Saturday, September 13, 2014

Breaking Barricades: A Wedding Restores My Hope in Somali Cultural Festivity by Bashir Goth

It was one of the most refreshing and reassuring weddings I attended for a long time, almost over a quarter of a century. Refreshing because since the grip of extremist trends of Ideologies that shun everything that appears, tastes and sounds genuine and indigenous in local cultures and replaces it with its narrow and sterile interpretation that deprives all kinds of enjoyment, music and beauty from life, it was the first time I saw an inclusive wedding where all community members regardless of sex and age celebrated together the delight and festivities of a real Somali wedding.

It was refreshing because it was a joy to see family couples, sometimes with their children, coming to the wedding hall and taking their seats together. No walls divided between women and men, no barricades, no segregation; all well groomed and decently but elegantly dressed for the occasion with traditional Somali Diric and hagoog dominating the scene while the youth dressed trendy clothes to their taste in all fashion styles. Even elderly women who came were dressed in reminiscently Somali style without alien black shrouds.

It was refreshing because the bride and bride-groom made a grand entrance with young men and women as best men and women walking in front of them hand-in-hand. The whole audience fell silent to watch the beauty of youth strolling, a beauty that they knew the Somali people had, a beauty they knew was never meant to be depressed, stunted and denied to breathe and enjoy its prime. “This is the best wedding, I have seen for a long time,” said a friend sitting next to me. I also overheard similar remarks from other people both men and women, with a tone that underlined the nostalgia the Somali people have for their superior culture that they had lost due to the imposition of extremist ideologies on them; Ideologies that see sin mushrooming everywhere where even a teenage son has to police the behavior of his mother let alone his sisters lest they go astray as if the whole Somali community is devoid of moral values and had to be forced on it.

It was refreshing because the party opened with short speeches and poems by old generation men who gave tributes to the married couple and their courage and that of their parents to revive the genuine communal festivities of our culture. It was refreshing because the youth, men and women, danced together to all kinds of music, Somali, Arabic, Hindi and western to make the night memorable for the wedding couple. And the elderly joined the dance sometimes, gracing the occasion and embracing it as a truly community event. 

It was refreshing because the youth, both men and women, also joined their parents in performing traditional Somali folklore dances. Refreshing because it was a happy, inclusive, celebratory community event, a true picture of what a wedding should be, and not the austere, segregated and gloomy occasions that Somali weddings have become lately.

The wedding was also reassuring because it proved that the Somali people have started to rebel against the recent trend of segregating women and men in social occasions and denying a common memory to the marred couple about their best day and the community at large. 

A wedding is a celebration of life, a celebration of a journey to begin for a young couple who would have their own children to preserve human existence, one of the noblest missions of a person’s life on earth; an occasion that demands a communal festivity in which all members of the society attend and contribute.  And to Somalis, weddings were traditionally one of the most important community festivals where new poems were born, new dances improvised, new jokes and riddles weaved, collective memory invoked, romantic melodies enjoyed, decent courting incubated and new loves stories started.  

But since the encroachment of the extremist Salafist, and Wahhabist sects on the Somali culture, most of the weddings and particularly those in western capitals have become not places of joy and communal sharing but places of cultural doom, guilt, censorship and draconian rules of moral policing that ban music, singing, and interacting and sharing between genders, thus depriving the youth of experiencing the true culture and identity of their people.  

Oddly enough also it is the Somali weddings that take place in American and European cities that wholeheartedly accepted such alien cultural austerity and it has to be a place like Abu Dhabi, in the heart of the Arab world, that Somali people find the mental freedom to invoke the true synergy of their culture and Islam in the way they knew it over the centuries. An Islam that seamlessly blends with their culture, an Islam that accepts and not shuns domestic culture, Islam that embraces life and the beauty of living, Islam that enriches people’s lives with arts, music , dance, and good artistic taste and passion for freedom of cultural imagination, Islam that binds together with love and brotherhood, and does not incriminate them for sharing a public space together to celebrate the wedding of their culture, Islam that enriches our culture and not stifles it, Islam that is a higher calling from a fair God that entails beauty, mercy, perfection, and freedom; and not a lowly  edict from a tyrant demigod. For the Prophet told us that: “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” And no wonder with this in mind Somali women used to welcome the bride to her home while singing: “Hoy Nebow , Nuur Allow, Maxamad Nebi Magac Samow.”  (Oh Prophet, Oh light from Allah, Oh Muhammad, what a prophet of good name you are.)

