New York developed three different communities within the larger community of followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). The first was the community of predominantly American muridun headed by the esteemed Imam Said Abdus Salaam. Imam Said is an amazing inspiration to me personally. He was one of my father’s best friends and the first American imam amongst the Tijanis. The Dimson and Abdus Salaam family were as one family. We visited each-other, helped each other and have never been apart. My best friends are among the family of Abdus Salaam.
The next group was the community of Ghanaians and Nigerians. My father mentored most of them. The imam of this Group was the esteemed, Imam Yusuff; he is the father of our beloved brother, Anyass. Imam Yusuff’s family and my family had the same type of relationship as that of Imam Said’s family. Our parents were like siblings and their children have always been close.
The last group was that of the Senegalese and Gambians. This community was founded by Senegalese, Gambians and Ghanaians. Many of its supporters nowadays are from the family of Baye Niasse. Each of these communities were followers of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), each stemmed from Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) efforts and each had as a founding member, my father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.).
The communities were all Tijanis under the umbrella of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). But each community soon gathered around the traditions and shuyukh of its dominant country. The Americans had Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) as their leader and representative of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.), the Ghanaians had National Chief Imam Shaykh Usman Fadama and Shaykh Malam Maikano as their leaders and representatives of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and the Senegalese had the son of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), Shaykh Alhaj Abdullahi Niasse and other children of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.), as their representatives of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.). Each group communed together for the mandatory Friday dzikr and each group celebrated Mawlid and ‘Iydayn together. There was never any tension between any of us. We were all one family, but everyone operated separately, in separate places.
The uniqueness of my father was that somehow, he was an active member of each community. He somehow managed to go to all the celebrations, raise money for each group and perform the dzikr with everyone. It was amazing really. And the beauty of it all was that, he always had my brother, Osman, and I with him. In my adult years, to see the different groups operating separately was a bit disturbing for me. I contemplated the reasons for this, and if perhaps uniting them could be the work I could do for Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.).
I expressed this to my teacher Malam Ibrahim Mudaris (q.s.) one day as I sat in his room. He never said a word. That night I had two dreams. The first was of my beloved father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.). He was wearing all white and looked as handsome as ever. He was smiling. He said one thing to me in that dream: ‘Ibrahim, our destination and goal is one. Allah has Provided many vehicles for us to ride in to reach this destination. The problem with people is that they concentrate more on the vehicle than on the destination. As long as your vehicle is Provided by Allah, sit in it and concentrate on the destination. When you see your brothers in the other vehicles, wave at them, smile and make du’a for them. They are all going to where you are going.’
The next dream was of Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) himself. He was sitting in Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) room in Kaolack and was telling me, ‘Don’t see separation, Ibrahim, only see Unity. Don’t see Creation; only see the Creator.’
When I awoke, I called Mudaris (q.s.) and told him exactly what had happened, and he told me that one of Shaykh Ibrahim’s (q.s.) famous sayings is ‘My muridun are like chickens. In the day time they scatter all about seeking provisions, but at night, they all come back to the same hen-house.’
I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and related all of this to him and he simply said, ‘Baye, a tree has many branches, but they are all connected to one root. Hold fast to your branch, Baye, and pray that your brothers in Faydhah hold on tight to theirs also, because the wind is strong and is seeking to knock all of us from our perch.’ From then on, I was like my father. I made myself part of each community and understood that we all belonged to Allah (s.w.t.). This was my first lesson in my tarqiyyah.
Life was simple yet sweet. I was dirt poor but the contentment that I was experiencing made me feel like the richest man alive. My life revolved around work, family and seeking knowledge. My local teacher and shaykh, Alhaj Ibrahim Mudaris (q.s.) was helping me to understand Islam and Thariqa’ Tijaniyyah in a way that was amazing. Mudaris (q.s.) was a consummate shaykh of all the Islamic sciences. His lessons gave me a better grip of shari’ah, Aspects of faith and most importantly, he was teaching me about the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani ash-Sharif (q.s.) and Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (q.s.). Many of my peers became critical of me because of my closeness to Alhaj Mudaris (q.s.). They could not understand why I was receiving instruction from anyone other than Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.). They did not realise that Alhaj Mudaris (q.s.) was instructing me with the permission of Shaykh Hassan (q.s.). They assumed many things that were completely wrong and for a time it troubled me. I think the biggest problem I had was the fact that I was being criticised for wanting to know God with every breath in my body at every moment. I had to call Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) and seek guidance with regards what people were saying.
There was an unknown person at the other end. ‘Wa Alaykum as-Salaam. Who is it?’
