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The Muslim Sacred Site Kenye

My Magazine 2022/08
5 min
The Muslim sacred site popularly called in Mandinka Kenye-Kenye Jaamengo, Sandy Mosque, is considered to be the location of one of the seven world points and a divine setting inhabited by the pious spirit saints of highest distinction with the ability to disperse blessing and function in an intercessory capacity for those in need.

The said mosque in question is not the physical mosque established currently or previously within the sacred precinct of the sacred holy site. Some oral accounts contend that it refers to a hidden mosque of the resident Sufi Karama spirit. It is further established that the location of this mosque is only revealed to clairvoyant Muslim saints. It should be understood that the intrinsic worth of the saint is derived through the spiritual power or baraka with which God has blessed him or her. As God's intermediaries, the saints serve to communicate his power through the performances of Karama, legendary accounts of which affirm the miraculous powers of saints and their tangible actions on earth.

Oral tradition confirms that prior to Western Mandinka Migration into the Senegambia region, the discovery of the sanctity of this sacred precinct of Gunjur sandy Mosque was clearly confirmed in the narrative accounts of the dreams of several ancient Sufi saints of Timbuktu in Western Sudan. In the medieval period, a quest to rise to sainthood status required a Sufi cleric to be deeply engaged in supplication of a specific name or attribute of God and to devote to an accomplished saint of highest distinction for his or her spiritual perfection. Since the holy site, Kenye-Kenye Jaamengo is believed to be the location of one of the world's 7 points, and also the abode of the Muslim spirit saints of Karama status, Sufi saints of Timbuktu in Western Sudan frequented the holy site of Gunjur to seek the blessings and mediation of the holy Jinn-saint to perfect their sainthood.

The 13th and 14th centuries are significant epochs marked by massive Western Mandinka migration dominated and led by non-Muslim Manding warriors whose aims were to conquer and occupy jurisdictions that were strategically located near the abode of the non-Muslim spirits. For example, Kansala and Brikama were established based on the recommendations of the traditional non-Muslim Manding diviners. Prior to the occupation of Kombo by the Muslims, the Daboes who first settled in the northern area of Gunjur Sebendingto were practising pre-Islamic African traditional religion. In the 17th century, an influential Muslim cleric, Amulie Demba cham, ancestral patriarch of Sukuta Cham Kunda clan, was a Fulani from Futa Toro, the middle valley of Senegal. In the middle of the 18th century, another charismatic and influential Mandinka-speaking marabout, known as Amatura Touray, migrated from Mali. Both minority-led Muslim clerical leaders were motivated to migrate to Kombo on account of the pursuit to attain blessings and mediation of the Karama-Jinn saint of Kenye-Kenye Jaamengo, to accomplish their aspiration of founding reputable clerical centres of Islam. They found the entire Kombo under the political domination of the Soninke kings of Bojang and Jatta clans based in Brikama in the lower Kombo and Busumbala and Yundum in the upper Kombo.

During the early period of Soninke domination, there existed differentiation between the traditional elite and the Muslim minority in their religious difference. According to Martin Klein, “the traditional elites were differentiated from the Marabout-led minority in their religious pluralism, their rejection of Muslim law, and their rejection of the austere and puritanical style of life that characterized the Muslims”.[1] Consequently, the migrant Marabouts chose to be isolated, and the reigning Soninke kings allocated the strategic coastal settlement of Gunjur in southern Kombo to Amatura Touray, while Amulie Demba Cham was offered to establish his settlement in northern Kombo.

The general belief of Islamic clerical leaders in the Senegambia region was that their moral superiority over non-Muslim political leaders required them to claim the power to dictate policies. Secondly, the tradition of Islamic revival became a fundamental part of Islam. In the south of Sahara, the concept of Imamate that was central to the Islamic revolution continued to preoccupy the minds of religious leaders.

Shaykh al-Hajj Umar b. Sa’id al-Futi al-Turi (1796-1864), commonly known as Sheikh Omar Futi, was known for his sainthood and puritanical disposition in Islam. He was the most famous of all Tijani Sufi figures in the nineteenth century. He was an accomplished scholar whose major preoccupation was to ensure the triumph of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. Both historical scholarship and oral tradition establish that he planned to create a Caliphate as a successor of the ancient Mali Empire. It is significant to understand that building a true and standard theocratic state to challenge and alter the dominant traditional political structures and European imperialists required spiritual, intellectual and material sophistication. The tradition further confirms that Sheikh Omar saw the glory and sanctity of the holy site of Gunjur Kenye-Kenye Jaamengo in his vision. The Tijaniyya Sufi scholar (Umar) was advised in this vision to visit Gunjur Kenye-Kenye Jaamengo, where he would meet the holy Karama Jinn scholar of highest eminence to seek his spiritual mediation to accomplish his sainthood and aspirations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Umar Tal travelled to Mecca in 1826, and according to some sources, it is there that he got the revelation that one of the world's 7 points is located in Gunjur. He performed a pilgrimage to fulfil his religious obligation to acquire spiritual illumination. The oral version reaffirms that during his encounter with the Karama- Jinn custodian, the validity of the appearance of this holy site in his vision was ascertained. Therefore, the expedition of Omar to Gunjur was motivated by the quest to perfect his sainthood status. This accomplishment made Omar Tal to be strategically well-positioned to embark on military mobilization to challenge the non-Muslim political domination across the Senegambia and Sahelian regions. He co-opted and positioned Muslim militants who successfully shook the power and influence of the Soninke regimes in the Gambia. In Kombo, he chose Fakaba Touray, who successfully led Marabouts of Gunjur against Busumbala in 1855.

[1] Martin A Klein, Social and Economic Factors in the Muslim Revolution in Senegambia, P. 27.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Founder, Just Act Gambia
Jane first travelled to Janjanbureh, The Gambia, in February 2004 for just one week through an educational link. That was enough to capture her heart, and she decided to try and support the community in some small way. On subsequent visits, staying with Tida Manka, the then retired Head Teacher of the Methodist Lower Basic School, she met her brother, the late Foday Jibani Manka (later to become the National Assembly Member). Foday had immense historical and cultural knowledge of the island, and Jane felt this knowledge should be shared. Seeing some tourists coming to the island with guides from the coast, not always with accurate knowledge to convey, Jane suggested that some local young people should be trained to become local tour guides and that a local skills centre which she had supported from the onset should be used to provide training in providing goods and services for tourists. Thus began her main aim of training Official Local Tour Guides recognised by the Gambia Tourism Board. She decided that setting up a charitable status would be advisable. It was to be a long task and finally achieved but since 2017 has been superseded by a much greater initiative through YEP Gambia, which is chronicled elsewhere on this site. Just Act Gambia became a recognised charity in early 2010. Just Act Gambia has developed through collaboration with the local community and various initiatives in response to local needs.

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