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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Genesis of Islamism in Somalia

It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Not a single one of His creatures can fail to find Him in its   primordial and original nature…        ----Ibn ‘Arabi

Ever since the central government which was commanded by late Mohamed Ziyad Barre has collapsed, Somalia has been rightly pronounced   as a failed state. Almost, all the constituents that are deemed to account for a failed state have been at play in Somalia since 1991: the country has experienced massive movement of refugees and internally displaced people which have  generated complex humanitarian grievances; a sharp economic decline that spurs famine, drought, malaise, and pestilence is inflicted upon Somalis ; and ongoing deterioration of public services, the emergence of fictionalized Elites, and the suspension of the rule of law and the pervasive of human rights violations have become the  norms in that battered country ( Fund For Peace 2009).

Until recently, this calamity has lacked International attention as it has been eclipsed by other countries’ security concerns, i.e., Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the international aid has been emblematic (Michael Taarnyby & Lars Hallundabek, 2009). Before the eve of what it is now known “the Rise of Somali Islamic Courts”, Somalia affairs were virtually omitted from all International deliberations, or at most, they were of its fringes. After the rise ICU, and Al-Shabaab (an offshoot of ICU) with its Islamist militant tenor and jihadist uproar, Somalia has raised International Community concerns and awareness. Only few days after the Islamic courts had made progress in rein in Mogadishu, Bush administration has announced convening an International gathering to discuss Somalia’s political issues.

Thanks to the rise of Islamism, Somalia has come back from oblivion to the facade to rival countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan with the trophy of being “a safe haven to terrorists”. The statements and the activities of Al-Shabaab movement plainly delineate the group as a typical Islamist militant who either has links with Al-Qaeda or shares with them the set of guidelines: both groups are goaded by what I like to call the doctrine of Islamo-mania---- the nostalgia of bringing back the classical Islamic era (the statehood of Ummah led by Prophet Mohamed and his four caliphs) --- to which many Islamists (i.e., Muslim Brotherhood and its various branches and Wahabis)  are yearning to relive under its banner. According to this doctrine “the world and all mankind are divided into two:” the House of Islam, where the Muslim law and faith prevail, and the rest, known as the House of Unbelief or the House of War, which it is the duty of Muslims ultimately to bring to Islam. But the greater part of the world is still outside Islam, and even inside the Islamic lands, according to the view of the Muslim radicals, the faith of Islam has been undermined and the law of Islam has been abrogated. The obligation of holy war therefore begins at home and continues abroad, against the same infidel enemy” (Lewis, 1990).

The purpose of this essay is to investigate and illuminate the origin of Islamism. To appreciate this phenomenon comprehensively, we would be entailed to explore the history of Islam in Somalia--- conventional Islam and contemporary Islam or what is termed rightly political Islam. The thesis of this essay espouses thus: the roots of political Islam or a Sharia based society is utterly and entirely alien to Somali credo; the concept of tolerance and renunciation of worldly ambition and pleasure is deeply seeped in Somali traditional Islamic thought----Sufi Order. Embracing those principles--- namely spiritual authority should be aloof from temporal one, and man of God should abstain from corporal indulgences---the traditional Islamist pioneers acted as real men of GOD!  Thanks to the exalted sagacity that God bestowed upon them, those dervishes of God knew the fact that religion is a subjective enterprise which principally is molded by the beholder’s milieu.  Their perceptions and attitudes, to a certain extent, were geared by this dictum of Ibn Arabi “If the believer understood the meaning of the saying 'the Colour of the water is the Colour of the receptacle', he would admit the validity of all beliefs and he would recognize God in every form and every object of faith”. Likewise, their world views were spearheaded by “render Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. Simply put, before the introduction of political Islam in Somalia, secular tribal chiefs were the stewards of judicature systems, and the set of laws were culled from nomadic customary laws that some times were peppered by miniature sharia law, such as divorce, or marriage laws.