‘Ibrahim Dimson. Can I please speak to Shaykh Hassan?’
‘Baye, how are you, how’s your mother and how’s Osman?’
‘I’m fine, Shaykh, they are all well. How are you?’
‘I’m well, al-Hamdulillah. How is Mudaris?’
‘He is fine too, Shaykh. I wanted to talk to you about something, Shaykh.’
‘I’m hearing people criticising me for studying under Mudaris. They are saying that I have abandoned you for him. It is upsetting me and making me feel really bad.’
‘Don’t pay any attention to people, Baye. Don’t allow them to distract you. We appoint muqaddamat for the sole purpose of teaching and guiding the brothers and sisters. It is not possible for me or any shaykh to be in the company of all of the muridun all of the time, all over the world. The muqaddam is the extension of the shaykh, and the shaykh is the extension of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and he connects us to Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani and he connects us directly to the Messenger of God himself. So, don’t mind people. Stay focused, okay?’
‘Okay, Shaykh. Thank you.’
‘Greet your mother for me. as-Salaamu’Alaykum.’
‘I will. Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam.’
That conversation sealed the issue for me. It also freed me in a way. I told Mudaris about my talk with Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) and he simply said, ‘Our Shaykh is great.’
I was in my own little world and was totally content. But I would soon realised that there was more to life than my own little world. One Friday, I decided to attend the juma’ah at the Islamic Cultural Center at 14th Street, in Manhattan. This mosque may be the biggest and most beautiful in New York. My father liked going to this mosque and I knew that I would be able to spot Imam Said Abdus Salaam sitting in his usual spot.
It was very crowded, but I managed to find Imam Said sitting at his spot. I sat next to him quietly. He glanced at me and smiled. I really love Imam Said. Besides him being one of my father’s best friends, besides him being one of the pioneering students of Shaykh Hassan Cisse (q.s.) in America, and besides him being the first American Tijani imam, he was also one of the realest persons I have ever met. He and I shared a similar background, in that he came up as a gangster and hustler in the streets just like me. Allah (s.w.t.) had transformed him from a completely heedless person into a knower of God. Whenever I was in his presence, I felt a special connection to him. He would always treat Osman and me with such kindness and always remark how our father, Shaykh Ahmed Dimson (q.s.), must be so proud to see his boys continuing in his footsteps.
Anyway, I sat there with my tasbih in hand and enjoyed the imam’s khuthbah. After the talk, we all stood to pray. After the prayer, I chatted with Imam Said for a bit and then decided to walk him outside. There we saw other Tijani brethren. We all chatted for some time, then parted ways. I decided to stay in the mosque for another hour or so. I wanted to do some extra dzikr and prayers.
As I sat in the corner of the mosque, two brothers approached me. One was a Hispanic brother and the other was African-American. At first, I thought they were going to sit nearby and mind their own business. But they came straight up to me and sat directly in front of me. As soon as I zoomed in on their faces, I realised who and what they were. Both of them had long scruffy beards with bruises on their foreheads. I hated the feeling that the sight of these guys gave me. Seeing them created in me an anxiety that I had not felt since prison. They just sat there looking at my beads. I sat there quietly and waited.
The Hispanic brother finally broke the silence. ‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, my name is Hamza and this is Saalih.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam. My name is Ibrahim.’
Hamza spoke. ‘Brother, did you know that those beads you’re using are an innovation and are haram?’
‘That is your opinion. To the majority of the Muslim world, these beads are halal.’
That was the start of a two hour debate. These brothers claimed to be followers of the Salafi minhaj and were doing ‘da’wah’ by approaching people in the masjid and trying to convince them to follow the ‘correct’ Islam. It was as if I was back in prison. I had never really noticed these types of brothers outside of prison. As a matter of fact, a part of my mind could only attribute the Salafi and Wahhabi movement to prison. It was a rude awakening for me. The problems caused by Wahhabism were much more widespread than I thought. It was infecting the Muslim community all over the world. In different areas, it was sometimes called different things. Here, in America, it was especially strong among the youth. It was like being awakened with a cold glass of water being thrown into your face.
That encounter opened my eyes to other realities as well. It was a Friday and the American-Tijani community was meeting for the first time at a mosque in Harlem, to perform the group dzikr. The masjid leaders had welcomed us to use their facility on Fridays for the dzikr sessions. Imam Said agreed because we did not yet have our own facility to meet for the dzikr.
