Hailed as a ‘Gift from God’ a five-year old Tanzanian boy, Sheikh Sharifu, who was described in the London ‘Sunday Times’ (quoting the Tanzanian Swahili newspaper Majira) as having ‘a cherubic face, a falsetto voice and an uncanny ability to recite religious verse’ has been visiting West Africa. Describing his appearance in mid-May before 60,000 people at the National Stadium in Dakar under the heading ‘Paroles de grand, gestes de petit’ the Senegalese newspaper ‘Le Soleil’ wrote about this ‘young protege, from far away Tanzania’, about his ‘assurance deconcertante’ and how the vast crowd had left the gathering ‘visibly convinced’. He was said to have been dressed in a ‘basin mauve surmonter d’une djellaba noire, la tete couverte par une cheche rouge et d ‘un turban rouge et blanc’. His arrival at the stadium was heralded by sirens and loud salvoes of Allahou Akbar. So that he could be better seen by the vast crowd the boy stood on a gold-leafed throne.
Young Sheikh Sharifu has also been taking other parts of the African continent by storm. In the Sunday Times article it was said that he had been preaching to enthralled Muslims in 14 African countries altogether and to have been received by Colonel Gadaffi and the heads of state of Senegal, the Gambia and Benin. The head of a Senegalese Islamic Foundation that sponsored the visit said that “he wasn’t a prophet in the traditional sense but his arrival in Senegal offered us a different face of Islam: the face of an angel who comforts our faith”. In Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, according to the Sunday Times, he was presented with a new BMW car.
But a few days after these events, it was noted that he made several mistakes in reciting the Koran and gave the impression of having learnt the verse by rote rather than through divine inspiration as his uncle Wazir, with whom he was travelling, claimed. As he was leaving for New York, where he was scheduled to preach at the Malcolm X Mosque in Manhattan, he and his uncle seem to have disappeared. The boy is suspected of having become what the Sunday Times described as ‘the possible victim of a tawdry millennial scam that has embarrassed several high ranking Imams and left: countless African believers mourning the death of a dream’. In Dakar there were calls for the Chief Imam and the Director of National Television to resign. There was talk of Senegalese being ‘taken for a ride’ by an unscrupulous Tanzanian. (Thank you Liz Fennell in London and Badou Diop in Dakar for sending this information -Editor).