A Critical Appraisal Of a Sufi Ritual Ceremony in Kano (Maukibin Kadiriyya)
Just to the north-east of the walled city of Kano, there is an ancient cemetery called Mai Giginya believed to be the resting place of many saints including Malam Umar Mai Kabara, the great grandfather of Sheikh Nasiru Kabara, the current leader of the Kadiriyya Sufi order in Africa. This cemetery is the scene of the annula Maukib in which thousands of people from all over West Africa take part.
The ceremony was started by Sheikh Nasiru Kabara in 1372 A.H/1952 A.D. and is held annually on the 11th day of Rabi al-Thani.2 Essentially, the ceremony is to pay homage to Malam Umar Mai Kabara but it also coincides with the birth-day of Sheikh Abdulkadir Jilani (470-561 A.H/1092-1183 A.D.) founder of the Kadiriyya Sufi Order. Little is known about Malam Umar but Sheikh Nasiru provides us with a sketch of his life.
According to him,3 Malam Umar was born in Timbuktu (in modern Mali) and studied under Sufi Sheikhs including Sheikh Ahmad al-Bakka, the then Kadiriyya Sheikh in Timbuktu. He traveled extensively and later settled in Kano and founded the first Kadiriyya Zawiyah in Kano. Although the date of his birth is not known, Malam Umar is said to be a contemporary of Sheikh Dan Fodiyo and came to Kano in the rein of Sulaiman (1222-1235 A.H/1807-1819 A.D.) the first Emir of Kano after the Jihad. He died in 1240 A.H/1825 A.D.
Sheikh Nasiru Kabara did not invent this kind of ceremony: long before he was born similar ceremonies were held by some Muslim sects, especially among the Shiites and various Sufi orders. There were similar visits paid to the tomb of Sayyida Nafisah in Egypt, and to the shrines of Hussein bin Ali and one of his great grandsons, Muhammad bin Ali al-Jawad, both in Iraq. And although Sheikh Nasiru has connected his own annual maukib with Kadiriyya, there is no evidence to show that it is among the original teachings of the founder of the order.
One source however attributes to Sheikh Abdulkadir having recommended the visiting of his tomb to his followers and promised them that whatever they asked at his grave, Allah would grant them. But this has been disputed by some scholars.4
The maukib in Kano, which is sometimes called Ranar Waliyyai (Saints’ Day), is a great celebration, greater than any religious festival including the two eids. For months before the occasion, people prepare for it. They save to buy new clothes and for those outside Kano, to pay for their transport to and from Kano. Some also bring gifts in cash and kind to the Sheikh – Malam Nasiru – and to his representatives called Mukaddamai. The ceremony consists of a long procession which emanates from the Sheikh’s house in Kabara quarters and terminates at Mai Giginya cemetery. Group after group of gaily-dressed people pass marching in rows and displaying flags of various shapes and colours.
Each group also has its drummers who beat the special drums they call bandir and sing a variety of (religious) songs while the rest join in the chorus. At every junction or cross-roads, a group will pause to dance to the thunderous applause of on-lookers before giving place to the next. The groups are formed according to the areas they represent in Kano, the towns they come from or their countries of origin, and are each led by a Mukaddami – a special representative of the Sheikh. Sheikh Nasiru’s group comes towards the end of the procession with the Sheikh at its head, regally dressed and riding on a horseback, a she-camel or a stately open jeep, as his whims dictated. Then school-children from Kadiriyya-run schools (they have a good Arabic primary school in Kano and many “night schools” for children of both sexes) follow, each school dressed in new, uniform clothes as if in competition with one another. The procession moves in great pageantry, grandeur and splendid display until it reaches its destination.
At the grave yard, the Sheikh delivers a sermon in which he extols the virtues of the saints laying there, paying particular attention to his grandfather, Malam Umar Mai Kabara, to whom he pays special homage while the rest of the people sing: “O, Sheikh Umar, we have come to you; save your orphans, O Mai Kabara.”
