Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Against the Saudization of Somaliland
Bashir Goth

The following article is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Annalena Tonelli 60, humanitarian worker and founder of hospital and school for the deaf in Borama, Richard Eyeington, 62, headmaster of the Sheikh Secondary School, and his wife Enid, 61, who were all slain in cold blood in Somaliland.

Against the Saudization of Somaliland

Recently, I came across news reports on the activities of a group of clerics calling themselves “the Authority for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” trying to impose draconian moral codes on Somaliland citizens in general and residents of the Capital Hargeisa, in particular. The following article is therefore, a reaction to this issue. I can ignore, though grudgingly, when such clerics impose dress codes and other punctilious rituals on Somali men and women in the West because these are in the free world where they can express their opinion and seek legal protection against such abuse, but to import this demented thinking to my homeland and the heart of the capital city is quite unbearable to me. I cannot sit back and watch these people humiliate our women, destroy our beautiful culture, hijack our religion and denigrate the reputation of our country worldwide.
Against the Saudization of Somaliland
The following article is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Annalena Tonelli 60, humanitarian worker and founder of hospital and school for the deaf in Borama, Richard Eyeington, 62, headmaster of the Sheikh Secondary School, and his wife Enid, 61, who were all slain in cold blood in Somaliland.


Recently, I came across news reports on the activities of a group of clerics calling themselves “the Authority for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” trying to impose draconian moral codes on Somaliland citizens in general and residents of the capital Hargeysa, in particular. The following article is therefore, a reaction to this issue. I can ignore, though grudgingly, when such clerics impose dress codes and other punctilious rituals on Somali men and women in the West because these are in the free world where they can express their opinion and seek legal protection against such abuse, but to import this demented thinking to my homeland and the heart of the capital city is quite unbearable to me. I cannot sit back and watch these people humiliate our women, destroy our beautiful culture, hijack our religion and denigrate the reputation of our country worldwide.

I cannot find a better start than to relate an incident that occurred in my home village, Dilla, 60 miles west of Hargeysa, in the early 1990s. It was Friday and the residents of the little farming village of Dilla, western Somaliland, were looking forward to a normal weekend day. The only worry that the villagers had in mind on such days was the crowds of farmers and nomads that descended on the village to attend Friday prayers, thus swelling population to a breaking point. Fridays, however, were bustling days for business. Teashops and shopkeepers sold more than they could sell for the whole week and mothers had the luxury of abundant choice for milk and ghee from the hordes of countryside men and women coming to sell dairy products to buy weeklong provisions instead. Children also looked forward to special lunches with meat, rice or spaghetti instead of the bland, single menu local hadhuudh (millet). 

The whole village carried an aura of sweetness as the shopkeepers, teashops and mothers all burned frankincense to greet the Islamic weekend, perfumed themselves and adorned the best of their clothes for the Friday sermon. 

No one had the slightest expectation of how this particular Friday would be any different from the thousands of Fridays that they had lived through. But it was and the people were in the offing of a strange phenomenon that would put the wisdom and patience of villagers, particularly the Ulema (clerics), to unprecedented test. 

After Friday sermon, a man stood up in the mosque to address the worshippers. Everybody knew him. He was the headmaster of the school, a respected man, a dedicated teacher and a devoted Muslim. A man of no vices; he never smoked, never chewed Qat and led an ascetic life away from women and other worldly luxuries. The general guess was that he was going to lecture about the needs of the school or complain about children’s behavior. 

“You all know me,” he said “but what I am going to tell you today is something that you have never expected to hear from me. I am a new prophet”. The people were frozen. The teacher said that he was told by God to reform the Islamic religion and that anyone who believed that Mohammed (PUH) was the last prophet should read the Quran again. 

“It is here,” he emphasized, raising the Quran book that was in hand, “I am not fabricating a new thing. My name is mentioned here in the Quran and all you have to do is to read it carefully.” 

