• .{A Sufi Ascetic in Contemporary Nigeria}
  • Published in: The Annual Review of Islam in Africa (ARIA), Issue No. 12/1, 2013-2014 {pgs 132-138}.

By: Auwalu Muhammad Hassan (Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education, Kano)..


The emergence of Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi in Kano as the ultimate epitome of tsoron-Allah (piety) and gudun duniya (lit.: world-denial; Hausa word for ‘asceticism’) coincided with the growth of a culture of lavish consumerism and exploitation which Hausa Muslims normally associate with the corrupt values of the new urban political class, and which is especially evident in Kano.The growth of narratives about Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi’s asceticism can be interpreted, among other things, as an implicit social commentary voicing an underlying criticism of the values of the new urban bourgeoise..Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi was part of a network of scholars of the Tijaniyya associated with the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (d. 1975). The followers of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse are known in the country for their incessant dhikr (recitation of devotional litanies) and for their claim of transmitting the techniques needed to reach divine knowledge (ma’rifa) in an exceptionally short time.In Kano, the zawiya of Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi, which is located in thge alleys of Hausawa quarters, became especially famous from the 1980s onwards for its energetic style of dfikr based on the pulsating repetition of the formula La ilaha illa’Llah-Muhammadun Rasulu ‘Llah. This style has now spread to other zawiyas and is known in Hausa as tambarin gidan Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi (THE REFRAIN OF Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi’s house)..In hagiographical works by his students, the Sheikh is often referred to as Abu’l-Anwar (‘The owner of Lights’), Sahib al-dhikr wa’l-Salat (‘The one of continuous dhikr and blessings on the Prophet’), Khadim Rasul Allah (‘The servant of the Prophet of God’), and at times even Khalifat Reasul Allah (‘The deputy of the Prophet of God’)..FAMILY BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION.Aliyu Harazimi was born on Thursday, the 9th of the month of Dhu’l Hijja of the year 1336 of the Islamic calendar (1919 of the Gregorian calendar) in Hausawa quarters, inside the old city of Kano.He was born into a family with a long tradition of learning and religious leadership. His father was a well-known religious scholar and muqaddam (spiritual mentor) of the Tijaniyya, Shaykh Muhammad Sani (Muhammad al-Thani), son of Muhammad Dahiru (al-Tahir), son of Sarkin Shanu (a traditional royalty title, given to the person responsible for collecting the taxes on cattle from the nomadic Fulanis) Hassan, son of Emir Ibrahim Dabo Mahmud (reigned 1819-1846), the second Fulani Emir in Kano after the Jihad of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio. His mother was a very pious woman called Maimuna, daughter of Abdullahi Mai Panisau, son of the Madaki (an aristocratic title) of Kano Umar Na-Yaya, son of Alim Jibir, son of Liman Yati, son of Ahmadu Jandaro, who had migrated from Mayo Belwa, a Fulani town presesntly in Adamawa state (north-eastern Nigeria)..By ethnicity he was Fulani of the sisilbe clan (in Hausa Sullubawa) on his father’s side, and of the Yolawa Fulani clan on his mother’s side.Following the tradition of local scholarly families, Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi started his early education at home under the tutelage of his father, learning the Qur’an, introductory Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) as well as basic Sufism.He continued to learn the Qur’an under a famous teacher known as Malam Salihu. With the latter, he also read the foundational text of the Tijaniyya, the Jawahir al-Ma’ani of Sidi ‘Ali Harazim b. ‘Arabi Barada (d. 1803), after whom he had been named by his father. Sidi ‘Ali Harazim Barada was a companion of the founder of the Tijaniyya Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815)..In the early 1940s, Shaykh Usman Mai Hula (d. 1988), then an emerging scholar of Kano and himself a member of the Tijaniyya, requested the young Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi to study with him in his school at Diso quarters. With him, Aliyu learnt Maliki jurisprudence, usul al-fiqh (jurisprudential theory), tafsir (qur’anic exegesis), Arabic grammar and literature, as well as Sufism. He also continued to study under the mentorship of his intimate friend, Shaykh Isa Mandawari, with whom he read books of Hadith, Arabic language and literature, jurisprudence, Sufism and Qura’anic exegesis. His thirst for knowledge also took him to study under Malam Ado in Kurna, a quarter inside the ancient city of Kano, as well as under Malam Inuwa..SPIRITUAL SEARCH.Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi’s father had a number of students whom he taught, initiated into the Tijaniyya and trained. In 1915 he had established a small zawiya in his house in the Hausawa quarters, inside the ancient city of Kano.In 1933, his father took him together with his elder brother (Muhammad Mustapha) and a younger brother (Muhammad al-Ghali) to a sharif (descendant of the Prophet) who lived in Kano city, called Baba Adakawa, so that they be initiated into the Tijaniyya.In 1937, Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi became a disciple of Shaykh Abubakar Atiku (Abu Bakr al-‘Atiq) (d.1974), who was then emerging as the most learned Tijani scholar in Kano in his generation, and who mentored by him in the inner aspects of Sufism..After the visit of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse to Kano in 1945, Shaykh Abubakar Atiku, along with the aforementioned Shaykh Mai Hula and a huge sector of the scholarly class of Kano, submitted to the Senegalese Sufi, regarding him as the Gawth al-Zaman (‘Succor of the Era’, the highest ranking in the hidden hierarchy of saints) and as the Sahib al-Fayda, the ‘depository of the divine flood’, through whom an expansion of the Tijaniyya was expected, along with a deeper realisation of ma’rifa (knowledge of the divine) thanks to a simplified-yet believed to be exceptionally effective-technique of spiritual training (tarbiya)..Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi underwent the esoteric spiritual training known as tarbiya in 1946 under his mentor Shaykh Atiku. Afterwards, the latter sent him to Shaykh Muhammad Gibrima (d. 1975) of Nguru (today’s Yobe state in the northern Nigeria) for further spiritual training..SHAYKH ALIYU HARAZIMI’S SPIRITUAL QUEST WITH SHAYKH MUHAMMAD GIBRIMAShaykh Gibrima was known for his severe asceticism, and Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi became his staunch disciple, attaining under him the station of al-Fat’h al-akbar (‘The greatest illumination’). He also attaned the eleven spiritual stations known as Sirr al-sirr (‘innermost secret’, in other words, a station lying even beyond the ‘spirit’; here the aspirant grasps the innermost aspects of the reality of the Prophet Muhammad. and of one’s own self).Finally, he became an accomplished Sufi master. While he had already been promoted around 1936 as a local muqaddam (spiritual guide) by his father, it was in 1947 that he was made a major muqaddam directly by Shaykh Abubakar Atiku.Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi enetered khalwa (spiritual retreat) over thirty times in his life with the aim of cleansing his heart and attaining higher spiritual stations..One of the most crucial retreats entered by Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi , which became a cornerstone of his career, was the one he underwent under the guidance of Shaykh Gibrima. It was during this retreat, in which he continuously recited the Salat al-Fatih (a prayer of blessings on the Prophet, particularly popular among the Tijanis) that he attained the station of al-Fath al-akbar (‘The greatest illumination’).Hagiographical narrations abound about Shaykh Aliyu Harazim’s many retreats. It is narrated that during another khalwa, he saw gold dust filling the room. He continued to concentrate on his recitations, as his master Shaykh Gibrima had told him not to look or turn to whatever he might see. Hre also saw a large snake in the room, which would appear in the night, but would not harm him, as it was there to smell the fragrance of the Names of God.The result of this khalwa was that since then, he never had any interest in anything related to worldly life or even to spiritual experiences, as his only dhawq (spiritual taste) was for the Essence of God.After settling in the zawiya in Hausawa quarters which he had inherited from his father, Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi spent over six decades of his life teaching, training and initiating a large number of disciples in Kano and beyond. Several Tijanizawiyas, mosques and Islamic schools were esgtablished in the country directly or indirectly as a result of his impact..WRITINGS.Many books are credited to Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi, some of which have been published, while others circulate as manuscripts among his followers. As a Sufi whose main concern was to teach the aspirant how to cleanse and purify the nafs al-ammara (lower soul) to transform it into the nafs al-kamila (perfected soul).Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi wrote several books in the field of Spireitual Psychology. These include, for example, Kasr al-nufus (‘Breaking down the Soul’) and Juhud al-‘ajiz (‘The efforts of the powerless’)..These books discuss the various stages and challenges that the seeker of spiritual perfection would encounter during his effort to attain purity.Another field in which Shaykh Aliyu HarazimI wrote is the genre of salawat (prayers of blessings) on the Prophet. The importance of the prayers on the Prophet is mentioned in the revealed book of Islam. For many Sufi orders, the practice becomes the very cornerstone of the spiritual way, as it is believed that it allows the aspirant to enter the ‘presence of the Prophet’ (al-hadra al-muhammadiyyah) and attain illumination..This is especially true in Tijaniyya, in whose doctrines the belief that the Prophet’s reality (al-Haqiqa al-Muhammadiyya) is the first creation of God and the Universal soul (al-Nafs al-kulli) occupy a central place.Some of the majo scholars of the Tijaniyya..wrote books of their own genre of salat on the Prophet, which are widely recited in Nigeria today. Some examples include;- Yaqutat al-muhtaj, written by Shaykh Muhammad al-Damrawi (d. 1799), who was an intimate frient of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani;- Al-Tibb al-fa’ih, written by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Nazifi (d. 1948);And many books of the genre written by the Nigerian