By Hajja Ashaki H. Taha-Cisse
Address at the Forum for the Followers of the Tijaniyya Order
Fes, Morocco, June 28, 2007.
(After reciting the Fatihat al-Kitab and Salat al-Fatih)
AS SALAAMU ALAIKUM WA RAHMATULLAHI T’ALA WA BARAKATUHU, DISTINGUISHED AND HONORABLE JAMMAH.
After thanking Allah and praising the Prophet (SAW,) I wish to express the sincere appreciation of the entire American delegation to His Majesty, King Mohammed VI, for his unparalleled generosity and to His Excellency, the Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs for the opportunity to address this august body.
It is with a deep sense of humility and sincere apology for not being able to speak to this distinguished assembly in the Arabic language that I make my intention to address the topic of The Future of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America.
To speak of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America, it is essential to speak of Shaykh Hassan Ali Cisse of Medina-Baye Kaolack, Senegal. Through his book entitled, Shaykh Ibrahim Niass: Revivalist of the Sunnah, Shaykh Hassan Cisse introduced American Muslims to the eminent Islamic personality of his grandfather, Shaykh of Islam Alhajj Ibrahim Niass (RA). On numerous occasions, Shaykh Hassan has told of his grandfather’s advice to him upon completion of his degree and receipt of an offer of a lucrative position in the Senegalese government. That advice was to learn English. There is no doubt that Shaykh Ibrahim Niass (RA) saw the Tariqa Tijaniyya being brought to America by Shaykh Hassan Cisse.
In order to fully comprehend and appreciate the significance of the Tariqa Tijaniyya presence in the United States of America, it is essential to first look at the state of the indigenous Muslim community in the mid 1970’s.
When our beloved Shaykh Hassan Cisse brought the Tariqa Tijaniyya to America in 1976, the indigenous American Muslim community was virtually African American by definition. It was not until some twenty years later, that a small European American Muslim presence in America appeared and another ten years until European American Muslims began entering the Tariqa at the hand of Shaykh Hassan Cisse. Therefore, it is accurate to say that African American Muslims are the bedrock of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America.
In 1976, the indigenous American Muslim community was still reeling from the assassination of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), and suffering from both the devastating effects of violent conflict between Sunni Muslims and the Nation of Islam and the escalating hostilities between indigenous American imams and their respective followers.
In the midst of these negative phenomena, many indigenous American Muslims felt deceived and betrayed and were struggling to both learn and practice their Deen. Most had vowed never to attach themselves to another leader and eschewed the notion of following anyone ever again.
Added to this was the indigenous American Muslim experience with immigrant Muslims living in America, which was generally fraught with disrespect and racism. These factors, combined with one of the most destructive symptoms of post-traumatic slave syndrome, namely, a lack of respect for and devaluation of anything associated with Africa, produced a hostile climate of fierce resistance to any notion of accepting a Tariqa and following a Shaykh, most especially one from Africa.
Into this milieu of distrust and hostility came Shaykh Hassan Cisse, whose spiritual light and Islamic scholarship was undeniable, whose character reflected the character of the Prophet (SAW) so completely that he inspired trust, respect, admiration and loyalty and whose reliance upon the words of Allah and the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) whenever he spoke pierced even the most calloused of hearts. Shaykh Hassan Cisse courageously and steadfastly worked night and day to heal the hearts of indigenous American Muslims, showing us the way to obtain Allah’s forgiveness and redirecting us from a path of destruction to the path of the Prophet (SAW). Alhamdulillah.
In 1986, 16 years after having taken Shahada, my beloved husband and I were blessed to take the Tariqa from Shaykh Hassan Cisse, but we were far from the first Americans to do so. Some 20 years earlier, American Muslims in Chicago, New York and Detroit were blessed with the ability to trust Shaykh Hassan Cisse with their lives, fi dunya wa Akhira. Several of those American Tijani pioneers are here today.
What greater proof can there be of the level of trust that was placed in Shaykh Hassan Cisse than the unprecedented phenomena of American Muslim parents sending their children thousands of miles away to Africa to learn Qur’an under their Shaykh’s guidance and protection? Imagine the level of their faith in Allah and respect and trust for Shaykh Hassan to send their children to a far away land they themselves had never seen. Alhamdulillah, one sister who is here today was so committed to Shaykh Hassan and the opportunity for American Muslim children to become Hafiz ul Qur’an, she moved to Medina-Baye with her daughter and spent six years serving as surrogate mother, nurse, teacher and counselor to the American Muslim children. She was the first American Tijani sister to leave the relative comfort of her life in America in support of Shaykh Hassan Cisse’ commitment to American Muslim children and her daughter is the first American female hafiz to emerge from Shaykh Hassan’s Qur’anic school.
It is important to note that Shaykh Hassan Cisse not only brought American Muslims the Tariqa, he taught us our religion based on Qur’an and Hadith, unencumbered by cultural nuances that had previously been imposed and which were often inconsistent with Islamic principles. First and foremost, he taught us to fear Allah and love Prophet Muhammad(SAW), to do what Allah says do and stop where Allah says stop.
Our beloved Shaykh Hassan taught us how to be with Allah and how to be with the people, how to worship Allah by serving His Creation, and he did this through his own example, not merely through words. Shaykh Hassan Cisse established the African American Islamic Institute, an international humanitarian non- governmental organization that is working toward universal education, access to health care, empowerment of women, protection of children, alleviation of hunger and poverty and the promotion of peace.
