Yelimane Fall is originally from Ganjool (Gandiole), in the Louga District of Senegal. He studied in a French-medium primary school, and then went to a Technical Secondary School (le Lycée Technique André-Peytavin). He studied woodworking there. After completion, he then served in the army and worked in the Department of transmission, in radio and telephone. He completed his military service in the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance area. After that he worked as an industrial illustrator in Dakar. He drew up all types of plans in wood. He then became the technical and administrative director of a wood construction corporation.
Along the way, Yelimane became familiar with the Quran and learned to read and write in Arabic. God gave him the inspiration, and made him hunger for Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, the founding shaykh of the Murid movement in Senegal, and to want to work for him, so he left that office position and entered the way of tarbiya.
This interview of Yelimane Fall was conducted by Dr. Alex Zito in the spring of 2012 during Fall’s third trip to the United States, on the occasion of an exhibition of his work in a gallery on the Boston University campus. In this interview, Yelimane Fall speaks in great detail and at length on his own life, his understanding of faith and religion, and the relationship between his faith and his art works. He draws on many sources for his inspiration and for his material, including passages relating to his faith in both Arabic and in Wolof as expressed in the Quran, and also in the works of the founders and leaders of the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Muridiyya is a powerful movement with its own elaborate system of pedagogy and discourse which Murids adhere to in order to solidify their relationship to the founder of the movement, Ahmadu Bamba Mbakke. Through the means of calligraphic art rooted in Arabic language characters as well as Ajami Wolof characters which involve the use of Arabic language characters to express the Wolof language, Yelimane Fall captures this relationship that Murids have with the Muridiyya Sufi order, its prophets, leaders and practitioners.
“Lack of studying the Quran or Islamic sciences is not a handicap. I liken it to a game we used to play, where one of us would lead, and the rest would place their hands each other’s shoulders forming a chain, then close our eyes. Even though we couldn’t see where we were going, the one leading had his eyes open, he knew the way. So whoever follows the way of tarbiya, finds a godly man who can lead him to his Lord. Wherever such a person is going, he goes there for God’s sake. So if he takes you by the hand and you follow along, wherever he ends up, you arrive there with him.”
“One day, my shaykh explained to me, the Murid way has two types of people: those who work and those who worship God. The one who worships God must have peace and resigned faith: if he finds himself being called back by the things of this world, his worship of God will not be fulfilled. In order for the one who worships God to satisfy his work, he needs a worker to assist him. So when he completes his work, he should also extend gratitude to the one who worked for him and made his own work possible. And that thanks is a blessing. Myself, the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa are all I seek. Everything I do, in Senegal, here in Boston, everywhere. If I don’t have the thanks of Sëriñ Tuubaa, I will not have what I want, either in this world or where I’m headed in the next.”