About 20 of us were present for the dzikr. As we sat down in a circle to start, I noticed most of the other Muslims at the mosque were watching us with fear and disapproval in their eyes. When we commenced with the dzikr, which is essentially, the repeated recital of ‘Laa illaha illa Allah,’ the Muslims around us seemed totally uncomfortable. I could not even concentrate on the dzikr. For 45 minutes, I endured the stares and whispers. When done, it was time for maghrib. We all stood to join the rest of the Muslims for prayer. After the prayer, the brother that was praying next to me turned and asked me what we were doing. I explained to him the greatness of the circles of dzikr as mentioned in the ahadits. He seemed genuine with his questions. Soon, a few other brothers came to where we were talking and we all had a very nice talk about dzikr and Sufism and other such matters. I left there feeling much better, but I also left there with the realisation that, the wider Muslim world, who are not Wahhabi, had no clue about Sufism, thariqa’ or taswawwuf. It is mysterious to many Muslims, and it surprised me that something so beautiful and something so pure could be looked at with such suspicion and misunderstanding.
It soon dawned on me that I was living in a world comprised of many other worlds. The world of thariqa’ and taswawwuf was very different from the world of Wahhabism. It was very different from the world of ordinary Muslims, and it was vastly different from the non-Muslim world. I began to experience the feeling of being very different from everyone else. I began to feel like a stranger in the world. I began to feel like a traveler with no home. I discussed these new realizations with Alhaj Mudaris (q.s.). He quoted the hadits, ‘A believer is a stranger in this world, he is never afraid of its humiliation, and he never competes for its glory. The people are in one situation and he is in a different situation…’ I could immediately relate to this statement by the Messenger of God (s.a.w.). He went on to quote another hadits: ‘Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.’ From then on, I knew what it was that I wanted to do with my life. The work that I would do for Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.) was now very clear to me. I was not a scholar or saint, but somehow, someway, I wanted to expose the wider world of Muslims and non-Muslims to the beauty and necessity of taswawwuf and thariqa’. The only way that could be done would be with money.
Realising that I was 1 man living in 4 different worlds was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had. Liberating, because it gave me focus and purpose in life. It was as if I had just been born. Shaykh Hassan Cisse’s (q.s.) repeated advice over the years, for me to ‘Work for God and His Messenger’, had finally been realised. But the job would be immense. The work I was about to undertake was massive, simply because the problem I was seeking to solve was massive. The work was one, but the ‘worlds’ that I would be operating in were very different.
There was the world of Wahhabism. My goal here was to push back on the rhetoric and propaganda that these people were pouring into the world. The idea that Islam could be divorced from its spiritual dimension was so sickening to me. I would have to connect the dots for other Muslims with regards to these people and their poisonous ideologies. I had to somehow alert people to the fact that most of the extremists in the Muslim world came out of this ideological camp. I had to show people that love, tolerance and forgiveness was the true way of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). That, Islam had an intellectual and spiritual tradition, ihsan, that was being covered up by this group with a blank check from their patrons, the Saudi monarchy. This would be a formidable challenge given the fact that I was penniless!
Then, there was the world of Islam. The intention and goal here was to awaken the Muslim world to the hidden jewel they had in the tradition of taswawwuf. Most Muslims in the past 150 years had been subconsciously programmed to view taswawwuf as something alien and bad. I had to change this somehow. I had to counter the damage done to the collective psyche of the Muslim community. I wanted Muslims to know that taswawwuf was nothing more than ‘worshipping Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not, then know that He Sees you’.
It was so simple for me, but that reality was not something easily recognisable to the masses. Centuries of trauma and misguidance had not only caused the community of Muslims in the world to abandon their spiritual traditions. It also made them take for granted the basic traditions and systems that were part of our way since the early period. Wanting Muslims to understand and appreciate taswawwuf would be very difficult given the fact that they had forgotten and abandoned even the basic schools of jurisprudential thought, the four madzahib. It was going to be an uphill battle. I was going to have to try and initiate an initiative that focused on education and exposure of Muslims to the Sufi tradition. That would take lots of money.
There was the world of the non-Muslims. The work in this world had to do with showing them that Islam was indeed a peaceful way of life, a religious tradition that valued all of the Abrahamic faiths and respected people’s right to believe in whatever they wanted. And that it is not our way to harm anyone unjustly. That suicide bombing was an abomination and completely wrong. That outrage did not only erupt from us when our Prophet (s.a.w.) was insulted; we were outraged when any of the prophets are disrespected in any way. That all life was sacrosanct. That, we were all citizens of the world and neighbours to each other. This was going to be extremely difficult, due to the fact that the Western media loved to concentrate on the ‘mad’ minority as opposed to the beautiful majority of Muslims. The media had all of the money and resources in the world; I had $50 in my pocket.