Our Shaykh taught us the value of learning the Holy Qur’an and teaching it and has afforded our children the opportunity to attend the African American Islamic institute Qur’anic school in Medina Baye Kaolack, Senegal. Many of those grown children, who are also here today, are now teaching Qur’an in America.
Shaykh Hassan Cisse has taught us that the complete human being is balanced between Shari’a and Haqiqa and provided us with the knowledge to attain that balance.
Many American Muslims had a notion of Sufism as one of asceticism, i.e., requiring withdrawal from the world. Shaykh Hassan Cisse taught us that we must be in the world, remembering Allah as much in the market place as in the masjid and that we have a responsibility to help the children of Adam through individual compassion and generosity as well as through hands on involvement in organized humanitarian efforts.
Shaykh Hassan has provided American Muslims the opportunity to reconnect with the homeland from which millions of our ancestors were stolen and forced through the many doors of no return throughout Africa. By the Mercy of Allah, through Shaykh Hassan Cisse, we have returned.
Shaykh Hassan has brought peace to the warring factions in the American Muslim community, strengthened the bonds between continental African and African American Muslims, encouraged the creation of an environment in which European Americans could be welcomed into Islam and into the Tariqa and has had a positive impact on the interaction between native born and immigrant Muslims in the United States. Even today, by including American Muslims in his delegation to this international Tariqa Tijaniyya conference, Shaykh Hassan is forging bonds of Islamic kinship that will reverberate across the globe.
It is also important to acknowledge that for many American Muslims, taking Shahada meant losing our families of origin because our Christian families could not accept our acceptance of Islam. Alhamdulillah, when we accepted the Tariqa Tijaniyya from Shaykh Hassan Cisse, he not only became our spiritual father, he embraced us in the circle of his own family.
As American Muslims, there is no way to express what becoming Tijanis through Shaykh Hassan Cisse has meant to us as individuals and as a people; no way to qualify the blessing of being his student by virtue of his Golden Silsilah, through which we entered the Tariqa Tijaniyya. All we can say is ‘Alhamdulillah’ and ask Allah to bless him with long, long life and to bless us in accordance with his elevated position.
This brings us to the future of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America, which is predicated upon the firm foundation that has been laid by Shaykh Hassan Cisse and by the work that is being carried out across the United States by his students. One need only look at the configuration of the American delegation to this conference to see how the Tariqa Tijaniyya has spread since Shaykh Hassan Cisse introduced it in 1976. Delegates from New York, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Washington, D.C. are here today representing Shaykh Hassan Cisse’s students in America.
Insh’Allah, the future of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America is assured because it is being introduced to American Muslims through a continuously increasing number of Shaykh Hassan Cisse’s Muqaddams, who are creating a Tijani presence throughout the United States. And, as more and more Muslims enter the Tariqa, more and more zawiyas are being established, with the goal of having at least one zawiya in every major city in every state in America.
Through Islamic conferences in the United States in which Shaykh Hassan Cisse presents the Sufi perspective of Islam in contrast to Salaafi / Wahabi doctrines, Sufism will be more widely understood as the antidote to the poisonous distortions of Islam being promoted and acted upon by some Muslims and widely exploited by the American media. As more and more American Muslims become exposed to a Sufi perspective of Islam, they will have an opportunity to explore the philosophy and practice of the Tariqa Tijaniyya on websites such as www.tijani.org, created by two members of Shaykh Hassan Cisse’s American delegation who are present today, as well as many others on the internet.
The future of the Tariqa in America is further assured by the adult children and grandchildren of the Tijani pioneers of the 1970’s who are Tijanis themselves and who are sending their children to Shaykh Hassan Cisse to become Hafiz- ul -Qur’an in Medina- Baye Kaolack, Senegal, where they live and learn as part of that historic Tijani community. Insh’Allah, this multigenerational expansion of the Tariqa within the United States that has been nurtured and inspired by Shaykh Hassan Cisse will continue to flourish throughout future generations.
One of the most significant contributions to the future of the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America has been the training, under the guidance of Shaykh Hassan Cisse, of American Tijani scholars. The process has already begun to make the great written works of the Tariqa available in English. Examples of this vital work are two recent books that were written or translated and edited by American Tijanis, both of whom are in attendance today. The first is entitled, On the Path of the Prophet: Shaykh Ahmed Tijani and the Tariqa Muhamidiyya, by Brother Zakariya Wright and the second, entitled, Pearls From the Divine Flood: Selected Discourses from Shaykh al-Islam Ibrahim Niass, with an introduction by Shaykh Hassan Cisse was translated by Brother Zakariya Wright and co-edited by him with Brother Yahya Weldon.
Clearly, all of these significant elements point to a bright and dynamic future for the Tariqa Tijaniyya in America, Insh’Allah.
In closing, I wish only to say, “Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, and Alhamdulillah for Shaykh Hassan Ali Cisse, who brought the Tariqa Tijaniyya to America more than 30 years ago and to whom we American Tijanis are deeply and eternally grateful.”
Thank you for giving this presentation your full attention.
AS SALAAMU ALAIKUM WA RAHMATULLAHI T’ALA WA BARAKATUHU.