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The day Sheikh Al-Ilory was visited by Chief Abiola – Part 2

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One day, Chief M.K.O Abiola, the late popular philanthropist and, according to some critics, the best President Nigeria never had, paid an unscheduled visit to Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Ilori.

To be visited by Chief M.K.O during those years was to be visited by riches and fame; to visit that great man of yesterday, indeed what a great man he was, was to have an appointment with wealth, though temporarily, and affluence. Thus came Chief M.K.O Abiola to Markaz that day. According to Professor, the Chief came to the Markaz with an unsolicited gift for Shaykh Al-Ilori -a brand new car.

After exchanging pleasantries with Shaykh, Chief Abiola then announced with great pleasure and happiness the gift he had brought to Shaykh Adam. Little did he know then that he had come to pay a visit to a Philosopher-King. Chief Abiola did not reckon with Plato’s assertion during the classical period that “there will be no end to the troubles of the state or indeed of humanity until philosophers become kings or until those we now call kings really and truly become philosophers.”

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Thus Shaykh al-Ilori, after having contemplated the brand new car brought to him by the extremely wealthy Chief Abiola, then calmly asked him the following question: “are you aware of the Council of League of Imams and Alfas in this region?” Chief Abiola responded in the affirmative. Shaykh Al-Ilori asked him another question: “Do you know that that Council has a leader and that presently neither the Council nor its President has an official vehicle?” Chief Abiola was taken aback. He said he was completely aware of that fact. Then Shaykh al-Ilori told him to take the vehicle to the President of the Council and hand it over to him.

Soon after the incident, people began to tell different kinds of stories. But those who knew Shaykh al-Ilori were fully aware that he was an incorruptible scholar; that rather than run after the world and its temporary enjoyments, it was actually the world that was ‘running’ after him.

But the above was only the beginning. Soon thereafter, Chief Abiola came back to Markaz with yet another car. Once again, Shaykh Al-Ilori politely refused to accept the car. He asked Chief Abiola: “Do you know that I came from Abeokuta, Ogun State and that the leader of Imams and Alfas in the State has no official car?” Once again, Chief Abiola pleaded ignorance. Again, as it was in the beginning, Shaykh al-Ilori asked him to take the car to the Imam in question. It was lesson number two for those were living witnesses to the incidents. Exactly what and where lie your worth? Does your worth lie in money or in the acquisitions of these earthly possessions?

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Whatever his intention was then, Chief Abiola was not prepared to give up on his desire to contribute to the progress of Markaz. He refused to be cowed by the uncommon austere or rather a puritanistic personality he had encountered in Shaykh Adam Abdullah al-Ilori. Eventually, he came to Markaz with yet another car- the third car. Having refused the offer of a car gift for the first and second time, Shaykh Al-Ilori then hesitantly and grudgingly accepted the car. But the lessons to be learnt from the encounter had not yet been exhausted. We were told Shaykh al-Ilori never set his foot inside the vehicle up till the day he transited to the great beyond.

Philosopher-kings usually know the ways and wiles of kings; they are well imbued with the styles, the politics and the histrionics of their fellow philosophers. Philosopher-kings usually know the kings; they know when to adulate the latter and when to abominate them.

I thought the above stories were highly instructive. They were instructive of yet the continuing effulgence in the life and living of the polymath, the scholar and great intellectual who happened to be Shaykh al-Ilori. They are equally reminiscent of the fervour, enthusiasm and passion that Chief Abiola had for Islam while on earth. These are personalities whose life histories contain eternal lessons for us to learn from.

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Let me conclude with this quote from late Shaykh Adam: “People say I am a Sufi…” Shaykh Al-Ilori wondered. “Yes..I am a Sufi as long as tasawwuf means indifference to what is with people and yearning for that which is with the Almighty. I am a Sufi only if tasawwuf signifies the unveiling of unseen realities and inspired knowledge of the Creator”.

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Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.


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