Remembering Sheikh Ahmad Bamba

It was a Friday, specifically the seventh of January 2022 in the official salary calendar of Nigeria. Even if you are not Gregorian in your personal timings once you are a salary worker in Nigeria you cannot afford to ignore the Gregorian calendar. Even Islamic schools use it to pay their workers. Traders are always conscious of it because their sales are higher at the end of the month. Employers feel relieved when they are able to pay their staff before or on the last day of a Gregorian month. Nigerian politicians list payment of monthly salaries as one of their achievements.

But this piece is not about salary payment or the Gregorian calendar.

In one of the Whatsapp groups I belong, someone had just posted that Dr. Ahmad Bamba was dead. Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ibrahim was, until sometime in the late 1990s, a tenure staff of the Department of Islamic Studies Bayero University Kano. After some misunderstandings with the then administration of Bayero University Kano, which he narrated when he was alive, he voluntarily withdrew his services from the university only to be reabsorbed, voluntarily retire and reabsorbed many years later when Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed assumed the Vice Chancellorship of the University.

Before I could react to the news of Sheikh Ahmad BUK as many people called him, I must verify its correctness. In 2020, I went to the extent of calling the Deputy National Chairman of the Izala group to condole him about the death of Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau announced by an online newspaper and it turned out to be a fake news. Before he died, fake news reporters had once killed Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the erstwhile Presidential candidate of the defunct NRC and publisher of the first Nigerian Islamic newspaper, The Pen.  Much earlier, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was killed many times before his death, even without social media at that time. With all these in my mind, I decided to verify, and I thought the best person to ask was my neighbor and one the most senior students of the Sheikh, Professor Ahmad Murtala. After the confirmation, I began to pray for Dr. Ahmad.

I do not personally know any of Dr. Ahmad’s children except for one of his daughters who is a classmate and a close friend of one of my two wives. But my wife was in Bauchi for the marriage ceremony of a cousin in her mother’s family. So she could only immediately phone. Of course, she visited Insaaf Bamba after her return. As for me, the best thing I could do was to pray. As an ordinary person, I have always avoided gatherings of people who matter in the society. Allah answers prayers from whichever location and even from ordinary people like me. So, in sha Allah we shall continue to pray for Islamic scholars like Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ibrahim. Of course, the best way to remember a scholar is first, to practice the message he propagated and to continue to spread his teachings. The Messenger of Allah (May blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) listed a knowledge taught by a Muslim as one of the acts of virtue that continue to fetch them rewards after their death as long as the knowledge continues to be practiced.

But who is Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ibrahim?

Baby Ahmad was born in 1940 in Kumasi, Ghana to a migrant family of Islamic scholars. Migration from Northern Nigeria to Ghana is age long and Dr. Ahmad’s family is one of those Nigerian families who migrated to join the Hausa community of Ghana.  The child of Fatima and Muhammad began his early Islamic education from home and at the age of 14 he was taken to a tailor to learn the art of making clothes while still attending his Islamic lessons.

The turning point in Sheikh Ahmad’s life came with his journey to Saudi Arabia to study. I heard him confess several times that before he made it to Madina where he met world class Islamic scholars he had begun to see himself as a leading Islamic scholar. That was understandable given the environment in which Sheikh Ahmad was brought up. However, according to him when he arrived Madinah he was reduced to a beginner struggling to learn.

And he learnt well. Soon after collecting his letter of admission and registering as an undergraduate in the prestigious International Islamic University of Medina, Ahmad Bamba excelled to become one of the best students of Hadith. That was the time when the University was headed by the famous Sheikh AbdulAzeez Bn Baaz, and had lecturers like Sheikh Hammad Al-Ansariy. These are some of the best Islamic scholars of their generation and it is a pride for any student of Islam to come in contact with them even if they didn’t teach him. They directly taught Sheikh Ahmad.

Ahmad’s scholastic aptitude earned him a good degree in Hadith before he left the Prophetic city of Madina. He assumed duty as a lecturer in the well respected Department of Islamic studies of Bayero University in 1981.

For the first one decade of his sojourn in Bayero University, the people who mostly benefitted from his vast knowledge of Islam were the students of his Department. For the rest of us in other faculties of the same University, we only heard about him when we discussed with his students. This is not to say that other people did not discover him early enough. In addition to teaching at the Aminuddeen’s Da’wah Islamiyya School many people, including some influential businessmen, privately visited the Sheikh’s house for Islamic lessons.

