Who was Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse?

Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse is possibly the most influential West African spiritual leader of the 20th century. Who was this sufi saint and what was his legacy?

Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse has left a legacy of millions of followers around the world. He is known as one of the most prolific Islamic revivalists of the 20st century. Born in 1900AD in the village of Tayba Ñaseen near Koalack in Senegal, the sheikh’s life had a major affect on other people’s lives, and continues to do so even after his death in 1975.

He is the most influential leader of the Tijaniyya sufi spiritual order after the founder Sheikh Ahmed Tijani himself. Sheikh Ahmed Tijani (1737-1825) prophesised that there would be a leader in the future who would be the owner of a ‘spiritual flood’, where many people would convert to Islam and also be initiated into the Tijaniyya Tariqa (path). Millions have accepted that Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse is that person. His followers spread out of Senegal to Gambia, Nigeria, Mauritania, Ghana, Ivory Coast, China, Indonesia, France, United States and the United Kingdom.

Niasse and Politics

Although an Islamic spiritual leader, he was also well known on the world political stage, he was involved with politicians that were at the forefront of Africa’s independence revolutions, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmad Sekou Touré of Guinea and Gamal Abd al Nasser of Egypt. He campaigned for peace and justice for the oppressed.

His charismatic speeches where platforms to voice his concerns for the plight of Palestinians at the hands of Israel and many other issues such as racism and women’s rights. He believed that all women should have a chance to be educated to the highest level. He advised women to “compete with men in knowledge”.

The sheikh’s education was highly regarded, as a youth he had memorised the entire Quran (Islamic holy book). He learned the Islamic sciences through traditional methods from his father al-Hajj Abdullah Muhammad Niasse and Abdur-Rahman b. al Hajj-Alawi (Mauritania). He spoke Wollof and Arabic fluently.

He was appointed as the Vice President of The Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Ibrahim had strong affiliations with The World Muslim Congress of Karachi, Pakistan, The High Council of Islamic Affairs and the Islamic Research Assembly in Egypt. Following a trip to Cairo, Egypt, in 1961, he became widely known as “Sheikh al-Islam” after having led the Friday prayers in the prestigious Azhar mosque.


He wrote seventy-five books during his lifetime and many many poems. He wrote about Islamic-sufi spirituality and how to get close to and know Allah. Most of Sheikh Ibrahim’s literature was written in Arabic. In 1920 he wrote a one hundred and twenty one verse poem called ‘The Spirit of Good Morals’ The poem praises The Prophet Muhammad and advises people on good manners particularly people within the Tijaniyya Sufi Order. There are now translations of some of his works into English.

A brand new city developed near Koalack around the sheikh and his disciples. Now it is called Madinah Baye (City of our father). He built a grand mosque which millions of his followers visit every year. Disciples form around the world come to study Islam there and become noted scholars by the time they leave.

Madinah Baye

Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse has taken his place in history as a major saint of Islam. One of his pseudonyms awarded him was ‘Shaykh al-Islam’ (The Sheikh of Islam). Throughout West Africa you will see his picture everywhere you go. Countless songs and poems have been composed about him. On a visit to the UK in 1975 he died in St Thomas’ Hospital, London. His tomb is in Madinah Baye, Senegal.




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