The early followers of Seydina Limamou LAYE unanimously testified that nobody and no camera could capture or fix the image of the Holy Master on a photographic plate. Several attempts would have failed. Pr Assane Sylla has searched it in vain in the French Photographic Archives (overseas section) based in Paris where most ancient colonial pictures are kept.
Limamou THIAW, son of Alassane THIAW (his father) and Coumba NDOYE (his mother), was born in the year 1261 after Hegira (1843) in an environment of a triumphant paganism where Islam was but superficially practiced.
The predestined name (Limamou = Al Imam = the guide) his father gave him was from Mamadou BA, a Marabou from the Toucouleur ethnic group, also called Limamou of Oro-Mahdi (a village Fouta in the Nothern part of Senegal, his name actually was Ahmadou Ahmet BA, father of Ahmadou Cheikhou, hero of the Islamic Jihad who died on February 11 th 1875 in Samba Sadio battle field). According to some testimonies among which that of Cheikh Abdoulaye SYLLA, some Lebu left the Peninsula of Cap-Verde for Oro-Mahdi to visit an eminent holy man. And the latter to tell his guests " the so awaited Mahdi will be born unto you, give the name Limamou to each male new-born in your homes." Among the fourteen boys bearing that name only Limamou lived up to adulthood.
His childhood went off without major incident, yet his sociable attitude, and promptitude to lend a helping hand, likewise his moral qualities, his love for cleanliness and high sense of hospitality would draw the attention of more than one.
Moreover, some miraculous deeds were narrated by Limamou's old time friends. The famous holy man from Rufisque, Tafsir Ibrahima Mbengue, had publicly narrated several times while being on oath, that during their childhood both Limamou and himself were one day surprised by angels in the bush. Angels held Limamou standstill and laid him by the floor before opening his chest to make some surgeries. After which the wound was closed up and both of them freed.
Limamou asked him to keep secret of what he had witnessed. And he kept the secret until Limamou left this earthly life.
When came the time for Limamou to earn a living, he got involved in fishing and farming like all youngsters of his age in the village. During the rainy season they stayed in village to perform the fieldwork while in the dry season they would move up to Saint Louis, Banjul (The Gambia)...where costs used to be full of fish.
Limamou never went to any school and was illiterate. There was nothing visible, except the above mentioned moral qualities, to predict the event evolving in him and which was going to burst in Yoff like a thunderclap in a calm sky.
However, some signs or harbingers occurred every now and then, like for instance the following events narrated by Thierno Sarr a fisherman mate of Limamou. "we were in Banjul (capital city of The Gambia) for fishing," he said. "One day, we were resting after work, when arrived an elderly person called Keba Mansali came to us and said he wanted someone to help him cut some firewood. Limamou volunteered and walked away with him. The man willingly let Limamou walk ahead of him. And once they had arrived at his place, he showed Limamou a hearty meal and said: " eat, this is the work I wanted you to perform, now I have seen what I have been searching for", and he added: " every night I see a light over the hut in which you and your friends sleep. This same light follows you when you go fishing and I have just seen it with you while you were walking ahead of me. God will entrust you with a prophetic mission in line with that of Muhammad (PBUH), and you will stir up the world". Limamou was so moved that he could not eat anymore . Back to us, Limamou told me : " Thierno, go to Keba Mansali's house, you will find firewood to cut there". When I arrived this mystical man gave me the same hearty meal. No sooner had I had my second mouthful than this mystical man told me :" you have to know that Limamou will be entrusted with a prophetic mission in about one month and ten days.."likewise, I was so moved that I could not keep eating. When we returned to Yoff later, I only had to wait for the indicated time to come.."
Limamou had just reached his forties when he lost his mother, a distinguished servant of God whose generosity and piety were well known. This sad event took place on 27 th day of Rajab (a month of the Muslim calendar). After three days of silence and isolation which some closed relatives attributed to the emotional state he was in, Limamou stood up the following Sunday, Chaaban 1 st , 1301 (May 24 th 1884), and was superbly covered with three white loincloths: one around his waist, another one draped at the shoulders, and the third one was used as a turban. He just finished talking to his father's sister, Adama Thiaw, in these words : " O my aunt! Cover me with two white loincloths, and know that God has given you a son He has ever given to anybody in the world", and to his she-cousin Adama Diaw, he said:" cover me with two new loincloths and know that God has given you a cousin He has ever given to anybody in the world" .