After the death in 1992 of Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gummi who served as the de facto leader of the Salafis in Nigeria, the private students of Sheikh Ahmad Bamba thought that there was the need to raise their not well-known teacher to serve as a replacement. And it worked perfectly well. The first open lessons of Hadith by the Sheikh began at a location provided by one of his students in Gandun Albasa Quarters, Kano.

The lessons in Gandun Albasa did not last long. The promoters of the Hadith lessons thought further that better results could be achieved if the lessons were moved to the University, after all Dr. Ahmad was a staff of the only University in Kano at that time. That is how Dr. Ahmad began his Hadith lessons in the Bayero University Old campus Jumuah mosque. And because the lessons were holding in BUK and Dr. Ahmad was a staff of BUK, he came to be known in many circles as Dr. Ahmad BUK.

As planned by his students and with Allah’s permission, Dr. Ahmad within the blink of an eye became the scholar everyone respected in Northern Nigeria. Many people from all over Kano state and the neighbouring Katsina and Jigawa states made special arrangements to attend his weekly lessons in Kano. Those who could not attend would not miss the cassettes. He was teaching the Nigerian public a knowledge that was hitherto restricted to the circle of select Islamic scholars. He was questioning unIslamic traditions of Sheikh-worshipping. He openly exposed disbeliefs packaged and given to Muslims as Islam. Naturally, this would not go down well with those who benefitted from the status quo; hence the many enemies of Dr. Ahmad.

Younger Sunni scholars accepted Dr. Ahmad as their leader and respected his interventions. For example, he prevailed on the Late Sheikh Ja’afar Adam to rescind his decision to impose niqab as part of the compulsory uniform for girls in Uthman bn Affan College. For those of us who attended various lessons of different Salafi scholars in Kano, we noticed that salient issues raised by Dr. Ahmad were always amplified by other scholars as a mark of respect for the late leader scholar.

Books of Hadith are categorized. The best are the collections of Bukhari and Muslim. Any hadith reported by both scholars is considered as unquestionably authentic. The next set of books are the Sunan. These are the collections of Abu Daud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. The six books put together are known as “The Six Collections (Al Kutubus Sitta)”. The six collections plus the collections of Imam Ahmad (Musnad), Imam Malik (Muwatta) and Imam Addarimiy (Sunan) are known as “The nine collections (Al Kutubut tis’ah)”.

In case you don’t know the level of Dr. Ahmad’s contribution, he is the only African scholar known to have read, translated and interpreted the nine collections to public.

Dr. Ahmad was charismatic. Perharps that was what made many people feared approaching him thinking that he would be too tough to deal with. They were always surprised when the Sheikh received them with smiles and an open mind.

Like the Late Sheikh Abubakar Gummi, Dr. Ahmad was generous. As donations kept coming, he kept giving. This has been attested to by people very close to him. At a point when someone spoke to him about it, he said, “keeping this one will prevent another one from coming”. This is a statement that could only be discerned by a person who understands the saying of Allah, “Whatever you spend (for Allah’s sake), Allah will provide its replacement” (Q34:39).

If your habit is to carry gossip from one point to another, Dr. Ahmad would never welcome you. His time was for teaching and learning. He encouraged productivity and urged youth to be focused until they excelled in the one thing they choose to do in life.

When some people began to question his nationality, Dr. Ahmad stated in his characteristic smile that he had a “productive nationality”. And it is so. After he temporarily withdrew his services from Bayero University in the 1990s Sheikh Ahmad accepted to teach in the Islamic University of Niamey. Soon after, his Nigerian students arranged for him to come back and continue with the work he started. Soon after, his Nigerian students arranged for him to come back and continue with the work he started. There was a mild rejection, by his Nigerien students. The Nigerians had their way and our neighbours gave up when they understood that more people stood to benefit from his knowledge in Nigeria.

May Allah have mercy on His servant Ahmad Muhammad Ibrahim. May He forgive his shortcomings and admit him into the highest level of Firdaus. May Allah give this Ummah more of his kind. Amin.

Professor Jibia writes from Zaria, Kaduna state