The worshippers left the mosque dumfounded, but the Ulema decided to have a word with the teacher. They had two things in mind, to assess his mental condition and to judge how adamant he was on his claim of prophethood. Founding that he was mentally sound after a few hours of discussions, the Ulema asked him to promise two things only if they had to leave him in peace. First he should not preach his new gospel in the village’s two mosques and second that he should not try to spoil the faith of school children. If he accepted to fulfill these two conditions he was free to do whatever he wanted with his “message”. He accepted the terms. Two years later, the teacher was spotted praying in the mosque and when the Ulema questioned him his answer was that he returned to his faith and had given up his infatuations. 

This is not an imaginary tale. It is a true story that all the people in the area know very well. My point in bringing it up, however, is to raise a question: Imagine this taking place in Saudi Arabia or any other place where Wahhabism or religious extremism prevailed! What the fate of this teacher would have been is anyone’s guess. He would have been hanged mercilessly. However, it is amazing to see how the Ulema of the little farming village of Dilla had dealt with the issue with the sagacity and tolerance that are the long lost faculties of Islam. By simply patronizing the teacher’s claim, they had proven that Islam was too strong and too entrenched in the hearts of people to be shaken by bogus prophets. They also set an excellent example for tolerance and compassion in giving the poor teacher the grace to come back without any fear of reprisal. 

The Ulema of Dilla represented a generation and a time when Islam and the Somali culture lived together in perfect harmony when Islam was natural and neatly interwoven into our people’s social fabric, when being Somali and a Muslim was an indivisible whole. Islam back then was like a crystal glass that takes on the color of any liquid that was poured into it. The crystal was so clear that one could see the inside liquid with unmistakable clarity. It was a time when the message of tolerance and peace prevailed, when Islam meant Islam in the true meaning of the word – submission to God and living in a state of mental and physical peace with others. Islam was a bond between the worshipper and the worshipped; an internal harmony whose radiance reflected on one’s face and was felt in one’s humility and generosity towards his fellow (fallible) human beings. 

Depending on your view of history, since Somalis embraced Islam at the time of the Prophet or shortly after his death, it never clashed with the local culture in terms of clothing, eating and going about their ordinary life. Once it settled in the heart, it made there its home and never bothered about how a person looked on the outside. The guiding principle in worshipping God was measured on one’s purity of heart as the Qur’an says “Qalbun Salim” (soundness of heart) or wa libaasu Ataqwa (“..the raiment of righteousness...”). Consequently a Somali woman would travel with a single man or even a group of men on long trips, spending nights and days in their company with neither the men nor the woman having any sinister thoughts about their togetherness. The heart was clean and nothing else had mattered much. These Somalis were unknowingly abiding with the prophet’s hadith, which says: “Verily in the body there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the body is all sound. If it is corrupt, the body is all corrupt. Verily, it is the heart.” 

Somali people continued to wear the qaydar, the dhuug, the Maro Somali, the dhacle and darayamuus, the guntino and Islam was always there where it should belong: to their heart, and not to their clothes. Somali girls had traditionally braided their hair with such style that made foreigners sing their proverbial beauty and Islam lived in perfect amenity with it. Somalis recognized unmarried girls by their uncovered hair “guudley” and married women by their hair cover “gambooley”. This was the time that our traditions and heritage were the identity of the Somali people as expressed so eloquently by one of our lyrics: 

“Reer guurayiyo
Gabadh tima tidcani,
Waa waxa dhulkeena u gaar ahee
La inagu gartaa… “ 

One of the aspects to discover the cultural history of any people is to trace the change of fashion in clothing and jewelry in addition to folklore dances and other traditions. Adult Somalis may relish remembering the journey that the Somali attire went through. Islam found Somali men wearing the dhuug and later qaydaar. For the longest time the Somali man was well-known for his acacia-like hair style, his naked torso, and his gunti, covering the private parts of his body up to the knees, his stick tooth brush (cadday), his barkin, and his three piece weapon, bullaawe (dagger), waran (spear) iyo gaashaan (shield), in addition to his gudin iyo hangool. Then came the time when the Somali man adorned himself with laba-go’ (two sheets, one wrapped around the waist and the other thrown on shoulders) before he learned the macawis and garbagale (longie and shirt) and kabo carabior kabo faranji (Arab and European shoes). It was the colonial powers that introduced the daba-xumeeye (shorts), the surwaal (trousers) and koodh (coat). 