A similar speech was addressed to his two wives : " O chaste Fatima, and you the virtuous Farma, be patient. God has blessed you with a husband He has ever given to any other woman. Let me tell you that Limamou you had as spouse is different from the one talking to you today, because God had done what He pleases. By His will, God has put me on top of all creatures. He has entrusted me with calling Man and Jinn to guide them toward Him.
Wrapped in his loincloths and strolling over hills, streets and public places like a pilgrim pacing up and down between Mecca and Arafat, Limamou was calling his in a laud voice his fellow citizens in Wolof, the local language with a noticeable Lebu accent: " Answer the Call of God, come unto me, I am the messenger of God, I am the so awaited Mahdi...", and he kept glorifying night and day, publicly and in private, the Supreme Creator whose names and attributes he was calling.
There were surprise and consternation everywhere like the poet Libasse Niang sang it:
"I am the Messenger of God, he exclaimed in Yoff, to launch the Call, and all, they were dismayed".
This sudden change in the behavior, the look and language of this man who were previously respected by everybody, was going to turn all minds upside down. It was such an unusual scene drawing more and more crowds as the news were spreading in the village and throughout the country. People were listening to him, staring at him, and some did not know whether they had to laugh or be pitiful.
Surely, he is a possessed, a mental under the influence of a punishment from a jinni, some argued, while others tend to accept his message. Though bitter and critical regarding some customs his speeches made sense nonetheless. The serious and unruffled Limamou kept performing and suiting to the act to the word : look! How to pray, he said, and he started accurately miming the ritual gestures of the Islamic prayer. At times, he was overcome with the powerful inspiration seething in his inner self and putting him for few moments in a state of excitement and ecstasy.
His voice became more insistent and pathetic : " O! my brothers, o! my sisters don't walk away from me, I am like a godsend of the Lord for you, take my advice, carry out the recommendations of God, imitate the behavior and acts of the model that I am. God has put the soul of Muhammad in me. Don't let my black complexion lead you astray. My yesterday white complexion in Mecca has turned black today.
This is no wonder over the power of God. Even yourself may dye some of your white clothes into black,.."
To such speeches he would add injunctions for moral righteousness, solidarity and mutual help.
Reactions were from all sides. First of all, his close relatives were summoned to have Limamou healed, for he was considered as a mental in dire needs of caring. As a matter of fact, they first resorted to priests in charge of jinn altars to heal the very one who is entrusted with the mission of putting an end to this pagan cult and any to other practice keeping, one way or another, away from a pure worship of a Unique God.
Only God can heal me, He alone knows what is in me, I seek His support and He suffices me, Limamou replied to his uncle who came to talk to him into accepting healings. And Limamou told him exactly what his mates suggested him in private. The uncle who was bewildered, could not believe his ears and gave up his plan.
Limamou kept preaching and his heart which was bruised by all this surge of dismay, found satisfaction when some members of his family started to believe in his mission.
Momar Bineta Samb was the very first disciple of Seydina Limamou. Right after he launched his first call from the top of a small hill, Momar Bineta went to him to see to it that the Holy Master is in security. He stood in front of Limamou's door for the three days the latter stayed inside before going to people.
Nobody dared approach him with spiteful intentions as Momar Bineta was so strong a man that no one ventured to challenge him.
Then, came Thierno Sarr Thiom who had to shun his close relatives ' vigilance to join the Holy since they were fiercely opposed to his plan. He pretended going to Ngor. No sooner had he got out the village than he took the way to Limamou's house. And Limamou told him : "Thierno, you have come, and surely, God has fulfilled his promise". Thierno gave him a nice white cloth which Limamou accepted. He removed the loincloths around his body and put the cloth on, and told Thierno Sarr: "you are the first one to offer me a cloth after my Call, I will have you wear what nobody has ever possessed".
In fact, Thierno Sarr who was waiting for the Call since he had been informed by Keba Mansali, spent the night before the Call, seated in hit courtyard.