Here many acts of ignorance are committed. Many of the visitors, especially women and old people, wonder about, kneeling before ancient-looking graves and asking the supposed saints laying inside them to grant them this and that, or save them from this and that, and so on. They pick stones, gather soil, and cut leaves and grass which they carry home for blessing and for medical purposes. Spiritual touts make brisk business by acting as go-between who take visitors needs and requests to the benevolent saints. Other activities of lesser spiritual significance are also carried out. For instance, lovers meet their girl friends while hordes of ‘Yan Daba (‘area boys’) seek out their rivals for a test of strength. Clashes between warring groups are a regular feature of the ceremony, with scores injured annually-some fatally. Traders and hawkers, especially sellers of fast food and iced-water, make brisk business, for there are perhaps as many as seventy thousand mouths that remain gaping for as long as ten hours and will naturally need to be stuffed and wetted. The riotous activity continues until late in the afternoon when, after Zuhr and Asr prayers, the procession reforms and slowly winds its way back to its starting point, reaching there well after sun-set. Many of them miss the Magrib prayer on the way.
Bid’a Dimension of the Ceremony
From the foregoing description, one will see that this ritual ceremony involves a number of innovations (or bid’a). But before we go on to discuss these innovations, let us briefly touch upon the meaning of bid’a. There is a difference of approach among scholars concerning the understanding and application of the term bid’a. Some view the term linguistically and understand bid’a to mean: “Any thing started, without a precedent, whether it is good or bad.”5 This is the approach of most scholars from among the salaf (i.e. the early Muslims). It is this meaning of bid’a that Umar bin al-Khattab had in mind when he made his often quoted remark about tarawih-prayers when he said, “What a good bid’a this is.” Among the scholars who subscribe to this approach is Imam Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi’ who says, “Bid’a is of two kinds: praiseworthy bid’a and blameworthy bid’a. Whatever conforms to the Sunnah is praiseworthy, and whatever goes contrary to it is blameworthy.”6 Ibn al-Athir also defines bid’a along the same lines. He says, “Bid’a is of two types: bid’a of guidance and bid’a of error.”7 Others that follow the same approach include Imam Ibn Hazm8 and Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali.9
The second approach view bid’a in legalistic terms and the proponents of this approach always concern themselves with the technical meaning of the word. Among the most vocal of these is Imam al-Shatibi who says, “Bid’a is an invented way in the religion, very similar to the way of Shari’a (but different from it) the purpose of which is exaggeration in the worship of Allah, most high.”10 Al-Fakihani, who also shares the legalistic approach, says: “Bid’a is the invention of a thing in the religion which is similar to it but not of it.”11 This approach is popular among the Khalaf (i.e. the later Muslims) and for the purpose of understanding bid’a and fighting innovation, it is more adequate and straightforward. The linguistic approach on the other hand, though simple at first glance, lends itself to complications such as the division of bid’a into categories, a device used by some scholars to gain acceptability for innovations.
Another point that adds strength to the legalistic approach is the fact that the term is never used in the Hadith except in a negative context as in the following hadith: “All (forms of) bid’a is error.” (Bukhari, Muslim, and Nasa’i).