Shaykh Muhammad Gibrima, some of the most famous being;- Jihaz al-sarih…and- Nata’ij al-safarShaykh Aliyu Harazimi’s collections of salat on the Prophet include;- Sullam al-muhibbin ila hadrat khayr al-mursalin (‘The Ladder of the Lovers, for Entering into the Presence of the Best of Messengers’), and- Sir al-asrar (‘The Secret of Secrets’), both published in Kano..HAGIOGRAPHY OF A MUSLIM ASCETICNarrations abound about the early childhood of Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi, according to which pre-occupation with God had settled in his mind and heart from a very early age. It is narrated that he never insulted, beat or angered any person.It is also reported that during his childhood, whenever his mother would send him to the house of his relative who, as the Madaki (a traditional title) of Kano, belonged to one of the most influential traditional ruling families in Kano Emirate, he would burst into tears to express his dislike of associating with influential people. His aversion to luxury and the worldly life developed very early and as a youth, he avoided association with wealthy men, powerful politicians, traditional rulers as well as prominents government officials. Even when he became an influential scholar, most of his associates, students and followers were poor.In 1987, the Kano bussinessman Alhaji Uba Lida Abubakar managed to convince Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi and another Kano scholar, Malam Hadi Gwammaja to pay a visit to the Nigerian head of state at the time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida at the latter’s home in Minna (Niger state, north-central Nigeria).The story goes that Uba Lida introduced Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi to Babangida and told to the latter that the Shaykh’s prayers were answererd by God. It is very common in Nigeria for politicians to offer money to influential religious leaders in exchange for prayers and, it is implicitly understood, in hope of getting support from the followers of the holy men.Babangida made his request to the Shaykh to pray for him, and the Shaykh told him he would recite fifty million salawat (prayers on the Prophet) on his behalf. Babangida offered a huge amount of money to the Shaykh as a compensation for his prayers, but to his surprise, the Shaykh refused to accept the gift, telling Babangida to rather fear God.Upon his return to Kano, according to the story, the Shaykh burst into tears for several days, repenting and asking God’s forgiveness for his visit and for his visit and for having associated, even if for one day, with a political leader.It is also narrated that after his visit to Babangida in Minna, the Shaykh heard a voice (hatif) in his inner soul, saying he would be tested with a calamity because of this visit.In 1993, the Shaykh travelled with a group of disciples to visit a friend who lived in Katsina, called Shaykh Balarabe Sha’iskawa. On their way to Katsina, they had an accident and the car in which the Shaykh was travelling crashed into a bus. Covering his left arm under his mantle, he told his disciples that they should all continue with the trip. It was only when they were back in Kano that they discovered that his lefty arm had been broken in the accident, his right pelvis dislocated and one of his eyes had sustained a severe injury. As he had considered these injuries to be the calamity sent by God to rebuke him for the visit to the Nigerian President, he has refused to tell anybody about his condition, tolerating the pain of the fracture throughout his trip. After this incident, Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi continued to refuse to treat his arm, which he was never able to use again.There are many similar stories that circulate among his followers. In one of them, he refused to pray for a minister of the Obasanjo government (1999-2003; 2003-2007) and in another, for the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (2009-2014) Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. In another such event, which occured in front of many witneses, he refused the hospitality offered by several wealthy men during a trip to Kaduna, and pointed to a poor man by the name of Musa, saying he would prefer to be his guest.All these stories show how Sufi leaders in Nigeria are often contrasted in the popular imagination with the corruption and worldliness characteristics of modernity and in particular, of an increasingly rapacious political class. All of Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi’s possession were always distributed among needy students and neighbours and at his death, he did not have any property apart from his father’s house where he spent all his life. As he said on several occassions, he considered opening a bank account or leaving any wealth or estate after his death as a shameful act and a sign of lack of trust in God.Shaykh Aliyu Harazimi died on 11 December, 2013 and he was buried inside his house in Hausawa quarters, No. 222, inside the ancient city of Kano. The crowd of tens of thousands that attended his funeral, and the hundreds that continue to fill the alleys around his zawiya every evening for the daily wazifa (collective litanies) of the Tijaniyya, testify to the continuing popularity of Sufism in the country, even after decades of virulent opposition by the growing Salafi movement..This above article was taking from Sidi Ismaheel Bakare


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