THE SPIRITUAL FLOOD (FAYDA) IN TIJANI DOCTRINE
By Zakariya Wright
The concept of fayda, meaning “flood”, “effusion”, “inundation” or “superabundance”, came to personify the community – early on known as the Jama’at al-Fayda al-Tijaniyya – of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. But the word, and certainly its root fa’-ya’-dad, was used long before in Tijani circles, as well as in wider Sufi and Muslim discourse. Certainly, the articulation of fayda attained unparalleled articulation with the emergence of its owner, the Sahib al-Fayda Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. This paper tracks the earlier uses of the concept of fayda and then discusses the meaning of fayda for Shaykh Ibrahim and his followers. I am deeply indebted in this effort to the guidance and explanation of Shaykh Hassan Cisse, and to Muhammad Andrea Brigaglia, who wrote an earlier article on the subject.
To begin with a more precise meaning of the word:
The Arabic word fa’-ya’-dad, from which some terms recurring very often in the language used by Ibrahim Nyass are derived (such as fayda, afada, mufid), literally means “to overflow”, “to flood”, “to gush out”, “to pour out abundantly”, “to emanate”, “to spread out”, “to shed”. It suggests an urgent outward movement, implying also the idea of exuberance, superabundance.
The root occurs in both the Qur’an and Hadith. F-Y-D is mentioned in the Qur’an in the context of tears overflowing (tafidu) for the sake of Allah (5:83, 9:92) or hastening with the multitude of pilgrims from Arafat (thumma afidu min haythu afada-n-nas) for the sake of Allah’s forgiveness (2:199). Sayings of the Prophet provide more explicit association between this concept of “overflowing”, “flooding” and “throngs” in the Qur’an and Divine grace. According to Hadith, “God created the world in darkness, then He poured (afada) on to it His light.” Sufi tradition, especially under Ibn al-‘Arabi, later developed the meaning of fayd. Thus the fayd al-aqdas – the most sanctified effusion – came to be defined as “the self-revelation of God, manifesting Himself from all eternity to Himself.”
The primary text of the Tijani order, Jawahir al-Ma’ani, opens with the words: “Praise be to God, Who poured out (afada) Ahmadan lights on His saints, His beloved ones, His pure ones.” Shaykh Ahmad Tijani associated his own spiritual position (maqam) with the concept of fayd.
The spiritual emanations (fuyud) which proceed from the person of the master of existence are received by the prophets; and whatever flows from the prophets is received by me, and from me it is distributed amongst the creatures of God from the beginning of the world till the horn is blown.
Shaykh Tijani endowed fayd with a meaning comprehensive of the spiritual abundance (fadl) Allah bestows on the saint:
The illumination (fath) consists in the vanishing of the veil, and in the disclosure of meanings already mentioned. This is called the “flood” (fayd), because it overflows (fada) after having been embanked. The fayd includes sciences (ulum), secrets (asrar), realities (haqa’iq), gnosis (ma’arif) and lights (anwar).
Early Tijani scholars thus associated fayd with the high spiritual ranks attained by the inheritors of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani. When Sidi Ali Tamasin, the designated khalifa of the Tijaniyya after the passing of Shaykh Tijani, ascended to the station of “polehood” (qutbaniyya), it is said “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.”
Other Tijani scholars, such as al-Hajj Umar Tal, Sidi al-‘Arabi b. Sa’ih, Muhammad ibn Khair al-Alawi and Muhammad al-Nazifi, commented extensively on the concept of fayd and fayda (which grammatically is simply a specified version of the general term fayd; meaning a flood that can be possessed or embodied). Especially provocative was a saying attributed to Shaykh Ahmad Tijani himself: “A flood (fayda) will come upon my companions, so that people will enter into our way group upon group. This fayda will come when mankind will be in the depths of pain and despair.” The Mauritanian saint Muhammad al-Hafiz ibn Khair al-Alawi associated fayda with superior knowledge of the Qur’an and the ability to “awaken the hearts from slumber.” The Moroccan scholar Muhammad al-Nazifi (1853-1947) explained further, “The Tariqa Tijaniyya will persist, remaining through the ages. And in later times, it will bring forth a fayda. Then mankind will enter it in droves, (awakened) in longing for what they witness of Divine connection blossoming (before them).”
According to Shaykh Ibrahim’s Kashif al-Ilbas, many of the Tijani notables prior to him, including al-Hajj Umar and his own father, had actively sought to attain the fayda, but had realized its time was not yet ripe. As Brigaglia summarizes, “The fayd, depicted with the metaphors of water and/or light, played a rather important role within the mystical language of the Tijaniyya well before the ‘explosion’ of Ibrahim Nyass’ Jama’at al-Fayda.”
