It is with an exceptionally heavy heart and sadness that I am writing this tribute about my very close friend Dr. Abdishakur Sheikh Ali Jowhar – May Allah, the Almighty, rest his soul in peace and open the doors of Paradise for him.
There is so much to say about him that I feel bewildered at the thought of even writing this. He was a thinker, an intellectual, a daring pioneer, a conscientious humanist, an uncompromising advocate of peace and above all a miracle-giving healer.
His training in Psychiatry seemed to have prepared him for the unbearable sore sports of the Somali political landscape. Like a hawk, he watched the unending traumatic episodes of mass killings and aggression committed against human beings in the name of tribal politics masquerading as nation building. And like sage he always found ways to address it and call it to the attention of the sane. And as if his words were a palliative that may ease the pain and suffering of the aggressed, he never spared to find ways to describe them, ways to soothe the pain of the aggressed, unyielding souls. Time and again, he repeated his prescription for Somalia and despite vehement disagreements from Somalis and non-Somalis alike, the path of the unfolding events continue to give overwhelming credence to the doctor’s theory that “No person of sound mind will dare to predict or prescribe a solution for the Somali crisis. This much is clear however. The solution to the Somali crisis will not be more war, more hatred or more vengeance. Nor will it be about a strong man massacring his way to a Machiavellian peace based on fear and intimidation and corrupted “reconciliation conferences”. The African soil is littered with the carnage caused by strong men whose main weapon was the creation of inter-tribal death squads and hatred in search of personal power and personal glory. The solution to the crisis will not cost money. Indeed money poured from foreign sources will only fuel the crisis as combatants engage in deadly manoeuvres to guarantee their share on the basis of established reality on the ground.”1 His conscientious concerns stretched to all humanity with special attention to the Somalis and the rest of Africa whose leadership seems to be plagued by the same demonic behaviour.
Dr. Abdishakur dared to blatantly confront, and in no uncertain terms, corruption and clannism when the perceived aggressor comes from his tribal backyard. The Gadabursi Manifesto earned him the wrath of his fellow kinsmen and women but it contained the ultimate truth of the contemporary politics of the Somalis and these are the pitfalls that he dared to tackle. “The Gadabuursi tribe enters into a covenant with the nation that it will not allow this President (the son of the tribe) to appeal overtly or covertly to the primitive irrational tribal instinct to hijack national justice, to cover up corrupt practices or to curb the freedom of the citizens of the nation. …The Gadabuursi have no desire for national suicide; no appetite for the rule of a despot and the death of a nation.
Let there be peace for every citizen, justice for every citizen, prosperity for every citizen”2
In this instant, the nation that Abdishakur referred to is Somaliland but it will equally hold true if any other tribe is substituted for Gadabursi and any nation is substituted for Somaliland. Abdishakur was a passionate believer in the secession of Somaliland and I, on the other hand, ardently believe in the unity of Somalia. Yet, we always seemed to be at ease with each other. We always sought each others council and we bounced ideas off each other. That can only be true when people believe in the art of communication; we both believed in that problems can become sticking issues when the channels of communication break down; we both believed that what cannot be settled through dialogue cannot be settled by war.
As the ultimate humanist and an unyielding advocate for peace, Dr. Abdishakur Jowhar lamented the wars on every corner of Somalia and even challenged his own tribe to physically and emotionally harness the powers of restraint when the four travelers where killed in Gabiley on their way to Borama: “…And I must now address those in my tribe who has become possessed by the demons of vengeance, who dream of basking in its blooded glory, I say to you give me few moments of your precious time, for I too belong to the tribe and I too feel the pain”.3
And in the direst hopes that his words would bring back the sense of the murders he wrote: “… to these hate mongering tribal fringe I say: if your heart is already taken, and your soul is a prisoner to the master of darkness (Shaitan), if he has already locked up your ears and my words feel remote, inaudible, naïve, simpleminded and cowardly, in this case pray with me the two Rak’at of Salaat al Al-Istakhara (the prayers and supplication for guidance and counsel). Allah (SWT) is the most strong, the most wise and the most powerful, He will deliver you from the clutches of the demon. He will open your ears to me and soften your heart to my words”.4
The Sudden death of Dr. Abdishakur was a great loss to the Somali community everywhere. But there is no place where he will be missed more than in Toronto. As a practicing psychiatrist, Dr. Jowhar came to Toronto at a time when the rate of mental disease in the Somali community was at a peak. When there was not one Somali who did not know at least two or three people suffering from some kind of mental disorder. This is common for a society ravaged by conflict for such a long time. Yet, most of these victims of mental issues did not find the optimum care and medications they deserved even in a country as advanced as Canada. And the reason was very simple: language barriers on the part of the ailing persons and their interpreters, in most cases, conspired to the detriment of the sick individuals who then were prescribed the wrong medications according to the symptoms they or their interpreters gave to the doctor. After one of the many conferences that the Late Dr. Abdishakur organized for the Somali community, he said that language makes all the difference. “Habeen iyo maalin waxbaa ila hadla, waa la iga dhex guuxaya, madaxaa la igaga jiraa”. These are some of the terms that he understood very well whose extrapolations or interpretation into English could have far different meanings; very simple understanding with life-changing results. According to the late Dr. Abdishakur, simply changing the medications produced an amazing improvement for the overwhelming majority of the Somali patients. In a very short time, he became a household name for the Toronto community.
He recently moved back home to do his part in heeling the mentally ailing individuals society in Somaliland and Somalia. Patients were brought to him in from far and wide as far away as Merka and Kisamayo. To all his patients and friends, I would like to ask them to recite one ayah of the Glorious Qur’an for him. That vacuum that he left cannot be filled. But we can try to honour his role and instead of Let us fill that vacuum with the joy of the good memories we shared with him. May Allah bless his soul and open the doors of paradise for him. Aamiin.
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