Ibn Taimiyah divides innovative ceremonies into three types. He says, “The first is a day which has no special religious significance in the Shari’ah originally, was not known during the time of the salaf and there is no extrinsic reason for observing it.”12 The Kadiriyya Maukib in Kano perfectly fits into this category. It has no basis in the Shari’ah (indeed, the only valid festivals in Islam are the two eids); was not known during the time of the salaf, having started only forty-two years ago and having no precedent in the early history of Islam from which to proceed; and has no external reason to justify its observance, its concurrence with the birthday of Sheikh Abdulkadir Jilani not withstanding. During the first three centuries of Islam, no ceremony of this kind was known anywhere in the world of Islam.13
The very idea of visiting shrines and tombs for blessing or some form of spiritual benefit is foreign to Islam. The Messenger of Allah has warned, “Do not turn my grave into (an object) of festivity, and pray for me wherever you are; for surely your prayer will reach me.” (Abu Dawud). He also prayed, “O Allah, do not make my grave an idol to be worshipped.” (Malik and Ahmad). This is why many great scholars, including Imam Malik, consider it repugnant to say, “I have visited the grave of the Prophe.”14 Muslims go to the sacred mosque of the Prophet to pray; not to visit his tomb. This is the position of Islam regarding the visit of the sacred tomb of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. Scholars of Hadith are agreed that all the traditions which recommend the visit of the sacred tomb are either weak (dha’if) or fabricated (maudhu). Indeed any Hadith with the word “visit” in respect of the tomb of the Prophet is false.15
However, visiting of graves is recommended for the purposes of praying for the dead or remembering the Hereafter. The Prophet himself used to undertake such visits to the cemetery in Madinah and pray for the dead. He went there alone or in the company of others, during the day or in the night; but never on a special day or occasion, nor in a ceremonious way. It should be noted that such recommended visit do not have to be necessarily to graves of saints or prophets. Any Muslim16 cemetery can serve the purpose. Anther thing to be noted here is that Muslims are forbidden to undertake a journey purposely to visit a cemetery, a shrine or a tomb; or any sacred place or site except the three holy mosques mentioned in the following Hadith: “Camels are not saddled (for a journey) except to three mosques: the sacred Mosque (the Ka’abah in Makkah), the Mosque of al-Aqsa (Dome of the Rock in Jerusalam), and this my mosque (the Prophet’s Mosque at Madinah).” (Bukhari and Muslim).
This hadith clearly shows that spiritual journey in Islam is restricted to these three sacred mosques and any pilgrimage to any place other than these is contrary to the Sunnah of the Prophet and therefore unacceptable in the sight of Allah.
Building of tombs and shrines are some of the other innovations associated with the maukib of Kadiriyya, so also is the building of mosques in the midst of graves. In Mai Giginya cemetery there is no magnificent shrines as is found on the graves of many Sufi Sheikhs and Shiite Imams, but there are tombs of varying sizes and a small building which although not designed as mosque is nevertheless used for prayer as well as shelter for the custodians of the cemetery who are to be found there most days of the year.17 There are many sayings of the Prophet forbidding building of any kind in a cemetery, especially a mosque. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reports that, “ The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, has forbidden building on graves and sitting on them, and praying in the middle of them.” (Abu Ya’ala in his Musnad). It is also narrated from Harith al-Najrani who said, “ I heard the Prophet five days before he died saying: “Lo, surely those who were before you used to take the graves of their prophets and pious men as places of worship. Lo, do not take cemeteries as worshiping places. I ban you from doing that.” (Ibn Abi Shaibah).18 Jabir also reports that, “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, has forbidden the plastering (or white-washing) of a grave and sitting on it, and building upon it.” (Muslim, Tirmizi and Ahmad).
Based on the meaning of the above traditions, the Muslim scholars have issued very strict rulings concerning the subject of building on graves. Ibn Hajar al-Haitumi considers building of mosques in a cemetery and praying in the midst of graves as kabirah.19 Imam Ahmad and others maintain that a mosque built on a grave yard or built to house a grave must be destroyed while a body that is buried in a mosque must be exhumed.20 A mosque and a grave cannot co-exist in Islam.
The Sunnah of the Prophet concerning the building of graves is to gather soil over it a foot or so, so that it can be noticed and will not be stepped upon.21 Nothing must come between the grave and open space; neither a roof, a tent, a dome nor any kind of shade. It is reported that Abdullahi ibn Umar saw a tent erected on the grave of one Abdulrahman and he ordered a servant of his, saying: “Remove it; only his (good) deeds can shade him.” (Bukhari). This is the Sunnah of the Prophet and the way of the salaf. All the tombs and shrines we see today in the Muslim world are the work of devils who seek to turn the Ummah from the path of Tauhid.