In 1930, at the time of the world-wide Great Depression, Shaykh Ibrahim publicized his claim to possess the faydat al-Tijaniyya. Essentially the idea seems to closely mirror Shaykh Ahmad Tijani’s own ideas about the flux of Divine grace, mercy and love passing through the Prophet to God’s creation. Of course the highest expression of this love was God’s permitting His creation to know Him. Shaykh Ibrahim presented a parable to conceptualize the flow of Divine gnosis to the creation through the intermediary of the Prophet and the saints. God is said to be a well, “whose Being is continuous and without end;” knowledge of God is the water, “so precious it cannot be thrown away and yet cannot be put back into a well already overflowing;” the Prophet is a bucket “that never wants repair” drawing the water from the well; Shaykh Ahmad Tijani is the “tireless worker who continually draws water from the well;” and Shaykh Ibrahim himself is a basin next to the well, “an extraordinary spiritual adept who has received so much in the way of Divine Gnosis that he must communicate this Gnosis to others or it will overflow.” The emergence of Shaykh Ibrahim also drew on Shaykh Ahmad Tijani’s own vision of his order’s role of historical distinction in a corrupt age. Shaykh Hassan Cisse thus describes Shaykh Ibrahim as manifesting “the possibility of attaining spiritual perfection in the modern age.”
In his first public, written defense of his claim to fayda in Kashif al-Ilbas, Shaykh Ibrahim explicitly associated the possession of fayda to his ability to provide followers with tarbiya, the spiritual training to attain illumination (fath) and Divine gnosis (ma’rifa). Certainly the scope of Shaykh Ibrahim’s activities and the number of followers whom he initiated in the knowledge of God were unprecedented since the time of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani.
I maintain that people have now entered the tariqa in crowds; and perhaps the other Sufi orders have indeed been abrogated, if one considers that none of them is still able to provide tarbiya; and we have watched in this age difficulties and despair never seen by the distinguished men of the past. As far as I know, there has never occurred in our tariqa, since the days of its appearance until now, such a deep illumination among the Shaykh’s followers, such a gnosis and such a profound absorption into God, renouncing everything but Him: ‘This is the favor of God that He gives to whoever He pleases, and God has great bounties to offer.’”
As Shaykh Hassan explains, “If we ponder upon the words of the Owner of the Fayda, it will be clear to us that the signs of the emergence of this Fayda did not appear in anyone but Shaykh Ibrahim Niass, may Allah be pleased with him. Indeed, through him, people entered the Tariqa in droves and multitudes, from all races, Arabs and non-Arabs; all of whom arrived at the gnosis of Allah, through (direct) witnessing and beholding (the Presence of Allah), and not by the way of (deductive) evidence (dalil) or (material) proof (burhan).” Saydi Ali Cisse, the closest disciple of Shaykh Ibrahim and father of Shaykh Hassan, likewise associated the possession of fayda with the ability provide spiritual instruction to large amounts of people.
Allah established him (Shaykh Ibrahim) as a watering-place for the spiritual wayfarers, one who provides hope for the seekers, help for those in need, support for the destitute, nourishment for the starving. Allah endowed him with the fayda mentioned by the Hidden Pole, the renowned Muhammadan Seal, our Shaykh and our assistance, the owner of the effusion (fayd), our master Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Tijani. For it (the fayda) has spread and continued without interruption, since it is occurring near the End of Time. At his hand, thousands upon thousands attained to the perfection of experientially-witnessed gnosis (al-ma’rifa al-‘ayaniyya al-shahudiyya). Many, both white and black, would come to him each day in droves from all regions of the earth. They would enter into our Tariqa Tijaniyya, the repository of Divine favor and gifts of gnosis. No one who received from him this prodigious litany (wird) would ever fail to gain from it the benefit of Divine aid and access to the realms of gnosis.”
Shaykh Ibrahim expressed similar ideas in verse, and here notice the clear social implications of the doctrine of fayda.
[I had given myself] as an offering, and He had singled me out as His friend.
I said: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad has been sent by God.”
Then from me overflowed his secret
Nobody comes to me
And does not know God, the Eternal Sustainer
Young or old —
Since the Beloved, the Sanctuary, has come close —
Men or women
Tramp beggars or sovereigns
Had I wished, his flood (fayda) would have permeated all the dry lands
The oceans would have held His mysteries
Everybody would have known them
Each one, but to hear
Is not the same as to see.