In short, the puritanical Islamic viewpoints are by and large a post-independence phenomenon; influxes of returnee students from countries like Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have kindled this so called “Islamism” fad in Somalia.
Due to the fact of Somali people being oral society, (their language had not attained the prestige of written form grade until recently 972), very little is known about the time and the how Islam was introduced to Somalia. Nevertheless, there are two accounts as to explain when and how Islam came about in Somalia. The first account propounds the notion that Islam had started off in Somalia before it even had founded its way to Medina—the first Muslim capital city in Islamic history. According to this version, Islam was brought to Somalia by the first Muslim muhajireen ( migrants) who landed at Zayla’s port which at the time was an Abyssinian province. Many old Muslim historians and geographers like Al Masudi( 896-956 A.D), al-Hamawi (1179-1229 A.D), and al-Idirsi(1099-1166 A.D) , and al Yaqubi have mendtoied Zayl’a  in their books and  described it as Abyssinian port of embarkation close to Hijaz. As far as deductive logic is concerned, the proponents of the contention ---- that is Islam had been injected in Somalia by the first cluster of Muslim migrants--- may have some validity in their side, provided Zayla’s geographical proximity to Arabia and its stature as an old city from antiquity; unfortunately however, this argument lacks the substantial evidence needed to support such contention (Mukhtar, 1995).  The second account links Somali-Islamic emergence to Muslim migration that had grew tremendously after the death of Prophet Mohamed.  Given the dense population, the scarce economic opportunities, and the harsh climate conditions of Arabia and Persia at that time, scores of Muslims motivated by the spirit of getting hold of material fortunes, and by the Prophet Mohamed’s decree “spread my message even if a version” had embarked on diligent toils in land explorations and proliferation of word of Islam till they found themselves in Somali soils.   This account apparently has strong reverberation among Somali-Islamic experts. Mohamed Mukhtar Haji, a Somali scholar and Islam expert points out to this incident in his discourse, Islam in Somali History: fact and fiction. He writes:

“The Muslim migration grew tremendously from the rise of Islam to the tenth century A.D.  According to authoritative Arab sources, there were eight major waves of Arab and Persian settlements in Somalia. Inscriptions on some tombstones found along the coastal regions of Southern Somalia [like inscription present in the prayer’s niche of   ARABA-RUKUN’s mosque in Mogadishu, which bears the name of the person founded the mosque   and date it came into existence (Khusrow Ibn Mohamed Al-Shirazi in the year 667 A.H/ 1268-96 A.D) are vivid evidence of the presence of Islam in Somalia during the first few centuries of Islamic era”.  
One thing that could garnered from this above-mentioned passage is that Sufi Islam is the oldest and most widespread Islamic establishment in Somalia, a premise reiterated by many scholars like, e.g., I.M. Lewis. More to the point, known to any one referenced in Islamic literature, Shirz’s status among Muslims, particularly among Muslim mystics is easily graspable: the city is known Dar al-Elm (the house of knowledge), and it had generated numerous Sufi pioneers like abdu-Muhamed Muslih al-Din bin Abdallah al-Shirazi known as Saadi(1283).

Regardless of the means of which Islam had come into Somalia, most scholars have consented on the fact that the model of Islam embraced by Somalis in the olden times was Sufi Islam amalgamated with Somali Cushitic tradition. Referring to that fact and explaining the rationale behind of which Somalis opted to Sufi Islam, I. M. Lewis, anthropologist who studied the Somali saga in close in writes:

“The religious aspects of Somali genealogies which centre in sacrifice at tombs of eponymous ancestors were, in the pre-Islamic state of Somali society, intrinsically a part of Cushitic religion, and acknowledge of the larger hierarchy of Cushitic spirit-refractions, does I think, throws light upon the nature sacrifice upon the dead, and leads to some elucidation of the religious meanings attached to Somali genealogies. Thus, it is proposed (I) that Sufi genealogies are adopted due to the close resemblance in their religious and political functions to Somali genealogies, and (II) that this assimilation corresponds to underlying similarities in Cushitic and Sufi religious concepts which attach to genealogies”.  
In the broad sense, Sufi Islam is based on the creeds of love, coexisting with the other with peace and harmony, and holding the corporal worldly ambitions in total disdain as to sustain a clairvoyance vision that this world is momentary (Imam al-Nawawi 1234- ); the Sufism’s accepted wisdom of tolerance, acceptance, and humility is elucidated lucidly by Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240 A.D). He composed this poem:

My heart is capable of every form.
A cloister for the monk, a fane for the idols,
A pasture for gazelles, the votary’s Kabah
The tables of the Torah, the Koran.
Love is the faith I hold: wherever turn
His camels, still the one true faith is mine (Armstrong 1994).

