Disclaimer: The structure of this post is still in its infancy, so bear with me for the lack of structure. It is an unfortunate fact that little to none research has been dedicated to the pre-Islaamic beliefs of ancient Somalis. Whilst lack of empirical evidence contributes to that fact, it is still a fascinating topic that should not be shunned at all. This piece of blog post is a starting point that requires constant refinement. Anyone who is willing to contribute to this neglected topic; your contributions are widely welcome!
Prior to the advent of Islaam, Somalis alongside the Oromos and Afars worshipped a monotheistic Supreme deity that had several names, the oft-used name being Waaq (cf. Oromo: Waaqa). Thus it can be rightfully claimed that Waaq was the Cushitic archaic word for God.
The controversial Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) writes:
In respect of the fact that the Truth (Al-Haqq) is the Speaker. He mentions Himself by names … These names themselves have names with us in the language of every speaker. In the Arabic language, the name by which He named Himself in respect of being the speaker is “Allaah”, in persian “Khuday,” in Habashi “Waaq” in the tongue of the Franks “Creator” and so on in every language…. (al-Futuhat al-Makiyya II 683.29)
وتركيب حروفها بحسب اللسان والمعنى الموجب للإسم معقول عند المخلوقين فيقول العربي يا الله للذي يقول له الفارسي أي خداي
ويقول له الرومي أيشا ويقول له الأرمني أي أصفاج ويناديه التركي أي تنكري ويناديه الأفرنجي أي كريطور ويقول له الحبشي واق (al-Futuhat al-Makiyya II 683.29)
Other names used are: Ebbe (often in the pronominal suffix Ebbahay ‘my God’) and Baall. Ebbe stands for Father, Master or Lord whilst in the Oromo language it means grace; bless divine favour. The original root meaning is ebis or eba meaning to bless. Baall, although used as one of the names of God, does not have a meaning attached to it.
The etymological word of Waaq is ambiguous; it has its roots in the ancient Cushitic religion as well as Semitic languages. Waaq is mentioned in the Qu’ran on one occasion:
When we break it down, it is derived from the Arabic root word W(a)-Q(a)-Y(a) which means to ‘guard against’. Waqin in this context therefore means a guardian or a protector. When Allaah (Exalted is He) says in the Qur’aan: ” … ma laka mina Allaahi min waliyyin wala waqin” (Ar-Rad 13:37), it denotes that one will neither have a protector or a guardian/defender (Waqin) against Allaah. Allaah is al-Waqin (the Guardian).
Ancient Somalis believed that mankind were Waaq’s creatures subject to His Will and must live in constant fear of Him and praise Him always. They believed that Waaq stands at the centre of His universe as its Supreme Powers and Creator.
Several remote communities uninfluenced by Abrahamic religions have been documented where they follow a monotheistic religion akin to the Abrahamic religions save the obvious dissimilar names. There is a famous hadith (albeit classified as weak in terms of the number of prophets mentioned but the gist is solid as it is corroborated by (Surah an-Nahl 16:36)):
From Aadam to me, Allaah sent a hundred and twenty-four thousand Prophets ,of whom three hundred and fifteen were messengers. (Musnad Ahmed, 21257)
It is therefore a major possibility that Somalis – in the pre-Islaamic epoch – followed a monotheistic belief that they inherited from one of the many callers sent by Allaah to each community. Albeit the principal message has been perverted in due course as with every pre-Islaamic community, several aspects of the traditional monotheism has been unadulterated.
This general monotheistic attitude that the pre-Islaamic Somalis practiced facilitated the easy transfer from discarding their previous religion and adopting the Islaamic faith without any hurdles; as many of their perceptions of a Supreme deity; afterlife; good-and-bad spirits, etc, seemed to go hand-in-hand with the true religion (i.e. Islaam).
For instance, the ancient Somalis use to believe in jinns such as the Saar which by means of special rites is incarnated in some persons or, vice versa, and is obliged to leave the body of one possessed.
Another jinns, indicated as ‘good spirits’ were Ayaan and Guul which in the pre-Islaamic Somali society were seen as minor protectors. Another interpretation given is that they were angels that acted as mediators between God and mankind. Ancient Somalis held the belief that the serpent was one of the main animals the spirits (jinns) might be incarnated. This is similar to the Islaamic belief that one particular type of the Jinn comes in the forms of serpents and dogs (Mushkil al-Athaar, 4/95).
Regarding the word Baall; Somalis until this day still seem to sing a formula to evoke Baall.