Perhaps the greatest of all innovations associated with the maukib ritual in Kano is the calling of the dead and asking for help and succour from them (istighatha) or from Allah through their intercession (tawassul). Istigatha and tawassul are forms of lesser shirk (al-shirk al-asghar) but shirk is more pronounced in the former which in some cases can amount to a greater shirk. This is because istighatha involves invoking the name of some one other than Allah, glorified be He, and asking him for a favour without reference to Allah. This amounts to worshipping that someone because prayer in fact is the highest form of worship. The Prophet, peace be upon him, has said, “Prayer is (the essence of) worship.” (Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah).
During the maukib of Kadiriyya in Kano, this form of shirk is freely practiced. People gather round the tomb of Sheikh Umar Mai Kabara and sing, “O Sheikh Umar, we have come to you; save your orphans, O Mai Kabara,” echoing the cry of the days of ignorance when mortals were worshipped by misled and misdirected nations to whom Allah has said, “Lo, those on whom ye call beside Allah are slaves like on to you. Call on them now and let them answer you, if ye are truthful.” (al-Araf: 194).
This is how the believers are turned on their heels and the supposed guardians of Tauhid commit unspeakable acts of idolatry under the misguidance of Sufi Sheikhs, acts for which the sky holds its water, the earth sinks its own and the believing heart bleeds!
Even proper prayer (i.e. innovation of Allah and supplication for His favours) is strictly forbidden in shrines or in cemeteries because it is an innovation and an imitation of Christians and other creeds who worship heroes and saints. Imam Ibn Taimiyya says, “(Sanctioning) of supplication at a grave yard has not been reported from any of the people of the three centuries whom the Prophet has praised.” 23 Imam Malik forbids supplication even at the tomb of the Prophet, peace be upon him.24
Another manifestation of ignorance associated with the maukib ceremony is the touching and kissing of graves with the intention of winning some spiritual favour or blessing. For long the ignorant masses have sought to win spiritual favour by touching or kissing the tome of the Prophet and they later extended the practice to the graves of saints and even kings and warriors! It is an old disease against which scholars and reformers have been fighting for long. Al-Ghazali says in his Ihya, “It is against the Sunnah (for a person) to touch the wall (of the tomb of the Prophet) or to kiss it.” 25 Imam Malik is also reported to have considered it repugnant to put a hand on the Prophet’s podium and that when he saw Ata (a great Tabii scholar) doing it, “he did not take knowledge from him.” 26 i.e. he did not accept his riwaya. This is one fine example of how our ancestors, the salaf, were so meticulous in following the Sunnah and rejecting bid’a. In Islam there is nobody or object that is required to be touched or kissed except the black stone in the Ka’abah which pilgrims are required to kiss or touch.
Even this is not done with the intention of winning spiritual favour or blessing by the act itself, but is solely done because the Prophet, peace be upon him, has done it, or in other words, because it is a Sunnah. This is why when Umar bin al-Khattab came to kiss it during his pilgrimage he said, “By God, I know that you are only a rock, which neither can harm nor benefit (anybody). If not because I saw the Prophet kiss you I would not have kissed you.”27
Followers of Sheikh Nasiru Kabara do not stop at kissing graves; they chew and swallow practically everything that can be found in the cemetery. They pick stones, gather soil and cut leaves, and these are taken home to be mixed in various ways and used as remedy for such ailments as barrenness, impotence, blindness and all other conceivable illnesses. Of course this is done by the ignorant followers but the unfortunate thing is that there is apparently no attempt on the part of the leaders to bar them from committing these unhygienic and quite silly acts.
We have mentioned earlier that visitors to Mai Giginya cemetery on the maukib day spend most of the day there. They perform Zuhr and Asr prayer at the grave yard and thus commit another prohibited act which, in the opinion of some scholars, amounts to shirk, namely, performing prayer in the midst of graves. It is reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has said, “Do not pray facing a grave, and do not pray on a grave.” (Tabarani in al-Mu’jam al-Kabir). It is narrated also that the Prophet has said, “Do no sit on graves, and do not pray facing them.” (Muslim, Abu Dawud and others).
