Militancy simply means having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause. Adding Islamic adjective signifies that certain interpretation of Islam is used as the guiding ideology of that militancy. The first such militancy in the history of Islam was labelled “al-Khawarij” ["the Seceders" or "the Rebels"] because of their rebellion [khuruj] against fourth Imam of Islam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib.
1800-1920th Century Islamic Somalia
Looking into the history of Somalia in the 18th and 19th centuries, the revival of Islam was carried by the Sufi Brotherhood movements and legendary Sufi scholars belonging to the three main Sufi Orders: Qadiriyah, Ahmadiyah and Salihiyah had emerged. The names of Sheikh Madar, Sheikh Abdirahman Al-Zayli, Sheikh Aweys al-Baraawi, Sheikh Mohamed Guleed, Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, Sheikh Ali Maye, Sheikh Sufi and many others are well known teachers and respected Islamic Scholars in Somalia. Sufi brotherhoods are generally moderate and use peaceful means of propagating Islam that offer due consideration to the norms and customs of the people. Often, they use innovative means to assimilate and absorb the pastoral and illiterate masses and mobilize them into common action. Bloodlettings being the most heinous crime in Islam, Islamic scholars usually abstain from recurrent clan fighting in the harsh pastoral environment. Their role is limited to conflict resolution, community education and conducting various religious functions. However, there were three historical events in the history of Somalia when Islamic militancy emerged and certain Islamic scholars led internal fighting to gain politico-religious hegemony. Such historical events have historical importance and constitute precedents for current Islamic militancy and extremism in Somalia. It offers lessons that doctrinal differences and political ambitions may develop into violent wars under the leadership of charismatic and ambitious scholars.
1. The first event occurred around Baardheere town in the southern Somalia as a confrontation between the Bardheere religious settlements (Jamaaca) and the Geledi Sultanates at Afgoye. The Bardheere settlement was founded in 1819 by Sheikh Ibrahim Yabarow, introducing some Islamic reforms such as outlawing tobacco and popular dancing and prohibiting ivory trade. They began to implement some elements of Islamic Shari’a, such as the wearing of decent Islamic dress for women. In the mid-1930s, receiving strong adherents, the Jamaaca decided to expand its sphere of influence to other regions during era of Sharif Abdirahman and Sharif Ibrahim from Sarmaan in Bakool. By 1840, the Jamaaca warriors reached Baidoa area and Luuq and finally sacked Baraawe, the historic seat of the Qadiriyah Order where both Sultan Ahmed Yusuf of Geledi and Sheikh Maadow of Hintire clan learned, the most powerful leaders who together reacted to the Baardheere expansions. The town of Baraawe accepted their capitulation conditions that include prohibiting tobacco and popular dancing, adopting the Islamic dress code and so on. They also agreed to pay an annual tax of 500 Pessa. This action provoked a concerted response from the clans of the inter-river areas under the charismatic leadership of Geledi Sultan Yusuf Mohamed. The Sultanate mobilized an expedition force of 40,000 from all clans, stormed Bardheere and completely burned it. Professor Cassanelli characterized this conflict as between the rising power of Islamic reformists and the established traditional power of the Geledi. Moreover, he adds the economic factor of curbing the lucrative ivory trade as well as a clan aspect, which stemmed from the armed immigrant nomads, the followers of the Jamaaca, being perceived as a threat to the local population. The external actors’ role in this conflict was not well researched, however, it is said that Sayid Bargash, the Sultan of Zanzibar, was on good terms with the Geledi Sultanate in the confrontation, perceived to be a Wahabi “Salafia” penetration into Somalia.
2. The second event is connected with the arrival of Sheikh Ali Abdurahman (Majertain) (1787-1952) in Merca in 1946 and his confrontation with the dominant Geledi Sultanate. Sheikh Ali Majertain was born in Nugal region between Growe and Laas-Aanood in the current Puntland. He traveled to Mecca and Baghdad for further learning where he met “with the disciples of Mohamed Abdulwahab” and came back to his home area. He established an Islamic education center at Halin (Xalin) wells near Taleex. However, he emigrated from his home after conflict with his clan and moved to the eastern region under the tutelage of Majertain Sultan Nur Osman. Here also, Sheikh Ali found it unacceptable to live with the overt violation of Islamic Shari’a by the Sultan Nur of Majertain, forming an alliance with Haji Farah Hirsi, a rebel Sultan of Majertain who attempted to establish a new sultanate or to overthrow his cousin, similar to the Saudi style where Haji Farah would take political responsibility and Sheikh Ali would administer religious affairs. To achieve this goal, Sheikh Ali sent a letter to the ruler of Sharja Sheikh Saqar al-Qasimi offering his allegiance and requesting his support. However, Sheikh Saqar could not respond promptly and, dismayed, Sheikh Ali traveled to Zanzibar and remained there for 15 months under the custody of Sultan Said al-Bu-Saidi. Having in mind to establish an Islamic Emirate, Sheikh Ali had arrived in Merca in 1946, three years after the defeat of Baardheere Jamaaca and the dominance of Geledi Sultanate over the vast southern regions. However, Biimal clan, the major clan of Merca, was rebelling against the Geledi sultanate at that time. Sheikh Ali Majertain had arrived in Merca in alliance with Biimal clan, with 5 boats carrying 150 followers and substantial quantities of firearms and ammunition. He settled near Merca with the consent of the Biimal clan and began his activities and education programs. First, he attempted to play the role of a peacemaker between Sultan Yusuf and the Biimal clan and sent a letter to Sultan Yusuf requesting that he accept his reconciliation efforts. However, when Sultan Yusuf refused his offer, he arbitrarily declared war against him. Sheikh Ali’s followers confronted the Geledi sultan in 1846 without the support of Biimal clan and were easily defeated. His expectation of receiving assistance from Sultan of Zanzibar was dashed, and instead the Zanzibar sultan helped the Sultan of Geledi to confront what was perceived as the threat of the “Wahabis”. The doctrinal inclination of Sheikh Ali is evident in the letter he sent to the clans of Brava showing that he considered the Geledi Sultanate to be a deviated sect (firqa dalah). Commenting on the outcome of war, Sheikh Ali stated according Aw Jamac Omar Iisse that “in reality ours [deaths] are in paradise and theirs are in hell” and “if you are among the deviated sect whom Sultan Yusuf leads, there is no relation between us, and your blood will not be saved from us”. The intolerance of Sheikh Ali to the propagation of Islam among his people, his mobilization of armed followers and his siding with the Biimal clan against the Geledi sultanate, all indicates that he belonged to a militant ideology similar to that of Bardheere Jamaaca.