And next time you will see miracles
[Proceeding] from the flood of this Seal, leader of the noble ones
All this is al-Tijani’s Fayda:
It is the assistance from the Elected of the world, al-‘Adnani [the Prophet]
All this is a favor from the Benefactor,
Whom I praise secretly and openly,
Who indeed created me to heal the fracture,
For I am indeed the deputy (wakil) of the Secret of the Secret.
Shaykh Hassan Cisse explained that the “fracture” refers to the separation between man and God and the stagnation of religion. Shaykh Ibrahim said in another poem: “And by me has the great oppression (jawr) been lifted; And surely it is by my flood that the religion has obtained an elevated position.” Shaykh Hassan continued that this verse (written after independence), preceded by the Shaykh’s assurances that he is not speaking out of bewilderment or intoxication, refers to the oppression of colonial rule. Most significant for our times perhaps is Shaykh Ibrahim’s association of fayda with a strengthening of faith for all Muslims.
The wisdom for the emergence of the fayda in this age of corruption is the weakness of faith in the hearts of people as well as the abundance of misguided sects that are misguiding others. However, this ummah has been endowed with Mercy (from Allah), therefore, the (divine) sciences and realities (of Allah) have been poured on them (through the fayda), so that they may return to the natural state of Iman.
In possessing fayda, Shaykh Ibrahim thus embodied Allah’s overflowing grace and assistance to the human race; most especially to those who wanted to know God, but also to those whose faith had been tested or who were suffering from various forms of social and political fracture. In a beautiful poem in Sirr al-Akbar, Shaykh Ibrahim wrote,
“And I became a man of fountains (‘ayun), and his (the Prophet’s) essence (‘ayn)
And I became the spiritual support of the Arabs and the non-Arabs
By my flood, the land and sea were completely inundated.”
The fayda, it must be emphasized in conclusion, is a Divine affair. The idea was not innovated by Shaykh Ibrahim, nor is it separable from his historical mission. Shaykh Ibrahim’s practical advice concerning fayda to one of his disciples provides useful advice to all Tijani aspirants:
Allah the Most High decided from his beforehand wisdom on the pouring out of this flood (fayda) in the Tariqa Tijaniyya at the hand of its owner (Shaykh Ahmad Tijani), may Allah be pleased with him. It is he who is the owner of the flood, he places it where he wills, by the power of the Mighty, the Compeller. This flood encompasses the horizons by the strength and power of Allah. No one grasps it, no one stops it, and nothing confines it. It must flow over the earth wherever the Tijaniyya is found.
Allah has tested some of the shaykhs and some of the chief muqaddams, by their making plots and false claims, (they are) asking to extinguish the light of Allah, but Allah refuses ought except the completion of His light … I caution you against being one of those wishing to extinguish the light of Allah, out of sympathy for you, not (because I am) bent on the manifestation of the flood, for indeed, it manifests by the strength and power of God. Who would conceal it, does nothing but add to its manifestation. And who would push the people away from it and away from its owner, he will only have the people pushed away from him, and not from it. So look with the eye of your heart, you will see the truth of what I have said.
In explaining the historical elaboration of fayda through Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, the present-day embodiment of the Tijani fayda, Shaykh Hassan Cisse, gives some provocative observations on the historical mission of fayda:
So these were the teachings of the Owner of the Fayda. He has indeed spread Islam and the Tariqa throughout the world in an unparalleled manner. The Tariqa has continued to spread around the world, thanks and praise belong to Allah, by means of his children, descendents and disciples, until it has reached America, Trinidad, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Moscow and elsewhere. Today, the number of Tijanis in Nigeria alone exceeds forty million and the initiatory chain (silsila) for most of them passes through Shaykh Ibrahim, either directly or indirectly. The historian Amir Shakib Arsalan wrote about the nineteenth century, “Had the Tijani armies not been defeated by the end of the 19th century, the whole of Africa would have become part of a Tijani empire.” But despite this defeat, and despite its rejecters and enemies, the Tariqa has continued to spread, finding its way to every corner of the world. Indeed, through its Ahmadan, Muhammadan teachings, the Tariqa has penetrated the hearts of people from all races and nations. Long ago, the Owner of the Tijani Fayda, Shaykh Ibrahim Niass, said that his call would encompass the horizons and spread all over the earth. And he had predicted this at a time when his community was only a few people living in the village of Kosi, a farm outside of Kaolack, Senegal. Thirty years after his passing, we witness today that the Tariqa has indeed reached every corner of the world, as he said it would, may Allah be pleased with him.