Apart from the foregoing, there are many more innovations associated with the maukib ceremony such as beating of drums in the name of religion, seclusion in cemeteries, taking custody of tombs and shrines, mixing of the sexes, and so on, which we will not discuss here due to reason of space. However we would like to conclude this short discourse with a discussion of the wisdom behind Islam’s prohibition of honouring graves or paying homage to the dead.
Many Islamic authorities agree that going to the extreme in revering, honouring and loving dead men, especially those thought to be close to God, is the primary factor that led mankind into idolatry. In the holy Qur’an, Allah tells us how the people of Noah urged one another to be steadfast to their idols. He says, “And they have said: forsake not your gods. Forsake not Wadd, nor Suwa, nor Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr.” (Surah Noah: 23).29 Concerning the meaning of this verse, many authorities on Tafsir from among the Companions of the Prophet (including Ibn Abbas) and their followers remarked that the five idols were named after some five pious men who lived before Prophet Noah, peace be upon him. When these men died, their people were overtaken with grief and they camped at their tombs which they later took as worshipping places. And when these people passed away, their children made statutes of the five pious men, thinking that this would help remember them more and therefore copy their good deeds. When the third generation came they saw their fathers’ devotion to the statutes and thought they were worshiping them, and so they worshiped them beside Allah. And that is how mankind was led, for the first time, into committing shirk.30 This is why Allah in His infinite mercy prohibited us from building shrines or mosque on graves, and from undertaking a journey purposely to visit graves, and in fact all such acts of reverence and devotion that may lead to idolatry, even after a while.
Islam always strives to close all doors that lead to shirk in whatever form or guise. It urges its adherents to always keep their distance from idolatry and to have nothing to do with idolaters. But why is Islam so vehemently opposed to shirk? Shirk is a negation of God as well as of man. Allah is the Creator and Provider of man and so men should not worship anything in association with Him. Similarly, man is the most chosen and most honoured of all God’s creation and therefore for man to worship anything other than Allah is the most unforgivable thing he could do to Allah, and to himself. Allah describes idol – worshippers as the worst of mankind of whom He turns some to apes and swine (Qur’an; 5:60). The y are even worse than beasts: “They are but as the cattle – nay, but they are farther astray.” (Surah al-Furqan:44).
Shirk is also a negation of man’s primary role on earth – the vicegerency, or khilafa, of Allah. A man who vows to graves, who allows himself to be led astray by the devils in human flesh (shayatin al-ins) cannot strive to fight oppression, establish justice and enforce the will of Allah among His servants. In other words, a man who submits to spiritual tagut cannot stand against political tagut. And herein lies the lesson for those brothers and sisters who are engaged in the struggle for Islam’s supremacy in Nigeria.
Notes and References
(1) Maukib is an Arabic word meaning parade, procession, pageantry or mounted escort. It is used in the Hausa language to give the same meaning hence it’s usage here. Kadiriyya is the Sufi order founded by Sheikh Abdulkadir Jilani (470-561A.H.).
(2) Kabara, Sheikh Nasiru: Maukib al-Kadiriya fi al-Shawari’ al-Kanawiyya, manuscript in my possession, p. 5.
(3) Ibid, p. 9.
(4) Ibn Taimiyah, Ahmad bin Abdulhalim, al-Fatawa vol. 27 ed. A al-Asim (cairo: al-Masaha al-Askariyya, 1404), p. 127.
(5) Atiyah, A. Ali: al-Bid’a: Tahdid ha wa Mawqif al-Islam min ha, (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Haditha, 1976), p. 193. All quotations from Arabic sources, unless otherwise stated, are my translation.
(6) Ibn Hajar, Ahmad bin Ali: Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 17 (Cairo: al-Matba’ah al-Bahiyya, 1348), p.10.
(7) Ibn al-Athir, al-Mubarak bin Muhammad: al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar, vol. 1 (Cairo: al-Matba’ah al-Khairiyya, n.d.) p.79. See also Ibn Manzur, Muhammad bin Mukarram: Lisan al-Arab, vol. 9 (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1955), p.350.
(8) Atiya, op. cit., p.196.