I have to conclude this piece by congratulating and saluting the wedding of Ayaan Omar Ahmed Barre hailing from Borama and Zakariya Abdulla Fadal Gabaxady hailing from Oodweyne held in Abu Dhabi on 11th September 2014, as well as their parents for their courage to reject the dictates of the cultural brainwashing and to revive the beauty of inclusive Somali communal festivities. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Awdalpress Editorial: It is Time for Muslims to Clean up Their Own Mess

As much as one may like to rejoice at the killing of Ahmed Abdi Godane, leader of Al Shabab in Somalia, one finds one’s self perplexed on what difference would the killing of one leader or even an entire command of any of the terrorist organizations make as long as Muslim countries spew thousands of indoctrinated youth who are ready to sacrifice their lives as cannon fodder.

This is not to underestimate the delight felt by the millions of the Somali people, and other victims of the demonic ideology and barbaric actions in Godane’s elimination. This is indeed an answer to a prayer for mothers whose children he used as human bombs, for the young men and women whose limbs he cut leaving them physically and mentally scarred for life, for the millions of Somali people from whom he robbed their farms, livestock, and properties, the women that he denied to earn their livelihoods, hooded them and condemned them to die with their orphaned kids in misery, and the relatives of the hundreds of school and university students,  intellectuals and journalists he killed. The death of Godane is a sigh of relief to the Somali mothers and elderly people and children that he reduced to being victims of the world’s pity when he deprived them of their livelihoods and denied international help to reach them, causing one of the greatest man-made famines in Somalia.

However, the killing of this man and hundreds of his ilk will only be a temporary panacea as long as the Muslim world sits back and lets someone else clean up their mess. The nagging question is how long can the Muslim world rely on America’s firepower. How long will the Muslims curse and accuse America for being the cause of all their ills and yet hide behind American tanks and drones when their home grown monsters, who were nourished in their mosques and madrasas, wreak havoc on the lives of Muslim people.

The truth is, the plague that descended on the Muslim world from Somalia’s Al Shabab to Nigeria’s Boko Haram, from ISIL in Iraq and Syria to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to its offshoots in Yemen and North Africa, are all by-products of centuries of sleep walking, self-hating, self flagellating, zombie-like monster culture that can only ramble around aimlessly and without any sense of direction to cause death and mayhem.

This is why that no matter how many terrorists are killed or smoked out of their hiding caves, it will bring no change as long as the culture of death remains as the greatest motivation to regain the perceived lost glory of Islamic Caliphate. As long as the lure and attraction of the world after life overweigh the beauty and love of living on the earth. As long as religion dominates over people’s thinking and we resort to the book for everything we do including which foot to take first. As long as we spend life times arguing whether the shoelaces or neckties are illegal innovations the use of which can lead one to hell. As long as the technological innovations of the youth from the advanced world made for the improvement of human life, is used by our youth as tools of death and destruction. As long as the sacred term “Allahu Akbar” remains as the most abused religious term in history and is used as a mantra for killing and annihilation and not for a call to connect with the Almighty. As long as hearing “Allahu Akbar” puts fear into the heart of mothers and children who associate it with images of barbarians slaughtering human beings while shamelessly invoking God’s name.

Terrorism committed in the name of Islam will not be overcome as long as we shun secular education and stuff our children’s minds with fantasy stories about palaces, women and singing gardens waiting for them in dreamlands similar to those entertained by the Hashshashin of the Alamut. As long as our children play with severed human heads as toys and all sane people in the Muslim world opt to watch silently. As long as we believe that unkempt long beards are signs of piety that guarantee express tickets to paradise and we look down on human intelligence and common sense.

