By Zakariya Wright
Sidi Ali Tamasin (1766-1844), may Allah be pleased with him, was the designated successor (khalifa) of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani (RA), and he became known as the world’s highest spiritual authority (qutb) following the passing of Shaykh Tijani. He was from the eastern Algerian oasis of Tamasin, where his zawiya is still a center of Tijani notables.Shaykh Ahmad Tijani invested him with the imama in the grand zawiya in Fes in the presence of many other notable scholars and saints. Once when asked by another disciple to be given permission for a certain prayer mastered by Ali Tamasin, Shaykh Tijani replied, “Is there another like Ali Tamasin?”
He was renowned for the karamat (saintly miracles) flowing from his hands. He was a gifted healer and knew certain secrets to travel great distances with one step or to send objects to others. For the open demonstration of these latter two abilities, he was reprimanded by Shaykh Tijani, who told him, “If you want to visit me for the sake of Allah, you should come like the common folk: with sandals, on a horse, feeling fatigue, thirst and trepidation.” Shaykh Tijani likewise told him to stop sending dates from his farm by tossing them up in the air to appear hundreds of miles away on Shaykh Tijani’s prayer mat in front of his other companions.
He was also gifted with frequent visionary encounters with the Prophet Muhammad. According to Ahmad Sukayrij, “Once, when he overheard some people discussing the vision of the Prophet, he said, ‘There are some people present with you in this time who do not do anything, small or large, without obtaining permission from the Prophet by way of face-to-face encounter as seen by the eyes. And this to the extent that they do not get up from the bed they are sleeping on unless the Prophet commands them to do so.’ And the people who heard him understood he was referring to himself.”
He had an overwhelming love for Shaykh Ahmad Tijani that preceded his own ancestors. According to Sukayrij, “He did not trace his ancestry to anyone except Shaykh Ahmad Tijani, may Allah be pleased with him. One day some of his own sons asked him the name of his father, so he said, ‘Isa.’ They said, ‘O Sidi, the son of whom?’ He told them, ‘The son of so-and-so.’ They asked, ‘And he was the son of whom?’ Sidi Ali then said, ‘Are you asking me about my lineage?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ So he said, ‘Surely, I am Ali, the son of Ahmad al-Tijani, may Allah be pleased with him.’ And it has been narrated to me that he, may Allah be pleased with him, was the son of Shaykh Tijani by the attribute of qutbaniyya (polehood)…”
It is widely reported that Ali Tamasin attained the station of polehood after the passing of Shaykh Tijani. He thus became a primary propagator of the Tariqa Tijaniyya and responsible for the spiritual training of initiates. Ahmad Sukayrij writes, “After the passing of the Shaykh, may Allah be pleased with him, the indications of the grand illumination appeared on Ali Tamasin, and he undertook the spiritual training (tarbiya) in the Tariqa. An ecstatic flood (fayadan wijdani) appeared on him such that his like was not found among the perfected shaykhs, and people came to him from the farthest horizons to take (the Tariqa) from him and get blessing from him.”
Sidi Ali Tamasin was known from an early age for his piety and scholarship, and was first trained by his father, al-Hajj Isa, himself renowned for his virtuosity and learning. Sidi Ali was also a successful entrepreneur, and became a wealthy date farmer in the desert of Algeria. He first met Shaykh Tijani in 1790 before the Shaykh’s establishment in Fes and some years after the founding of the Tijaniyya. Shaykh Tijani quickly recognized Sidi Ali’s spiritual aptitude, and ordered him to found his own Tijani zawiya in Tamasin in 1803. Such was his trust in Sidi Ali that Shaykh Tijani entrusted his own sons to Sidi Ali’s care upon his passing, asking him to install them in Ain Madi in all comfort, saying, “Only the Sahara will do for my children.” Charged with the formidable task of succeeding to the leadership of the Tariqa, he took a practical approach relying on scholarship, physical work and spiritual purification. He is reported as saying, “I recommend to you the writing board, the hoe and rosary until the soul should leave the body.” In Tamasin, he received visits from Shaykh Ibrahim Riyahi of Tunis and other scholars from Mauritania and Sudan. He was also in frequent correspondence with Sidi al-‘Arabi ibn Sa’ih, and personally instructed Sidi Ahmad Abdalawi. The Tamasin zawiya is currently led by Sidi Ali’s descendent, Sidi Muhammad al-‘Id.
Sources: Ahmad Sukayrij, Kashf al-Hijab; Siège social de la Zaouia, “La Zaouia Tidjaniya de Témacine: Modernité et Continuité” (2003); Interviews with Shaykh Hassan Cisse.