(9) Al-Ghazali, Muhammad bin Muhammad: Ihya’ Ulum al-Din, vol.2 (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1975), p.3.
(10) Al-Shatibi, Ibrahim bin Musa: al-I’tisam, Vol.1 (al-Tahrir Publications, n.d.), p.127.
(11) Dan Fodiyo, Usman: Ihya’ al-Sunnah wa Ikhamd al-Bid’a, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr: 1962), p.22.
(12) Ibn Taimiyyah: Iqtidha al-Sirat-al Mustaqim li-Mukhalafat Ashab al-Jahim, (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Riyadh al-Haditha, n.d.), p.93.
(13) Ibid, p. 393.
(14) Ibn Taimiyyah, al-Fatawa, op. cit., p.30 and 386.
(15) Ibid, p.29. Some scholars opine that a visitor to the mosque of the Prophet can also visit the sacred tomb provided he did not come purposely for the tomb but in order to pray in the mosque. They base their opinion on the practice of Abdullahi bin Umar who used to stand near the sacred grave and say: “Peace be upon you, O Messenger of Allah.” See ibid, p. 396. Needless to point out, the practice of the generality of Sahaba who go to the mosque but refrain from stopping at the sacred tomb, surpasses that of Ibn Umar who is obviously basing his action on his own individual judgment.
(16) Some scholars hold the view that Muslims can visit non-Muslim cemeteries, not to pray for their occupants but to remember the hereafter and increase in faith. They base their opinion on the following hadith: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, visited the grave of his mother and wept, causing those around him to weep (also). Then he said: “I sought permission from my Lord to seek forgiveness for her but He did not permit me. And I sought His permission that I may visit her grave and He granted me that. So do visit graves, surely, they remind (one) of death.” (Muslim).
(17) Since this paper was written in 1994, there have been some developments. Sheikh Nasiru Kabara died on Sunday 5, October 1996 and was buried in Mai Giginya cemetery. A large mausoleum is being built over his grave. Also a magnificent mosque, which was started on the cemetery before his death, is now in advanced stages of completion.
(18) Albani says its chain of narrators (isnad) is authentic based on the conditions of Imam Muslim. See Albani, Muhammad Nasiruddin: Tahzir al-Sajid, 4th ed. (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1402) p. 20.
(19) Kabira is a grave sin more damnable than most sins and second only to shirk. For al-Haitumi’s opinion, see ibid, p. 50.
(20) Ibid, p. 65.
(21) Ibid, p. 130. Any addition to such measure must be destroyed and the grave is then leveled to the ground as punishment.
(22) For a discussion of tawassul and istighatha see, Alusi, Sayyid Mahmud: Tafsir Ruh al-Ma’ani, vol.2 (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr 1978), pp. 124-129, and Ibn Taim
Taimiyyah: al-Qa’idah al-Jalilah fi al-Tawassul wa al-Wasilah, (Cairo: al-Matba’ah al-Salafiyyah n.d.). See also my Matsayin Sufanci da Darika a Musulunci, to be published shortly insha Allah. The book came out in 1995 and is due for a re-print in 2004, insha Allah.
(23) Ibn Taimiyyah: Iqtidha op.cit., p.343.
(24) Ibid, p. 365.
(25) Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, M.M.: Ihya Ulum al-Din, Vol.1 (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1975), p.472.
(26) Ibn Taimiyyah: al-Fatawa, op. cit., p.79.
(27) Ibid, p. 79.
(28) Ibn Taimiyyah: Iqtidha, op. cit., 340.
(29) All quotations from the Holy Qur’an are from Pickthal; M.M: The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an (Karachi: Begum Aisha Bowamy Waqf, n.d.).
(30) See, al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Idris: Aljami’ al-Sahin, with a commentary, Fath al-Bari, by Ibn Hajar, Ahmad bin Ali, vol. 8 (Cairo: al-Matba’ah al-Bahiyyah, 1348), p. 543. See also, al-Suyuti, Abdurrahman: al-Durr al-Manthur, Vol.6 (Cairo al-Matba’ah al-Muniyyah, 1314). p.265.