By Aroun Rashid Deen, New York City
Muslim leaders of the Sierra Leone community in the United States have been paying tributes to the late Grand Mufti of Jameeyatul Haq of Fourah Bay, Freetown, Alhaji Muhammad Bashirr Joaque.
The widely respected Sierra Leone Muslim cleric and mentor passed away at his residence in Freetown two weeks ago. He was 101.
The Chief Imam of Masjid Jammah Salaat of Virginia, Alhaji Kassalieu Macauley, said that the late Grand Mufti was a man of ingenious knowledge of Islam and an exemplar of what the religion requires of good leadership.
Imam Kassalieu Macauley said aside from his vast knowledge of Islam, the late Mufti was insightful and inspiring. He said humility and respect for all had the better part of the life he led. “Alhaji Bashirr led a simple life and never once put his knowledge ahead of himself.”
The Virginia Imam said Islam must have shaped the life of Alhaji Bashirr Joaque in every respect.
The Chief Imam of the Sierra Leone Muslim Jamaat, Maryland, Alhaji Teslim Alghali, described the late centenarian cleric as an upright trailblazer who had left behind a legacy of how Muslims in a challenging world must lead a decent life rooted in Islam.
Imam Teslim Alghali, in referencing verse 63 of Surah Al-Furqan of the Holy Qur’an said that the late Mufti Alhaji Bashirr Joaque was a devoted servant of God who was very humbled. “He consciously developed such characteristics in obeyance to Allah’s call to those who are blessed with the knowledge of the din “to be humbled and peaceful towards others.”
The Chief Imam of Jamatul Haq of New Jersey, Alhaji Abdullah Karim Savage, described the late Mufti Bashirr Joaque as a decent man of deep moral values. Imam Karim Savage said the late Mufti’s search for Islamic education was comprehensive. “During the 60s and 70s, he spent most of his Islamic propagation with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission of Sierra Leone primarily in search of Islamic knowledge.”
Imam Alhaji Abdullah Karim Savage recalled a long-term closed relationship with the late Imam Bashirr Joaque that went decades back. Imam Abdullah Karim Savage said his dad (late) and the Mufti were close friends and colleagues.
A distinguished scholar of profound intellectual acumen, Grand Mufti Muhammad Bashirr Joaque started his Islamic journey at an early age. He gained his initial Islamic education under local and foreign scholars, including missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim denomination in Freetown.
Outside of Sierra Leone, Imam Bashirr Joaque furthered his studies while he was in the Gambia and Senegal. In 1980, he gained admission to Umm Al Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia where he got his undergraduate and postgraduate (BA, MA) degrees after six years of studies.
On his return, Grand Mufti Imam Alhaji Bashirr Joaque taught Islamic Studies at the Sierra Leone Muslim Congress Secondary School in Freetown. He also conducted a series of home lectures teaching prospective imams and other students of Islam the tafsir, which is the contextual and elucidating explanation and interpretation of the Qur’an.
One of his former students, Sheikh Mufti Sulaiman Yassin Jalloh of the Saturday Night Live with The Qur’an (SNLWTQ) weekly Islamic lecture program on social media platforms, felt disheartened by the news of his death. The Ohio State-based Sheikh Mufti Yassin recently visited his former tutor while on a recent trip to Freetown.
Sheik Mufti Yassin recalled his days with Imam Bashirr Joaque since he, at an early age, first met the late man at a jummah prayer in Fourah Bay. “I felt a deep desire to be with him the moment I first met him.”
Over the years, the young Mufti Yassin would spend time with Grand Mufti Bashirr Joaque, who later taught him the tafsir. Sheikh Mufti Yassin described his death as the “loss of a great scholar and Mufassir of the Qur’an.”
Sheikh Yassin said Alhaji Bashirr Joaque imbued in students that it is not only critically important but Islamically pure that confirmations or disclamations with references to Islam must be based solely on the dictates of the Qur’an and or the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and not on what anyone likes, or dislike, thinks or assumes.
Another former student who is a deputy Imam at Masjid Da’awatul Islamia in the State of New Jersey, Sheik Mohamed Alie Jalloh, said Grand Mufti Imam Bashirr Joaque was a human embodiment of the Qur’an.
Sheikh Alie Jalloh said Imam Bashirr Joaque’s deep display of integrity and uprightness always comes to mind whenever he thinks of him. Sheikh Alie said that aside from the theoretical knowledge of Islam that students acquired from the late man, he also imparted to them the importance of good manners.
Imam Sheikh Alie Jalloh said his late mentor was always warm, patient, and accommodating to all who came across his path and that he was meticulous, forbearing, and composed towards his students. “His good manners were worthy of emulation,” Imam Sheikh Alie Jalloh said.
The Chief Imam of the Islamic Center of Greensboro Masjid An- Noor in North Carolina, Alhaji Abdul Kattan Mahdi, also credited the late Mufti Bashirr Joaque with elevating the knowledge of Islam, particularly among the youth within and outside of the Fourah Bay community going back to the 1970s. Imam Kattan Mahdi said the late man’s contribution to Islamic education and its propagation was pivotal.
The North Carolina Chief Imam said the late Mufti was notably instrumental in doing the tafsirs at Masjids throughout the month of Ramadan, thus giving ordinary Muslims the opportunity to understand the teachings of the Islamic faith.
Alhaji Abu Bakarr Gibril King, Chief Imam of the Sierra Leone Muslim Jamaat of Atlanta in the State of Georgia, said the death of Imam Bashirr Joaque was a big loss to the Muslim community of Freetown in general. The late Mufti had a close affinity with the Gibril King family of Fourah Bay, going back to the days of the dad (late) of Alhaji Abu Bakarr Gibril King.
Imam Abu Bakarr Gibril King recalled his admiration for the late Imam Bashirr Joaque who he said deeply inspired him since his early days of Quranic studies.
The Chief Imam of Masjid Da’awatu Islamia in New Jersey, Imam Sheikh Ibrahim Conteh in his message to the bereaved family, former students, and Muslim community touched by the death of Grand Mufti Muhammad Bashirr Joaque, said the best way to remember the late Mufti Bashirr Joaque is to adhere to the legacy of Islam he shared during his lifetime.
Alhaji Sheikh Ibrahim Conteh said that although he never met the late Mufti in person, he always feels like they had met, based on conversations he had had with other Imams, Islamic scholars, and former students of the late man in the diaspora about the late man’s role in spreading of the din within the large Aku community.
Sheikh Ibrahim Conteh referenced the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) description of excellence to his companions by telling them that the best amongst them is that person who, after gaining knowledge of the Qur’an, shares the knowledge with others. In another narration, the Chief Imam of Da’awatul Islamia recalled the Holy Prophet (PBUH) telling his disciples that the best among them is he who is best to his family, and, on a third occasion, he told them that the best amongst them is the individual whose work benefits mankind. Imam Conteh said the late Imam Bashirr Joaque fell within all three descriptions of what the Rasoul (PBUH) was teaching his companions about excellence.
A niece of the late Grand Mufti who lives in Pennsylvania, Haja Esatu Mason, expressed gratitude to all the Imams for what she called their kind words and thoughtfulness of her late uncle. Haja Esatu said her late uncle was jovial and helpful. “Alhaji Bashirr was family-minded”, she said of him.