"Nothing is impossible to the man of free spirit"

Marabout Cheikh Baba Sy

Art against extremism

© André Alves
Senegal, November 2016

Abdallah Toubab JI converted himself to islam just after the attacks in the World Trade Centre in New York (2001). It may seem at first he is an islamic extremist but that is precisely the opposite. He is an Italian retired man originally from Rome who became a sufi and following sufi old artistic traditions is planning to start an art school in an interior city of Senegal, Kaolack, helping the sufi community that helped him before.

Still living in Rome, he is planning to settle down in Senegal in the next years to accomplish his project. An art school specially devoted to painting as he was a painter who worked in Montmartre, Paris in his youth.

He works in close collaboration with a sufi local community which spiritual leader is marabout Cheikh Baba Sy. Cheikh Baba Sy runs his own school “Temple du Savoir” for already some years now and he is a respected teacher of Islam and Sufism. Most of the time in the school is spent in meditation, praying (at least 7 times traditional of Tijani muslim order), religious lessons and Dhikr (sufi chanting).

“Temple du Savoir” islamic school lives on alms. Abdallah Toubab JI school, still without a name, is going to be financed by selling the art works produced by the students, he says. "Offering the young talibés an opportunity to study and fight poverty in the region, that is my goal" - he adds with a confident smile.

Here it is depicted the “Temple du Savoir” where also some former criminals and drug addicts converted themselves to Islam after family or friends advice. Cheikh Baba Sy helped them to stabilize their lives and to find a job, and ultimately to make them belong to a family. Girls are not forced to use hijab and school is also open to women which is particularly rare.

"Construction of the school building has already started", points Abdallah Toubab JI "we are on our way...", who together with the young talibés are quite excited about this opportunity for change.

This is whole vision of islam we are not so used to know. Mind that Abdallah Toubab JI is the only white man in the pictures.