Gambiana

Remembering the late Sheikh Omar Fye, religious scholar, businessman and politician

Sheikh Omar Fye of Gambia, in flowing robes, with Sir Henry Buckland, General Manager, at the Crystal Palace. 4 June 1937

It’s been 61 years this December since the demised of Alhaji Sheikh Omar Fye, Gambian politician, JP and representative of the colony of The Gambia at the coronation of King George VI at Westminster Abbey, London, on 12 May 1937.

Sheikh Omar Futee was a famous scholar who travelled widely to convert people to the religion of Islam through preaching and teachings and miraculous deeds. 

In the Gambia legend has it that he had visited some people and places and had left behind after his departure some wonderful signs or deeds that still remain fresh in the minds of the people who witnessed them. 

It is narrated that whilst attempting to use one of the crossings in Niani, Sheikh Omar Futee happened to meet the grandfather of the former head of state Sir Dawda Jawara who assisted him to cross the river. 

It was also narrated after reaching the opposite bank, Sheikh Omar Futee prayed for him and predicted that his son would be recognised throughout The Gambia and his son or one of his grandchildren would rule the whole land. 

This was all fulfilled because everyone in The Gambia must have known or heard of the late Alhaji Almammi Jawara even  before his son became the Gambian head of the state. 

The other place that Sheilh Omar Futee Taal visited in The Gambia was Banjul Dobson Street Fayen where he met the grandfather of Sheikh Omar Fye who showed him much hospitality and lavished gifts at the great sheikh who in return pray for the advancement of his sons and grandchildren.  

At Gunjur,  Sheikh Omar Futee stayed at the coastal place known as Sanimentereng to the local people, who feared that the place was occupied by evil spirits.

The inhabitants told him about these evil spirits and that he was not to go near the place. But Sheikh Omar Futee decided to stay at the very spot where everyone feared to stay.

The great Sheikh Omar Fye (1889-1959) was born in Bathurst to Ebrima Fye and Marie Pierre Saine who hosted Sheikh Omar Futee and showered him with gifts and an outstanding hospitality. Sheikh Omar Futee was accommodated exactly where the Fayen mosque is situated 74/75 Dobson Street in Banjul. 

The sheikh was very appreciative of the hospitality he received he disclosed his identity to his host. He predicted the birth of a baby boy and therefore should be given the name Sheikh Omar. He went further to predict his outstanding personality and admiration people will have for him.

Alhaji Sheikh Omar Fye did his primary school at Wesley School in Dobson Street until 1904 and later Muhammedan Primary School at Buckle Street before his father’s death in 1905. 

Upon the death of his Father Ebrima Fye, Alhaji Sheikh Omar Fye was too young to take up the responsibility of his mother and family, he therefore he took up an appointment in George Town followed by Kinkoba in Kiang and finally at Njawara where he spent 16 years doing trading and research on Islamic studies under the tutelage of Imam Waka Bah and Alhaji Abdoulie Niass of Kaolack. 

He became so verse in the Arabic language and the Quran but this never stopped him from seeking further Islamic studies. Due to his perseverance he travelled on horsebacks from Njawara to Niassen in Kaolack to seek more knowledge.  

Sheikh Omar married Ya Binta Ann and later Ya Binta Cham and Elisabeth Wilson.

He visited Kaolack lots of times with Papa Kalilou Loum, his friend from Toro Alasan.  

Due to his relationship with his mentor Alhaji Abdoulie Niass (Sheikh Al Islam’s Father), as early as 1911 he was mandated to organise Maulid Nabi (Gamo) to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). Fayens have therefore held Gamos in Banjul for over 100 years.

He established a quiet village called Sinchu Sheikh Omar Fye which today though deserted, still bears his name. There is a small mosque there and not far from Njawara. 

Alhaji Sheikh Omar’s influence went beyond linking him to Kerewan administration and the authorities in Bathurst and he established links in Faraba Banta and Sukuta were he enrolled some of his sons at the madarasa of Sering Baboucar Baye and others at Muhammadan Primary School in Banjul. 

In March 1934, he was appointed member of the legislative council of The Gambia by Governor Palmer.  Sheikh Omar attended his first sitting in Parliament in April 1933. 