Eeho Heebaallow haaya waaye
Ey hoobaallaayow HooBaall
Ey hoobaallaayow HooBaall
Unfortunately, no one seems to actually know the meaning of these formulas, many tried to make sense of it or either suggest its origin. However, what is known is that some parts seem to be calling out to Baall as in Hey Baall (Oh God) or Hoo Baall (Take it Baall) perhaps suggesting an offering gesture though it is not precise known what is being offered. The ancient Hebrews (Bani Isreal) used Baall interchangeably with God until it was hijacked by the Canaanites (Phoenicians) so they distanced themselves from calling God using that name. It is not known if it is the same Baall as mentioned in the Glorious Qur’aan which is ‘Ba’al (with ‘ayn) (As-Saaffat 37:125): the pre-Islaamic idol worshipped during Prophet Ilyas’ (Peace be upon him) period.
Several theophorous anthroponyms have been used in clan-names and are found amongst a selection of northern and southern Somali clans. They are: Yabaal, Yabaalle, Baalle, Baallow, Baall-Yiri and HoomBaalle (See Table 1). Similiarly for Waaq (see Table2 2).
Table 1. Baall in Somali clan-names
[table class=""][table style="purple" shadow="1"]
|Baalle||With Baall||Ciise Muuse Habar Awal, Isaaq
Reer Axmed Xuseen Mareexaan, Daarood
|Baall-yeri||Word of Baall||Awesame Mareexaan, Daarood|
|Ya-Baall||Honouring Baall||Reer Maxamed Ogaadeen, Daarood
Baahale Ogaadeen,, Daarood
Reer Siyaad Xuseen Mareexaan, Daarood
Ciise Muuse Habar Awal, Isaaq
Agoon-dige Xawaadle, Hawiye
Xasanley Mucle Habargidir, Hawiye
|Hoom-Baalle||Shadow (silhouette) of Baall||Maqdaan Tanade, Daarood|
Table 2. Waaq in Somali clan-names
[table class=""][table style="purple" shadow="1"]
|Aar-Waaq||Lion of God||Abgaal, Hawiye|
|Amarti-Waaq||God’s order||Majeerteen, Daarood|
|At-Waaq||Close to God||Abgaal, Hawiye|
|Bar-Waaq||Blessed by God||Abgaal Hawiye, Dhulbahante Daarood and Ogaadeen Daarood|
|Bidde-Waaq||Servant of God||Jidle, Hawiye|
|Caabud-Waaq||Worship God||Ogaadeen, Daaroood|
|Ciq-Waaq||Saint of God||Abgaal, Hawiye|
|Dal-Waaq||God’s Country||Geledi, Raxanweyn|
|Diinti-Waaq||Belief in God||Xawaadle, Hawiye|
|Guddoon-Waaq||Judgement of God||Majeerteen, Daarood|
|Gumar-Waaq||Plants of God||Mareexaan, Daarood|
|Guud-Waaq||Supreme God||Ogaadeen Daarood and Xawaadle Hawiye|
|Jid-Waaq||The path of God||Warsangeli Daarood and Jid-Waaq Daarood|
|Lixda-Waaqle||The Six of God||Hadama, Raxanweyn|
|Magan-Waaq||Protected by God||Jid-Waaq, Daarood|
|Miyir-Waaq||Serenity of God||Mudulood, Hawiye|
|Naxariis-Waaq||God’s forgiveness||Murusade, Hawiye|
|Siin-Waaq||Gift from God||Ogaadeen, Daarood|
|Si-Waaq-Roon||The True Gift of God||Majeerteen, Daarood|
|Tagaal-Waaq||Follow of God||Ogaadeen, Daarood|
|Tala-Waaq||Consult God||Mudulood, Hawiye|
|Waaq-bari||God of the East||Dabarre, Raxanweyn|
|Waaq-Biyo||Water of God||Garwaale Raxanweyn and Shiidle|
|Waaq-Dhaacin||Sacrifice offered to God||Abgaal and Murusade, Hawiye|
|Waaq-Dheew||Supplication addressed to God||Dabarre, Raxanweyn|
|Waaq-Doorre||The Choice of God||Hadama, Eelay and Geledi, Raxanweyn|
|Waaq-Jire||Protected by God||Sacad Habar-Gidir, Hawiye|
|Waaq-Le||Which God||Ajuuraan and Shiidle|
|Waaq-Maade||Invisible God||Dabarre, Raxanweyn|
|Waaq-Mahadle||Gratitude to God||Jidle, Hawiye|
|Waaq-Mahadshe||Rewarded by God||Mareexaan, Daarood|
|Waaq-NuurQabe||Light of God||Majeerteen, Daarood|
|Waaq-Roone||Good of God||Tanade, Daarood|
|Waaq-Sheen||Given by God||Tunni, Raxanweyn|
|War-Waaq||Word of God||Habar-Gidir, Hawiye|
|War-Waaq-Jecle||Loves the Word of God||Mareexaan, Daarood|
|War-Waaq-Same||Good Word of God||Majeerteen, Daarood|