This poem emphasizes  the notion of religions should not be ranked in terms of better or worse; but rather all religions  should  be understood as means of  seeking the al Haqq (the God ALMIGHTY). The poem also implicitly conveys the message that those self appointed prophets, who claim their path is the only right path which leads to Paradise and all other paths lead to Dante’s Inferno, are imposters.
Adhering to these moralities---that is to say assimilating all religions, and harboring love to all mankind, the traditional Somali Muslim pioneers detested xenophobia and violence; their disposition was heaving with love and peace. They co-existed with secular political authorities from the times of boqro, ugaasyo, and garaadyo the chieftain of the clans, and the subsequent European colonial eras. In essence, their programs were free from any overt and covert political agendas.

In brief, nothing like dogma religion, which imparts itself to wipe out God's enemies as quickly as possible and to reign in their kingdoms, and generate sectarian schisms and clashes, Sufi Islam has often endorsed absolution, and human adoration. In effect, Sufis taught that all human kind are revered for God breathed His Soul in them in the primordial times, the day of creation(Junayad al-Baghadadi 910 A.D);and that all religious  paths lead to the realm of God. “Where so-ever ye turn, there is the face of Al-Lah” (Koran 2:109).  

 The teachings of Sufism may seem abstruse to some contemporary Muslims, (those infected by Islamism’s delirium are point in case) albeit they shaped the Islamic visage of Somalia since Islam was incubated in there for many centuries long-gone. The overwhelming majorities of Somali Muslims like the Muslims in Africa at large were and still are intrinsically peaceable and tolerant. Public opinion surveys conducted as to test this hypothesis in support of democracy and tolerance, showed no significance difference between Muslims and non Muslims (De Waal, 2004).

Somalia’s Islam from the time of reception was based on Sufi order (Lewis 1961). The oldest known Sufi sect adopted by Somalis is the Qadiriyah one which was founded in Baghdad by Sheikh Abd al Qadir al Jilani (1166 A.D). The well known Qadiriyah names in Somalia included Sheikh Abd Rahman al- Zaylai Shaykh (1820–1882 A.D) who spread the teaching in the Northern part parts of Somalia, and Shiekh Awes al-Baraawi ( 1804--1909 A.D) who spread it in the Southern parts. Both those Sheikhs’ tombs are known and have become pilgrimage centers to hordes of followers. The Ahmadiyah-Idrisiyah is the second Sufi sect in Somalia which   was founded by Ahmad ibn Idris al Fasi (1760-1837). Ahmadiyah was brought to Somalia by Sheikh Ali Maye Durogba of Merca. All other major Sufi sects like Salahiah and zaylaia are derivatives of Ahmadiyah and Qadirryah. Noteworthy here still is that all Sufi sects in Somalia adhere to Asharite views on matters pertinent to faith, and Shafite School on issues that pertain to jurisprudences.

In consistency with those aforementioned facts regarding Somali Islamic creed in the distant past, I cannot resist the temptation to press the proposal---that the wholesale of Somali Islamism is new. It is new as it only goes back to the post-independent era. In fact, it was brought by Somali students that had received their education in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

