The International Qur’anic Open University (IQOU) launched the Mali Health and Development Initiative in 2011, sending a team of American personnel to offer medical and educational assistance to the West African nation troubled with poverty, illiteracy, disease and high mortality rates. Upon arrival, the team opened the Qadri Islamic Centre in Kalaban Coura, Bamako with the goal of coming together with the Malian people to eradicate pre-Islamic practices of sorcery and paganism that have appeared in their customs by promoting Islamic education and following the best example of all creation, the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him. A member of the delegation, Anisa Mahdi A. Sabur, blogs on their experiences:
Prior to my departure, one of my senior mentors said to me, “We donned the Gele, the Dashiki and embraced our African heritage, but it was not until His Eminence Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani came and taught us Al Islam and groomed us in its culture and decorum that we were ready to return!” Allah be praised!
West Africa is rich with the heritage of the Sahabah Karam, the blessed companions of the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), and Awliya and Sufiya - those who are loved by Almighty God due to their tireless worship, selfless service and spiritual purity. Mali is the home of Timbuktu, the city that was once the premier center of Islamic scholarship, knowledge, and learning in Africa. The people are warm and friendly; they welcomed us into their community.
However, after being in Bamako, the capital of Mali, for a month, and seeing beyond our happiness at being reunited with our culture and ancestry, we noticed the waning practice of Islam among the people. And now, we are humbled and privileged to be a part of reviving and strengthening true deen (Islamic way of life) among the descendants of our very own forebears.
Some of the women have come to visit the newly established Qadri Islamic Centre to learn their salaat- the prayers every Muslim must perform at five times during the day, in Arabic. They also request help in learning the Names of Allah, The Almighty Creator, learning Darood Sharif ( a special invocation asking The Almighty to send blessing upon the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him) and just to talk about Allah and His Nabi, peace be upon him, expressing love for him. Also, the Dalaa’il-- Khairaat (another famous invocation proclaiming the sublime status and laudable attributes of the Holy Last Messenger - peace be upon him) is available and is revered.
Allah has given Mali great abundance in natural resources: gold, valued in the billions of dollars, leaves the country daily. It is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - exporter of beef in the region, as well as of cotton. There is also cloth, known throughout the continent for its beauty and quality, that only can be found in Mali. I have seen the men making it by hand – the process is intriguing.
Despite these riches, many of the people live in squalor- the result of hundreds of years of colonialism, which robbed Mali of much of its autonomy, natural wealth, and ravaged their integrity and spirit.The tragic effects of material and psychological poverty, filth and trash are everywhere. Lack of self-esteem and apathy is sadly reflected in the deplorable conditions, which have apparently been accepted by some of the Malian people. The fact that many have lost or given up their true belief and faith in Almighty God (regardless of whether they had adopted Islam or Christianity) is apparent in their yoke of sociological oppression and absence of remembrance of Allah.
The average life expectancy of Malian people is 47 due to malaria and their inability to pay for mundane healthcare and the incapability of their government to care.
In the city, a few of the women cover themselves according to the Islamic code of dress, and for the most part, it is the older women that wear the large chaddar draped around them. The majority of the women do not cover properly and many of the youth sport western apparel, especially the males; the young women wear hair weaves (synthetic hair woven into the real hair, which is unlawful for Muslims), wigs, and heavy makeup. As our Holy Last Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) related, and our honorable and perfect Imam, El Sheikh Gilani , has taught us: when you dress like a people, you act like the people you emulate.
At the other end of the spectrum, we were shown pictures of the family village of Mahmoud, a member of the IQOU delegation, where Deen (Islam as a way of life) is practiced in letter and spirit. It is very clean and the women and men are covered. I imagined this is what things looked like during the days of the Sahabah Karam in Mali. The faces of the people are bright and healthy looking - a striking contrast to the condition and appearance of the city and its people.
Fridays and Mondays are honored days here in Mali, where the lovers dress up and fast - an act done for spiritual purification which augments the worshipper’s love for Almighty God. Friday is the day of special congregational prayers for Muslims, and before dispersing, more Muslims - in Mali and worldwide - are taking time to commemorate the immense blessing conferred upon mankind in the mission and message of Syedina Muhammad Mustapha, peace and blessings be upon him, called the ‘mercy to all the worlds’ by Allah in the Holy Qur’an.
As His Eminence El Sheikh Gilani has taught - when sending greetings of peace upon Nabi Muhammad on Fridays, he returns the greeting (felt by the heart); and loving him and his family is a means to obtain the love and mercy of Almighty God and a means for his benevolence and intercession. May Allah, The Most Exalted, revive the people of Mali for their love of HIS Beloved - endless peace and blessing be upon him! Amin.