For many centuries, from the early Western ethnocentrist adventurers who roamed the land of the Somalis to the colonial forces that partitioned the Somali Peninsula, the Somali ethnic group was slapped with the most vivid qualities, ranging from Burton’s praiseworthy ascription as ‘the Irish of Africa’ for their shared similarities with the Celtics in bravery, articulateness, generosity and humour to negative descriptions of being war-like, stubborn, and turbulent.
Disregarding the number of opposing stereotypical attitudes they had towards the Somalis, it is remarkable that they all manage to agree with one particular quality. It is not their belligerent attitude and lust for warfare nor is it their altruistic character but their ‘religious fanaticism’ (their words!).
Somalis’ zeal for Islam has never been inconspicuous. A colonial officer once observed and remarked that a Somali levy, who by appearance and conduct closely resembled the prototype of a ‘secular’ Somali, will not hesitate to take the life of his colonial commanding officer if he ever detects a hint of antagonism towards his religion.
This level of zealotry has not gone lost in the annals of Somali history, from Ahmed Gurey and Emir Nur’s expansionist campaigns to Mohammed Abdulle Hassan’s military expeditions against the British Empire. From the religious movement in Bardhere to Sheikh Barsane’s resistance movement. Even in our present-day Somali society, this level of commitment still persist although it has reached an unprecedented level where the nobility and the precise moderation employed by the Somalis of yesteryears has been replaced by rigidity and alien practices falsely dubbed as ‘Islamic’ by a number of neo-Islamist movements.
The practices of these movements have given rise to a new group of Somalis: the secular Somalis. This group is further divided in two sub-categories: the professed full-fledged secularist and the covert secularist. The former embraces his/her new-found love for secularism without giving a single thought about the potential backlash whilst the latter – fearing the repercussions associated with it – decides to conceal it whilst outwardly claiming to oppose it or steadily revealing it with a few hints here and there.
The secularists’ groundwork is their blatant contempt for extremism. This level of extremism is further equated with political Islam. Since the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab group are wreaking havoc in war-torn Somalia, it is imperative that we disjoin the millennium-old interwoven fabric of Somali customary and Islamic laws and adopt for a clear segregation of Islam and state – so they say.
It is no secret that this level of thinking mainly emanates from Somali diaspora members; many who are staunchly convinced that this type of secularism is Somalia’s solution to its predicaments by overhauling its ancient and Islamic identity with Western concepts such as secularism – which incidentally is a concept carved from historical and philosophical Western traditions (gee!).
Without delving and analysing with scrutiny the claims of every self-proclaimed Somali secularist (not my intention at all), I do would like to briefly comment on a piece written by Fatuma Abdulahi, who is an avowed Somali secularist, describing Somalia’s Islamic identity as a foreign-imposed identity. Apparently, without dissecting her article piece by piece, I did get intrigued (more like amused) at a certain claim – which is that the traditional Somali greeting ‘Subax Wanaagsan’ (good morning) was miraculously replaced in Somalia in as little as a decade ago with the universal Islamic greeting. The same greeting that was predominately used as the standard greeting for interactions since Somalis adopted the Islamic faith. Perhaps we should penalise the Arab Muslims of culture-hijacking for sporadically using Sabah-al-Khayr as opposed to the standard Islamic salutation.
Secondly, the dirac (long light voile dress) which Fatuma avidly mentions in her article as the epitome of Somalia’s female cultural attire, is unaware that the dirac clothing is a 1970’s new-comer (imported style outside Somalia), quickly replacing the traditional dress, guntiino.
The Somalis pride themselves for successfully combining/blending Islamically-compatible traditions with the religious law of Islam: the Shariah. From its inception and moulding since the advent of Islam, it has played pivotal role in shaping our history – our colourful rich history – with its many struggles and noble endeavours to outline the Somali identity.
If the ancient Somalis perfected in fully implementing the religion of Allah in their daily aspects of life, what is there to say that we cannot retrace our steps to return to our roots in order to uplift ourselves from our current plight instead of looking for alien concepts mistakenly thinking that Somalia’s history started in 1991.