As the long as the word Haram dominates our daily speech and our children are choked with red flags on everything thing they do, stifling their mental freedom and creativity. As long as music is haram, painting is haram, scientific theories such as evolution is haram, laughing is haram, cinema is haram, and football is haram, as long as we teach them that all these are devil’s work that leads to hellfire. As long as crazy mullahs with alien looks harass, beat, and embarrass women, married couples, and carefree youth in the streets of our holy lands as moral police and they turn Islam, the religion revealed by the merciful Almighty for the mercy of his people, into a whip wielding monster. As long as everyone can appoint himself as a new prophet and can accuse others who don’t measure up to his narrow interpretation of Islam as “infidels” who deserve to die. As long as we live in denial, refuse to see our ugly reality, bury our heads in the sand, and let others decide our fate for us; all that the American firepower can do is to just give us temporary relief by opening holes to remove the pus from our festering wounds.

The killing of Godane and others of his type will only herald a new dawn for the Muslim world, if the Islamic Umma makes a united decision to stem out this sick ideology from their schools, their mosques and their communities at large. It is time to invest in human capital through education, education, and even more education as well as economic development. It is time to teach our kids that to live and prosper in this world and to live peacefully with oneself and with others is the true essence and beauty of life.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A British Teacher’s Heroism Versus Al Shabab’s Barbarism

By Bashir Goth

Recently the British Dailymail carried the amazing story of a British teacher, Ray Coe, 53, who donated a kidney to his young student, a Muslim girl, Alya Ahmed Ali, 13. The story was emailed to me by a friend who also said in his email:  “What would Al Shabab say about this act?” he added: “Before Allah, isn’t it better to save a life than kill one.” My reply to him after reading the story was: “Al Shabab would probably demand the girl be killed as she now carries an infidel’s organ in her body.” This is not an exaggeration as one would not expect a better response from a group that makes it their duty to extinguish life and everything beautiful in it.

As heroic as it is, the noble action of the teacher to donate his organ to the girl is also what we should expect from every person with decent upbringing, who learned as a child what it meant to be good and kind to your fellow human beings.  

Mr Coe says while he was pondering the donation he remembered a verse from the Bible that says: "Maybe you were born for such a time as this". And he said: “It clicked and I knew then that it was right.”

We know and every Muslim knows that the Quran is full of similar beautiful verses that command its adherents to be kind and charitable. One of these verses says: “Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul ... it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely,” Al Mai’da, 32. 

But the text is just a text as wise words can either be put to good use or construed in a distorted way by its followers. So while in the case of Mr Coe the line from the Bible brings the best out of him, it is unfortunate that the Quran has itself become a severely abused victim in the hands of its own people.

This British teacher saves this Muslim girl’s life not because he wanted to make a statement, not because he wanted to settle scores with anyone, not because he wanted to show that his religion is better than others, not because he wanted to convert the girl and change her religion, not because he thumped the Bible in the night and woke up in the morning with a vision to change the world, and not because he wanted to create a media stunt and grab headlines; but on the contrary this kind teacher, a special educational needs coordinator,  thought only of what he could do as a human being to help alleviate the plight of little Alya and her parents, and he did the right thing. And as the school head teacher said: “Mr Coe has gone above and beyond the call of duty with this selfless and noble act.”

His only comfort was to see Alya’s reaction after he told her that he is going to be her organ donor:  “When we told Alya, she just gave me a big squeeze and her face lit up. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I think of that,” he said.