 Modern political Islam did not arise in Somalia until 1960s, when Somali students mainly those studying at Grand Al Azhar were exposed to the teachings and public support for political Islam (Le Sage 2001). The most outstanding figures attributed to have planted the first seeds of Islamism in Somali soil is the late Sheikh Mohamed Mo’alem Hassan (--2000 A.D). The story goes that Sheikh Hassan went to Egypt around 1960’s  to enroll into the Grand Azhar Institute after he had got his preliminary education in Somalia and Ethiopia in the taqlid (traditional) form from Sufi sheikhs.  As known to anyone versed in the history of Muslim brotherhood, the period between 1950’ and 1960’ was marked off as the heyday of Muslim brotherhood.  This period was the period Saydd Qutb had become the intellectual thinker, the editor of the groups’ weekly paper and the spokesperson. Thanks to the stagnation that Muslims were feeling at the time---say the colonialism and the invasion of foreign ideas) and the charisma of Qutb, many Muslim university students perceived the Brotherhood’s call as the sole redeemer and fall for it for solace.  On these lights, probably Sheikh Hassan was influenced by the message of the group and imbibed their ideas to import it later to his home country, Somalia.

The Muslim Brotherhood came into existence in 1928 by the genius of an Egyptian teacher named Hassan Al-Banna. The group was established in reaction to the Western dominance over Islamic world, and Al-Banna and the Brotherhood presumed that the panacea of the Islamic world’s illness is implementing and Islamic caliphate that encompass all Muslim governments, and that reclaims the lands which Muslims lost from Spain to Indonesia( Halim Barrkat 1984).

Upon his return from Egypt, Sheikh Muhamed Mo’alem Hassan has started preaching brotherhood’s teachings---namely instilling a Somali state which is based on Islamic law. Andre Le Sage referring to this anecdote writes:   
“Upon return from abroad, many of these individuals formed parallel Somali movements to Al Aqwan, seeking to peacefully transform the Somali state to be based on Islamic law (shari’a). Their beliefs led to public resistance to Siad Barre’s plans for ‘scientific socialism’, and ultimately to government repression. For instance, when followers of the movement publicly rejected the Family Law of 1975 for its recognition and promotion of the legal and economic equality of women, demonstrations were eventually put down by the execution of ten prominent clerics. Following the repression and fracturing of Al Aqwan, a period of relative inactivity followed when Islamist organizations were not prominent in Somali politics. However, instead of disappearing altogether, the remnants of Al Aqwan went to ground and began organizing for their political return at a later date”.

Subsequently, number of different Islamic movements developed in Somalia whose ideologies are more or less similar to that of Ikhwan ideology. These include Al Islah (a wing of Iqwan Al muslimuun) and Al Itihad (branch of Wahabisim).

 This latter group, namely al Itihad, the most omnipresent Islamic group in Somalia, (Hizbul Islam, and Al-shabaab are the progenies of al-itihad) traces back its roots to Saudi Arabia. The philosophy of this group in accordance with Muhamed Abdulwahab’s ideas propagates the concept of Islamizing the society at large and fusing religion and state (Barakat 1984). The oil boom of the 1970s and 80s that Saudi Arabia have acquired, Saudi establishment have embarked on missionary endeavors intended to cleanse Islam from the bida’ (inventions and fictions), which were inflicted upon it by the Sufi cranks and charlatans. Fulfilling this mission, Saudi Arabia reportedly offered scholarships to thousands of Somalis. Most of these students were educated the Islamic University of Medina, Umm al-Qura` in Mecca and Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh.