Throughout his tenure in the Parliament, he received sitting allowances as well as earning his livelihood through business. In 1937, he represented The Gambia at the coronation of King George VI, Father of  the present Queen of England Elizabeth ll. 

According to the late Gambian historian Alhaji Mansour Njie of blessed memory, this made Sheikh Omar Fye the first Gambian to travel to the UK by flight. Whilst in U.K. to attend the coronation, his mother Marie Pierre Saine died. 

Unfortunately he also lost his first son Abdoul Wale Fye who was the first to memorise the Quran in Kaolack. 

In UK he was treated as a royal guest and he met lots of other world leaders  including the then crown Prince of Mecca Ibn Saud with whom he shared long bond  of friendship.  

It could be recalled that the Second World War broke out in 1939 and the British War Ministry had business establishments in The Gambia from which many Gambians advanced economically.  

His businesses ranging from cattle importation from Mali to car dealership 

flourished. He owned a brand new car company sales agency with the manufacturing company located in Coventry UK.  The popular car brands were Standard, Triumph, Vanguard and Singer. 

He was also a dealer for the United Africa Company in groundnut purchasing,  running a road and river transport services purchasing all the firewood from the Colonial Development Co-operation  Scheme at Banjulinding, Yundum , Busumbala etc. 

A similar scheme took him to Guinea Bissau where he bought 47 cattles which were certificated by the Portuguese Colonial Government but the shepherds stole the cattle from him. This was a total loss despite the intervention of the  secretary of state for colonies (British Foreign Office).  

In the midst of all these activities, a general election was introduced for the first time in Bathurst contested by Edward Francis Small, Sheikh Omar Fye and Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa. Small won the election. 

At about the same time the grandson  of Ahmed Tijan Sheriff visited The Gambia for the first time. He was accompanied by Alhaji Abdoulie Niass as guests of Sheikh Omar for one night at Dobson Street but due to the heat, they were moved to a house opposite Mile Two prisons were they stayed for sometime. 

Seydi Tayyib Sheriff, Baye Niass, Sering Habib Sey muu Maudo Malick and the Gambia Muslim Congress paid a courtesy visit to the governor,  Sir Andrew Bakworth Wright under the leadership of Sheikh Omar Fye. 

In 1948 Ibn Omar another grandson of Sheikh Ahmed Tijan visited The Gambia. Sheikh Omar developed high blood pressure and was taken to Dakar for medical treatment. 

When he returned he suffered setbacks including the loss of his graduate son, Mustapha Fye, who was an administrative officer, as well as his entire stock of firewood stored at the site where Gambia High School now stands. It was meant to be sold in Senegal. The stock were set on fire deliberately by arsonists.

His pilgrimage to Mecca 

It was during those hard times when the journey to Mecca was made overland. It took several months to get to the holy land. Sheikh Omar Fye travelled to Nigeria where he toured the Muslim regions of the North ending up in Maidugury. He crossed the border to colonial Chad, then to Sudan to the port of Suakum where he took a boat to cross the Red Sea to Yemen and then to Saudi Arabia. 

He went to Mecca and Medina. While in Medina the Saudi Crown Ibn Saud came to know that his friend since 1937 was around for pilgrimage and therefore took up accommodation for him at a hotel and accorded him all the privileges of a royal guest. He was accompanied by his son, Alhaji Muhammad Kabir Fye, because of his ill health and age. 

His return from Mecca

He was in Sudan upon his return from Mecca that he learnt of the death of his second wife Ya Binta Cham. He maintained his sense of courage that he travelled by train to Lagos and then by ship to Accra and Banjul. From the sea port in Banjul, he went straight to his late wife’s grave to pray for her. 

He visited Sierra Leone on a second journey to Mecca but stayed there longer than anticipated preaching and leading prayers. He returned to Banjul and three months after his return on 12 December 1959 he passed away. He was survived by wife and children. May Allah grant him Jannatul Firdaus. Ameen. 

By Ebrima Jawo

Special thanks to the sons of the late Sheikh Omar Fye: Ibrahim Fye of Texas, Sheikh El Haj Omar Fye, Minister of Defence, Sheikh El Haj Ahmad Tijan Fye and Imam Muntahar Fye for providing the information for this article

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