However, in stark contradiction to the teachings of the Quran, Al Shabab followers wake up every morning with a plan on how many lives they can take, not how many lives they would save; they read Quran in the night and in their demented minds they come up with wrong self-serving interpretations. For them the Quran is not a holy book aimed at the betterment of life but a manifesto for war. While the British teacher made this great sacrifice to give life to a young girl, breaking all walls of division such as background, religion, and skin color, Al Shabab and other extremist groups in the Muslim world every day slaughter their own country’s children, women and the elderly in schools, mosques, and restaurants. And while the smile of Alya brought tears to Mr Coe’s eyes, the grief of mothers and children who lost their loved ones in Al Shabab’s attacks does not bring tears to Al Shabab’s eyes but instead they shamelessly shout Allahu Akbar and invoke Quranic verses.  

Given the choice to either go with Al Shabab of Somalia and other extremist killers in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt and elsewhere to wherever they go afterlife or to go with Ray Coe, it is clear who I would choose for company.  And this is exactly in keeping with the true meaning of the Quran.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Al Shabab: A Menace to World Peace, Not Only Somalia

By Bashir Goth

The latest terrorist attack on Somalia’s presidential palace comes less than 10 days from another daylight suicide attack on a UN convoy near Mogadishu’s airport. 

Somalia’s government may call it a “media spectacular” by a “dying animal”  but any honest observer can tell that the threat of this Al-Qaeda offshoot group is not limited to Somalia but can destabilize the whole East African region and the world at large.

Any victory for Al-Shabab in Somalia will be a victory against the will and resolve of the African Union and the international community to prevent Somalia from slipping back into being a hub for international terrorism, piracy and lawlessness. 

Known for their internationalist agenda of bringing the region and the whole world under their banner, Al-Shabab will not stop in Mogadishu if they get the upper hand. Their eyes are on Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Djibouti, Kampala, and beyond.

Their attacks in Mogadishu and before that in the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi in Sept 2013 will only be a precursor for their grand plans of delivering death, destruction and fear to the streets of world capitals.

Defeating Al Shabab, therefore, demands a concerted effort on international and domestic fronts. On the international front, it is obvious until now that despite their sacrifices and tangible victories, AMISOM forces are not capable of defeating Al Shabab alone. They need western support for better military intelligence, surveillance aircraft, and fighter planes. 

As Al Shabab is a mobile militia group using non-conventional shock attacks, it is mainly through sophisticated intelligence that their movements and plans can be intercepted and aborted. It is not of sheer coincidence that whenever the British and American governments warn their citizens against travelling to Somalia, Al Shabab’s attacks follow almost immediately. This is proof that western countries possess accurate intelligence of Al Shabab’s plans. How much of that intelligence information, however, is shared with AMISOM or the Somali government is beyond my knowledge. But the fact that the Somali government and AMISOM come under surprise attacks by Al Shabab soon after London and Washington’s travel warnings, one can only guess that maybe western governments trust neither AMISOM nor the Somali government. But trust or no trust, the end goal should be to defeat Al Shabab, otherwise everyone would suffer in the end if a united front of both military assistance and intelligence sharing is not put in place.

On the domestic front, it is required of the Somali government to demonstrate that it is a trustworthy partner by establishing a system of rigorous scrutiny of security personnel to prevent Al Shabab’s infiltration in their ranks and using them as a Trojan horse to target government installations as well as UN and AMISOM personnel. The government also needs to improve the professionalism of its security forces and to guarantee their economic welfare. Engaging the local community in the war against Al Shabab through media campaigns led by prominent figures, women, youth, and religious people will also be highly beneficial in countering Al-Shabab’s false religious and nationalistic propaganda.

Somali regional administrations should also join hands with the federal government in fighting the menace of Al Shabab, the common enemy of the Somali people. It is not rocket science to know that if Mogadishu falls, no regional administration will survive. Those who decide to live in denial will only do that at their own peril. It is therefore imperative on everyone to recognize that the assassination attempt on the Somali president and the attack on the presidential palace is an attack on the sovereignty and identity of the Somali nation. There is only one choice for the Somali people, to fight back and defeat Al Shabab with the help of the international community or to sit back and watch the Somali nation and its history sink into oblivion.