3. The third significant event was the arrival in Berbera in 1895 of Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, which was not only the beginning of armed encounters with the colonial powers but also initiated internal conflict among the Somali Sufi Orders. Upon his arrival in Berbera, Sayid Mohamed challenged the authority and credentials of the Qadiriyah establishment, setting up the competing Salihiyah Order. He publicly criticized some practices of Qadiriyah Sheikhs, and introduced new verdict (fatwas) on some issues, such as prohibition of chewing Qaad and tobacco, although tolerated by other scholars. However, Qadiriyah scholars succeeded in overcoming these challenges through religious debates. Scholars, like Aw Gas and Haji Ibrahim Hirsi, invited Sheikh Madar from Hargeysa, the head of the Qadiriyah Order in the region, and Sheikh Abdullahi Arusi, the teacher of Sayid Mohamed, to participate in a meeting held in Berbera in 1897 to discuss issues of lawful and prohibited in Islam raised by Sayid Mohamed. However, after heated discussions on the major disputed issues, followers of Qadiriyah in Berbera rebelled against Sayid Mohamed and the British authorities intervened to maintain public order. As a result, Sayid Mohamed was compelled to emigrate from Berbera, carrying with him doctrinal enmity against Qadiriyah. This deep-rooted conflict between Qadiriyah and northern Salihiyah had two dimensions, political and doctrinal. First, Sayid Mohamed was aiming to establish an Islamic Emirate under his leadership without consulting other prominent scholars. His unilateral, authoritarian and violent approach annoyed many scholars and clan leaders. Second, Salihiyah questioned the doctrinal credentials of the rival Qadiriyah Order, condemning them as heretical and claiming that only Salihiyah was authentic and original. This theological controversy escalated into the trading of polemics and then developed into bitter propaganda against each other. For instance, Sheikh Aweys al-Baraawi, the famous leader of Qadiriyah in southern Somalia wrote poems vilifying Salihiyah Order. Here are some selected excerpts from the poem, translated by B.G. Martin:
The person guided by Mohamed’s law, will not follow the faction of Satan [Salihiyah]
Who deem it lawful to spill the blood of the learned, who take cash and women too: they are anarchist
Do not follow those men with big shocks of hair, a coiffure like the Wahabiya!
Publicly, they sell paradise for cash, in our land; they are a sect of dogs
They have gone astray and make others deviate on earth, by land and sea among the Somalis
Have they no reason or understanding? Be not deceived by them
But flee as from a disaster, from their infamy and unbelief.
This verbal polemic was countered by a similar diatribe of poems by Sayid Mohamed, which he concluded as Professor Said Samatar related:
“A word to the backsliding apostates, why have gone astray, from the Prophet’s way, the straight path? Why is the truth, so plain, hidden from you?” This developed into physical attacks on the leaders of Qadiriyah, and on April 14, 1909, followers of Salihiyah murdered Sheikh Aweys al-Baraawi at Biyooley. Unfortunately, when Sayid Mohamed heard of the death of Sheikh Aweys he recited a victory hymn saying “behold, at last, when we slew the old wizard, the rains began to come!” (Candhagodoble goortaan dilaa roobki noo da’aye). The implications of this conflict in Somalia were tremendous, affecting anti-colonial resistance and tarnishing the image of the Salihiyah Order among the population.
On other hand, before the arrival of Sayid Mohamed in Northern Somalia, there was the Dandarawiyah Order, an offshoot of Ahmadiyah, in the towns of Sheikh and Haahi. It was introduced into Northern Somalia by Sayid Adan Ahmed, a disciple of Sayid Ibrahim Al-Rashid. Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan claimed to be the sole authorised legitimate heir of the al-Rashidiyah Order in Northern Somalia and demanded that Dandarawiyah Order in the town of Sheikh and Hahi (Xaaxi) follow him, which they have utterly refused to do. Against this background, Sayid Mohamed’s forces burned the Ahmadiyah centers in the town of Sheikh as reported by Abdirisaq Aqli in his book “Sheikh Madar”. Sayid Mohamed’s bright points were romanticized by the Somali nationalists in their efforts to nurture national consciousness by narrating glorious past and reconstructing symbols, heroes and myths. In this approach, self inflicted wounds, civil wars, massacres, and human atrocities are downplayed and belittled. However, in tracing the background for the current extremism in the name of Islam, it is necessary to bring up other episodes of the Sayid Mohamed that suggest the historical roots of the current extremism in Somalia.