Women’s clothes also went through similar or even more vivid metamorphosis. It went through the maro with the dacle and daraya-muus, the toob-shanan ah (short blouse) and googorad dheer (long skirt) and the daba-gaab (mini-skirt), remember “ninkaan daba-gaabi, daadihinayn, ama aan dibitaati daaya lahayn…” during the colonial time to the Diric and hagoog of modern times. The head cover and the hairstyles also went through similar changes along the lines of other costumes. I remember when Somali girls had fooshad (frontal hair collected together in a ball shape) and were called Fooshadley in late sixties and early seventies, and later when Somali women styled their hair like mountains on their heads. The general belief was that many of them used to place a glass cup on the head and built the hair around it to give them the mountain-like shape that was conspicuous in every major town in the seventies. 

This was, however, in the past when Islam lived in ideal co-habitation with the local culture, when fashion changed according to time and age. This was the time when one could pray occasionally, or never prayed at all, fasted in the month of Ramadan or never fasted at all, made pilgrimage to Mecca or never did at all; but would forever consider oneself a true follower of Islam, knowing that to be a Muslim is a bond between man and God and that one’s faith is not answerable to anyone else. Just mentioning the name of the prophet or singing a religious hymn would bring one to emotional ecstasy; no one ever doubted the truth of their faith, simply because Islam was synonymous with being a Somali. It was not something to show off but something entrenched deep in one’s heart. One didn’t need to advertise the color of one’s faith; one was simply a Muslim and never ceased to be one.

The Current Situation 

Nowadays, it is sad to see that perfect co-habitation; that ideal harmony between Islam and Somali culture swept aside by a new brand of Islam that is being pushed down the throat of our people. Wahhabism. Anywhere one looks; one finds that alien, perverted version of Islam that depends on punctilious manners more than it depends on deep-rooted faith. A strange uniformity, only known in the desert and uncreative cultures of Arabia, has crept into the social manners of our people. The unique fashion and identity of our people has changed forever. We have become a people without fashion, without culture and without identity. Our women, whose beauty has allured the eyes of every traveler, have been brainwashed by the prophets of Wahhabism into adorning the black cloak of ignorance. Instead of being native, Islam has become alien and instead of being a faith well guarded in the heart, it has become an outside façade that had to be advertised through strange attire and physical looks; black overflowing cloaks for women and white, ankle-length Arabian gowns and long unkempt beards for men.

It happened that I was reading a report about the opening of an exhibition on African hairstyles over the centuries in Paris, called “Parures de Tjte (literally, head costumes). The report said that at the Musie Dapper headdresses, masks, statutes and hair accessories, some 100 pieces from tribal groups hailing from approximately 20 countries, show the primordial role of the hair in ancient African societies. It continued to say that given that black people have been perfecting the art of hair since long before Africa wore the political boundaries that it does today, it was probably a natural outcome that their tresses now have an impact on hairstylists the world over. I asked myself, yeah. How much contribution do my people have in this? May be some pictures from the good old days, before modern fanatics reduced Islam into a jealous guardian of Harem’s (women) hair, cheeks, arms, shins, feet, voice and smile. 

It is a pity and anachronistic of sorts to see that at a time when Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahhabism, is reassessing the damage that Wahhabism and extremism had done to their country’s name and to the reputation of Islam all over the world, at a time when “scales fell from the eyes of the Saudis” according to one American official, at a time when the events of Sept. 11 and terrorist explosions in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Morocco, East Africa and other parts of the world have made many Moslems revisit their history and re-read their doctrinal beliefs; that Wahhabism has to find a save-haven in our country.