It is safe to lump together all various Islamist groups under the title Islamic fundamentalist as they all hold fast to the salafi ideology --- that call for amalgamation of state and religion, and promote global jihad. One may protest from this generalization to contend that Al Islah, for example, is moderate for their activities depict serenity and passivity.  The reason Islah has taken on this docility role, to me, is not one based on the conviction that tolerance is superior to intolerance per-se, but rather is a ruse. All Salafi ideologies are equal in the sense of using force to extent the word of Islam, but only differ of at what time to do that. Wahabi sect necessitates the use of force no matter what, while some of Muslim Brotherhood disciples, Islah for instance, acquiesces the use force when Muslims are in control; and when not, they counsel utilizing nonviolent means say polemics and propaganda as being the least hierarchy of faith. Furthermore, Sayyd Qutb, the soul father of the Iqwan which Islah professes being it is descendant, has emphatically demanded his followers to wage Jihad on non-Muslims until they become Muslims or give the Jizyah (tax required non Muslims to pay) willingly (Qutb). To the point thus, the only difference—if this could be regarded a difference at all --- between Islah/ Iqwan, and other Salafi groups is one of degree not one of essence.
As we have seen earlier, Traditional Islam with its Mystical disposition which had   prevailed for centuries in Somalia was casted out from the cliff due to the asymmetrical disparity that separates the two groups. Islamists are quipped with some modern knowledge due their schooling in abroad, weaponry, wealth, and international connections such charity institutions in the Gulf countries and elsewhere, while Sufis lack nearly all those  mentioned assets   -- most of them even do not speak the colloquial Arabic.  Those factors, along with the changing internal dynamics (the fall of the central governed) in Somalia, transformed Salafi Islamic thought from an alien creed into one ostensibly permeates into Somali culture: Salafi ideologies with its temperament of draconian interpretation of Islam --- stoning adulteries, chopping off the hands of the thieves and legs the thugs, veiling women from head to toe, and banning music--- hold sway over Somalia of today. Possibly that is why many people seem to entertain the idea that Islamism is inherent in Somalia’s culture.  As evidenced of I.M. Lewis’s aforesaid quotation that we have seen, we know now this not true.

That Islamists code of belief is foreign to Somalia’s soil; that they are callous who have done all the terrible things in the name of Islam goes without saying. But getting antidote to the maladies which they have brought into being is the one requires all the wisdoms of the world. Many people have been thinking on medium that could be utilized as to tackle this pandemonium. One medium which this far predominates the debate is hard power “force is the only answer”.  Convinced of the efficacy of this approach, Western countries have engaged in army confrontations and predator strikes with Islamist from Afghanistan, Pakistan to Somalia. Alas, the Predator strikes have thrown the ball into the Islamist’s playing field. In fact, hordes of Somali youngsters persuaded in the propaganda that their country are under attack from America and its allies, have joined- forces with the Islamist.  And the rift between Islamic world and West have widen since.

The other model proposed to mend the malady, is to adopt a soft power, a non-combative strategy—such as reconstructing the country’s infrastructure, offering secular education, and minimizing the corruption.   I tend to align myself with this latter strategy for its long-lasting effect.  In point of fact, most of the youngsters that are joining the Islamist are doing so for two reasons: the first reason as we have seen earlier is defending the country from what is perceived as foreign enemy assaulting their country. For example, a huge number of Somalis angry of the Ethiopian invasion in 2006 either joined up the Islamist, or sympathized with them; the second reason is one led by need of survival and sustenance.  An empty stomach has no room for the luxury of ideology as Abraham Maslow might tell you. Hence, Islamist groups being the only organizations on the scene   equipped with wealth are easing the hunger bang of those young people while indoctrinating them to the phony scheme--- that Islamism strives for resolving the Somalia’s   modern woes with inclusive solutions beyond the bigoted tribalism. This explains why young people and the uneducated folks fall into their entrapment.

Granted a better alternative thus, I have no doubt that Somali people would turn away from Islamist. Most notably, to defuse Islamism’s inferno, it would take the revitalizing, and reliving of Sufi Islam in Somalia, and installing  of   competent, credible, and comprehensive Somali Institution which preaches education and law and order, and livelihood through modern secular ideologies. The universal human penchant dictates to care more about maximizing ones egoistical gains, and safeguarding the well-being and the well-being of his kin. Same universal principle applies to Somalis as well. On this vein, the appearance of responsible institution with world view on the scene that satisfies the aspiration of the modern men and women would be the antidote of Islamism conundrum, and Somalis would join them in droves as they did with the Islamist in the beginning of their formation.

That is exactly the approach presented by Dr. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek. To drive my view home, I use his insight as the conclusion of this discourse. “We should pursue aggressively policies that will make [the secular values] succeed. Such efforts are often difficult and take time—rebuilding state structures, providing secular education, reducing corruption—but we should help societies making these efforts. The mere fact that we are working in these countries on these issues—and not simply bombing, killing and capturing—might change the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. involvement in this struggle. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern [Somalia]. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. [Secular ideologies do.] That's the most powerful weapon of all” Amen!

By Abdiaziz Abdi


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