According to his son, the wise Gothe Biti ( a brother in arms of President Leopold Sedar Senghor), God allowed him to see the four angels who visited Limamou that night, and took him up to the seaside to transmit him the divine order of launching the Call.
Other prominent learned Muslim leaders also joined this illiterate man, among whom:
Tafsir Ndialanda Gueye from Rufisque where he was the Imam
Tafsir Abdou Gaye , a prominent grammarian and exegete of the Koran, who was going to become the Secretary of Limamou later, and translator of all his sermons into Arabic and writing his letters which he would tell in the Wolof language.
Cheikh Matar Lo , author of an Arabic work on the life Seydina Limamou ( the French translation of which is included in IFAN News Sheet no 3, B series of July 1972, and in the book, 3"The Seydina Limamou Laye." by Pr Assane Sylla).
Tafsir Abdoulaye Diallo , a Koran exegete who worked as an interpreter in the French colonial administration. He was arrested and jailed in Gorea Island with Seydina Limamou.
Tafsir Djibril Gaye , Koran exegete and father of the prominent learned Imam, Sahir Gaye.( a long list is included in the book entitled " Diwan of Wools " by sheikh Mamadou Mboup ( in Arabic and kept in the Islam Department of IFAN) about other outstanding personalities who joined the doctrine of Limamou.
With the increasing number of conversions supported by the widespread reputation of Limamou as a Great Saint, absolutely hostile reactions were from all sides in a way that his two wives, Faty Mbengue and farma Diop, were uprooted from his home by in-laws.
The first one broke all the constraints her family imposed on her to rejoin her husband.
The master and mistresses of the jinn/Rab cult were not indifferent to the increasing success of Limamou. Because, not only he condemned such pagan practices, but also once he put his saint hands on patients priests were unable to heal, they immediately recovered. The French who were informed about these facts wrote in their correspondences that Limamou has a magnetic power (letter dated September 4 th 1887 by Cleret to the Director of the Interior.).
Rab/jinn priests had increasing worries as Limamou was not only fighting them by his preaching and his spiritual power, but he would also talk his followers into doing so. He went further in asking his followers to destroy the "fetish stone" of Mpal (a small village in the Northern part of Senegal, about 200 km from Dakar). This fetish stone called "Mame Kantar was worshiped by the local people. The destruction of that stone was narrated by the French in charge of political affairs in Saint Louis, in a correspondence dated July 1890, to the Chief Administrator of the Circles of Dakar and Thies. He wrote: "the marabou of Yoff, Limamou, has some followers in the Circle of Saint Louis, and all the village is talking about them. They have recently removed the Mpal fetish stone and the whole village is in commotion."
In addition to healing patients, Limamou was chasing evil spirits out patients they possessed. According to Cheikh Mahtar Lo, one could here evil spirits walking away and giving their full names after Liimamou chased them.
Within a short period of time, people were flocking to Yoff, man, women and children, some were attracted juts out of curiosity and other came for piety. Each one wanted to see and approach the Saint Master. Very few of them would go back home as most of them decided to stay with him. Finally, his compound was too small to shelter all these men and women passionate about God.
The lack of space was such in the village that one night when a tidal wave suddenly flooded rooms in the compound people who were very worried had to talk to Limamou.
On the morrow, after hearing the complaints of his guests, Limamou and some of his followers went down to the seaside. He drew a line on the shore and had bits of branches planted, and talking to the sea, he order her not to go beyond it anymore. And to his amazed followers, he said "the sea will not disobey me, she knows me, and she also knows my rank beside God. By the way, the sea just entered my house to wash stains out.".
For protestors, this dialogue with the Ocean was the most suitable opportunity ever, to prove the madness of Limamou. On the contrary, having a new land for habitation was a renewal of the faith and trust of his followers,.
Excitement was spreading among the people. Some were exited about the growing sympathy for the prophet, and others were fiercely hostile to him. The French colonist could not be indifferent to this situation and were going to react in an untimely manner, because they had worries about the French presence and also some personalities in the Lebu community succeeded in setting the French colonial power against Limamou with a view to achieving their own purpose. The French referred to one of them by name in their correspondences.