Anyone who followed recent press reports from Somaliland would have read that a group of Saudi-oriented clerics, calling themselves the “Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” an offshoot of its Saudi counterpart, has been demanding the enforcement of a draconian rules on what the Somalilanders wear, say and do in their private lives.

Before we proceed further it may be helpful to have a quick look at Wahhabism and how it is so alien to our culture.


Wahhabism is an austere and closed school of thought promulgated by Mohammed Inb Abul Wahhab Najdi in the 18 th century. Discarding Islam’s all four legal schools as corrupted versions, Ibn Abdul Wahhab demanded his followers a confession of faith a second time to Wahhabism. In his attempt to eradicate other schools of thought, Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab conspired with the British for the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate, which he saw pursuing a decadent and an unethical Sunni Islam as mentioned by one of the British spies in a book titled “Confessions of a British Spy.” 

While traditional Somali religious scholars read all four schools of thought (madahib) with equal respect and an open mind, Wahhabis view the cannons of Islamic jurisprudence and the colossal work of scholarship left by generations after generations of the Muslim Umma as an apocrypha. Hence, the schools of Shafi’i, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Maliliki should go with the wind, while the masterpieces of Sufism scholars such as Al Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum ad-Din (The Revival of the Religious science), the most referred book of Islam after the Quran and the Hadith, al-Munqid min ad-Dalal (“the savior from Error”), the Mishkat al-Anwar (“The Niche of Lights”) and Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi’s Alam al-Mithali (Ideal world) are counted by Wahhabism as nothing more than infatuations of demented men. 

“The Wahhabis consider, or previously considered, many of the practices of the generations which succeeded the Companions as bid’ah (“objectionable innovation”),” writes the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Stacy International Cyril Glasse, Second Edition, 1991, not even giving the least thought to Shafi’i’s ingenious classification of Bid’ah into Bid’ah hasanah (“good innovation”) and bid’ah siya’ah (“bad innovation”). 

With tolerance being the norm for all other Madhabs, Wahhabism, is the only school that compels its followers strictly to observe Islamic rituals, such as the five prayers, under pain of flogging, and for the enforcement of public morals to a degree unprecedented in the history of Islam. 

Sufism, however, which was the Somali way of Islam and which Wahhabism condemns as a heresy, reaches out to the heart and good sense of all mankind without distinction. Instead of shunning all other faiths and branding them as bogus religions, Sufism sees all faiths as equally valid, following directly God’s words “wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of God.” Where Wahhabism sows hatred and rancor even among Moslems, Sufism preaches sulh-e kull (universal peace) and Mahabbat e-kull (universal love). 

The most conspicuous foot soldiers of Wahhabism are the moral police known as Mutawi’un, who roam in the streets like riot police and force people to perform rituals or adhere to Wahhabism’s code of decency in dressing and other mannerisms. 

Waking up to the monster that Wahhabism had become, the Saudi Authorities had started cracking down on the religious police. Too little too late, one may say. But at least they are acting at last. Thousands of Mutawi’un have been fired, while other thousands have been sent to re-orientation centers. The curriculum of schools has been revised and Saudi students have started the 2003/2004 academic years with new curriculum that takes the new world that emerged after Sept.11 into account. Saudi children are being re-educated to see human beings as human beings and not as infidels and Wahhabis. 

A Saudi Journalist Turki al-Hamed wrote in the Asharq al-Awsat “Saudi culture belongs to a past age. It is not appropriate for the age of globalization. People’s minds were stuffed with bad concepts.”

A more blunt criticism came from former Bosnian Interior Minister Mohammed Basic who accused the Saudis of “poisoning our youth” with their teachings (read Wahhabism). 

Wahhabisim’s best example of humanism is “the harsh religious police that forced a group of school girls to their deaths by forcing them to go back to an inferno that had been their school. Their crime? Forgetting the head coverings in their haste to save themselves.” (Time Magazine, 15 Sept. 2003). 