Finally, the world that I was most familiar with, the world that I was born into: the world of taswawwuf. It was my intention to unite all of the people of thuruq under one banner, for one cause. I respected the different approaches of dedication and remembrance that each thariqa’ had. My goal was not to unite them with regards their religious works. I simply wanted to unite them under the umbrella of propagating peace and love amongst humanity. If the people of taswawwuf stood together and collectively utilised their resources, monetary as well as spiritual, we would be an unstoppable force against evil and falsehood wherever it reared its head.
These were my four worlds and their problems. At first, I was totally enthusiastic and hyped about my lofty aspirations. I felt so alive and invigorated. I bought a notebook and began to write down my plans. One evening, I had a dream. I was the only person on the face of the earth. No people, no buildings, no animals, no trees. Just me, the land and a vast ocean. I stood in amazement at the fact that the whole world was empty. Then, from a distance, I could see something huge approaching me. Closer… Closer… Now I could make it out very clearly. It was the most frightening creature I had ever seen. It was something out of a horror movie. It was a combination of three different animals. It had three different tails and a huge, disgusting body. But as I focused in on its head, I noticed something strange. It had a very beautiful face. It was smiling at me. My heart was beating uncontrollably and I was on the verge of turning to run, until it spoke.
‘We have wanted to meet you for a long time, Ibrahim. You are a very interesting man. You’ve proven to be very resilient. We know about your plans, and my advice to you is to live a quiet and simple life. What you are intending to do is quite impossible. The task is too great for you or anyone, and you will most definitely suffer if you try. Leave it alone… Leave it alone… Leave it alone… The thing then let out a laugh that was so loud and horrible that I fainted immediately.
As soon as I fainted, I woke up from the dream. My body was drenched in sweat and I was freezing cold. Never before have I had such a nightmare. Never before have I felt such hate and fear. The dream had deeply disturbed my peace. It had troubled my soul. It had sowed the seeds of doubt in my heart, doubt about the success of my mission. I needed to tell someone quickly, and seek comfort from someone. I called Mudaris (q.s.) first, and told him about it. He told me that the dream was actually a good thing, and an indication that I was on the right path, and that I would need a lot of protection now. He told me to come by later for some prayers. I felt a little better, but the doubt was growing, it was beginning to take root. I needed to tell Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) Cisse. At first I was reluctant to call and bother him about a damned dream, but something told me that I had to. So, I called Shaykh Hassan (q.s.).
‘as-Salaamu’Alaykum, Baye.’ He would often somehow know that it was me calling without hearing my voice.
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam, Shaykh.’
‘A messenger came to me just now and told me about your meeting.’
‘Yes, you met your enemies today.’ Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) had done this with me countless times but it never ceased to amaze me.
‘The dream was so real, Shaykh. Who was the creature?’
‘That three-tailed monster was Shaythan, your nafs and dunya. They came to greet you and warn you. Now, you have their attention.” Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) laughed and told me to tell him what was going on.
I explained everything to him. I told him about my plans and what the creature in the dream told me. I told him about my doubts. I began to doubt the possibility of succeeding in such a great task. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) listened quietly as I told him what was in my heart. When I was done, my heart was racing. I needed Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) to tell me to chill-out and leave the whole thing alone. I needed an excuse to abandon my mission. Shaykh Hassan (q.s.) finally said, ‘Baye, it is a good sign to meet those three companions. They are with you from the time you are born until you die. Their job is to take you away from the path of God. We don’t see them, but they are there. al-Hamdulillah, you have seen them. They are real. The dream is an indication that your intentions are good. Continue Baye, and don’t fear anything. Our Lord is Great and we have to aspire to greatness! Money is not the problem for you. Stay focused and do this work for Allah and His Messenger. Allah will Provide you with everything.’
‘Okay, Shaykh, thank you.’
‘al-Hamdulillah, Baye. Say, ‘al-Hamdulillah’.’
‘But be very careful now, Baye. The Enemy has waged open war on you, so you must be aware of that.’
‘No worries. The Prophet and his people will defend you.’
‘Wa ‘Alaykum as-Salaam.’
As always, Shaykh Hassan’s (q.s.) words were like cool water for my heart. My fear turned to determination and my apprehensions turned into zeal. It was time to work. This post marks the beginning of the end of my short autobiography. I must say, the support and encouragement has been overwhelming. I ask Allah to bless each of you in a way that will give you unimaginable joy.’”