This is the Wahhabism that the Saudi-oriented clerics want to impose on Somaliland. This is the sect that produced 15 of the 19 suicide bombers of Sept. 11. This is the mentality that the Saudis are today taking pains to change. 

It is a closed mind sect that turned Islam into a fragile creed that lives in constant fear of children’s toys and games such as Barbie dolls and Pokemon. It is a school of misinformation and ignorance that rebuked an Egyptian doctor for publishing an article on epilepsy because it challenged against the prophet’s statement that epilepsy was caused by Jinn (look at the September 15, 2003 edition of the Time Magazine). 

It is heart warming though to mention that as I was writing this article, 300 people including 51 women, have submitted a petition to the Saudi Royals, calling on them for a radical reform to tackle the growing extremist Islamic influence.

Wahhabi encroachments into Somaliland

This is the brand of distorted Islam that the neo-Muslim clerics want to enforce on our people. They want to tell us that over the LAST 14 CENTURIES, our people have been practicing the wrong religion; that since the dawn of Islam, Somali people had lived in vain, worshipped in vain and died in vain. God help them, they all will be burned in hell because they did not follow the correct path - Wahhabism. 

These people are out to eradicate our culture, our traditions, our songs, our poetry and our folklore dances. They brand our traditional children stories of Diin iyo Dacawo (dawaco), arrawelo and dheg-dheer as bawdy literature that has no place in the puritanical society that they aspire to build. Forget about Ina Xagaa Dheere’s satirical anecdotes, which the fanatics want to discard from our people’s memory. For these fanatics, the breast of the countryside mother who suckles her baby while selling milk in the streets of Hargeysa is a sin, not motherhood as many of our ordinary souls would see it. It is this obsession with sex, this concept of viewing women only as an object of sex, created for man’s libido relief, that turned women’s body into a thing of shame. The concept is that just like one cannot display sex organs in public, women as objects of sex, not human beings with intelligence and rights, should always remain under cover. Hence, we shall never have models and beauty queens to publicize the beauty of our women down the catwalks of Paris, New York and London. It may be worth to mention here that on the several occasions that the name Somali caught international media, other than civil wars and Black Hawk down, were associated with women. It was Iman, that Somali model, who made the name Somali synonymous with such exotic, unique and Cushitic beauty. Weris Deiria is now making headlines despite the daily curses and ridicule she receives from die-hard fundamentalists. It is also since that astute and clear-headed lady, Edna Adan Ismail, has become Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, that the international community is lending an ear to Somaliland’s case. 

If we let them have their way, these prophets of “purity” would soon be on a mission to destroy what has remained of our culture. The melodious voices of Zahra Ahmed, Khadra Dahir, Hibo Mohammed, Amina Abdillahi, Sada Ali, Magool, Maandeeq, Farhiya Ali, Zainab Egeh and many others of our women singers we will be history. The cassettes of their songs will be burned in the streets. Just remember Taliban. They want to edit, re-write and censor the treasures of Somali oral literature. Future generations will not be able to enjoy our beautiful folk dances, particularly women’s heelo yar-yar. Even traditional religious gatherings of our people such as siyaaradii Aw Barkhadle, Ramadan hymn chanting sessions in teashops and the dhikr/xadro circles of sufi tariqas, will be brandished as devil worshiping rituals of the infidels. It has been a strange déjà vu that while I was working on this article, I came across a news item that Saudi Arabia’s moral police had arrested expatriate workers practicing Sufism in their private house in the town of Sakaka, capital of the north Al Jouf region. Sufism in may parts of the Moslem world is a healthy spiritual communion with God, a combination of enchanting hymns and ritual dances that allows the individual to let out pent up stresses of life. 

These fanatics are on a mission to eliminate co-education schools, shroud young girls and deprive them of their healthy childhood social interaction with boys. They want to bury them alive and teach them from an early age that the female body is an eyesore to public decency. A girl should either be in the grave or under a man’s custody. I have to mention here that when I step out into the street in the morning I see groups of girls waiting for school buses; all of them Arabs except for two Somali girls. All the Arab girls of all nationalities look bubbly, tossing their beautiful uncovered hairs and showing off their latest hairstyles. Even those with head covers threw it lightly on the shoulders or barely on the back of the head. They even sometime waved hello for me or for my son. The two Somali girls, however, were fully shrouded with black from head to toe. One could barely see their eyes and they even wore black heavy socks on their feet. Their unique Somali features wrapped into a shapeless form, their shy and modest smiles buried and a kind of heavy footed, reptile shuffling replacing their elegant, Somali-only, rolling hip-walk. The black veil and the black skin also make a very sad and unwelcome combination, while the contrast between a black veil and a fair skin at least mitigates the gloomy impact for Arab women. I wonder: when did my people become more Arab than Arabs? When I met some of the Arab girls later in life, we often recognized each other and exchanged smiles, hellos, how-are-yous and pleasant good byes.

What about the Somali girls? Well, would I even recognize them? Did they have a face? Even if they recognize me through their shrouds and dare to say hello to me, how would I know who they were. I could only pass them without glancing at them lest they accuse me of blasphemy, silently remembering Abdillahi Abdi Shube’s 

“Shaydaan aanad arkayn,
oo shaambinaaya agtaada,
waa naag shaadhir hagoogan.” 

May God give him peace in his abode, because had he lived until today, Abdi Shube would have probably been stoned to death. 

The question is how far can we allow these fanatics to use OUR religion for THEIR own political goals? How long can we tolerate our identity to be ripped into pieces in the name of alien ideas? How much of our culture, our heritage and the reputation of our country and our religion are we ready to sacrifice before we act? 

These people love to live in the dark. They thrive on the silence of the unwilling intellectuals and the gullibility of the ignorant majority. They hide under the cloak of religion and scare people with their indiscriminate use of terms such as blasphemous, infidels, apostates, sacrilegious, atheists, westernized minds and many others. They use the available democratic atmosphere to herd us towards the abyss. One pertinent question that begs for an answer all the time is why is it that it is always those who fail in school or in life who turn to such religious extremism? One may wonder if the problem is one of lost self-esteem, an internal urge for revenge and a desire for power and domination. No wonder that women bear the brunt of their onslaught for enslavement, for what better way to regain their lost self-esteem than suppressing women and denying them the success that they themselves had failed to achieve. In this way they could exercise power not only on their women but on the women of the whole community, thus bringing those successful guys who despised them for their failure under their mercy- hitting them at their Achilles heel, while hiding under the cloak of religious sainthood. 

It is time to tell these sick men that the bare breast of the woman suckling her child is not about pornography, but about motherhood. The girls and boys sitting next to each other in class are not indulging in a sex orgy, you demented paranoiacs, but enjoying a healthy educational environment. The girl walking in the street without a headcover and wearing a big smile is not about flirting; it is about beauty of life. The woman holding a lively conversation with a male friend in a coffee house or a shopping mall is not about illicit affairs; it is about a much-needed human relationship and a healthy exchange of intellectual ideas. The woman wearing the traditional diric and hagoog and regally strolling in the street is not about indecency but about culture. The nightingale voices of our female singers are not about eroticism, you philistines, but about art, music and enjoyment of one of God’s marvelous gifts. The Awra (private parts) and indecency are not about what you tell us, you sex maniacs, but about deep-rooted manners handed down through the centuries. Sufism is not about heresy but about breaking the monotony and adding passion and music to religion. Visiting graves is not about idolatry, but about remembering and giving due respect to the dead whose souls live among us. The foreign humanitarian workers in our country are not infidels whose killing guarantees one to go directly to heaven but angels of mercy and enlightenment without whom we would be doomed to hell and darkness. We know right from wrong and proper from improper. We don’t need or want you to teach us YOUR way of Islam. 

It is time we have to speak out. If we don’t do it today, we won’t be able to do it tomorrow. Because there will be no tomorrow as our country descends into 7 th century Arabia.

First published in Awdalnews Network& Addis Tribue in 2003. Also in Memri