Monday, July 24, 2017
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Somali Clerics Face Off

By Hassan M. Abukar

From time to time, Somali clerics engage in a vitriolic war of words against each other. They denounce one another and even engage in Takfir (excommunication) from the realm of Islam. Recently, a vicious war of words has reached its apex and led a regional government to intervene. The state of Puntland has forcefully denounced and banned one Islamic group while ignoring another with the same ideology in its midst. However, we will come to that point shortly.

A Takfiri group emerges into the limelight

Proclaimers of Truth’s announcement in Mogadishu in April 2017

It all started on April 2, 2017, when a group of Islamists known as “Al-Saadicuun Bil-Xaq,” (Proclaimers of Truth) announced its presence in Mogadishu. Osman Abdulle Roble, the group leader, said that after 40 years of studying the situation of Somalia, the group decided to come out openly and call its people to the “correct religion of God.”  He explained that Somalis must return to their religion as they have deviated from the right path by living under a government that does not apply Islamic rule. In essence, both the government—with its provisional constitution, parliament, and judiciary—and the citizens are in ‘jaahiliyaah” (a state of disbelief). During his announcement, Roble was accompanied by a dozen of his colleagues, who were all gray-haired professionals wearing suits. They included doctors, business people, college instructors, and engineers. Roble emphasized that the group members were nonviolent and that jihad was not their immediate goal; at least at this juncture of their mission. “Only when there is an Islamic state,” he declared, “will jihad be possible.”

The reaction to the Takfiri group was swift and strong. Several prominent clerics castigated it for being a narrow minded and radical group. In a two-part lecture series, Sheikh Mohamed Umal, a leading Salafi cleric, dissected the belief, history, and practices of the group and concluded that its members were misguided fanatics who do not believe Somalis to be Muslims. Moreover, he explained that its adherents shun praying in mosques.  In his zeal to lash out at the group, Umal made a historical error when he said that the group appeared in Somalia in 1978 after some Somali students returned from studying in Egypt. In fact, the Takfiri idea came from a small number of Somali students who were studying at Ummul Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. However, the Somali group is a branch of a wider movement by the same name (Proclaimers of Truth) based in Egypt that is headed by an Egyptian named Mustafa Kamil. Kamil was a college instructor at Mecca for more than 20 years.

Among those who criticized the group was the infamous militant cleric, Hassan Dahir Aweys, who was, until his arrest in 2013, part of Al-Shabaab. Aweys has been under house arrest for the last few years, but he did not appear to have his social media activities constrained. In a video, he explained that the Takfiri group was not a new phenomenon. “They were silent for forty years,” he boasted, “because we kept them silent through debate and by shedding light on their true nature.” He added, “We had debated with them in the late 1970s and subsequently marginalized them.” In a rare appeal to the public, however, Aweys implored Somalis not to use violence against the group or to fire them from their jobs. Incidentally, the Jazeerah University in Mogadishu had terminated the employment of three of its college instructors after they had declared their allegiance to the group.

Left unsaid in Aweys’ video was the fact that his younger brother, Abdiraman, is a prominent member of the Takfiri group and one of the three professors who had lost their jobs. Another member of the group is Abdullahi Ahmed Nur, a younger brother of Mogadishu’s former mayor, Mohamoud A. Nur also known as “Tarzan.”

Omar Abdullahi Mohamed, the governor of Nugaal region in Puntland, denounced the new group, stating, “We declare war against this new group, we call upon the security agencies to annihilate the group and its secret cells.” The governor failed to acknowledge the presence of another larger Takfiri group in Qardho, Puntland, led by Mohamoussd Nur Kenadid. The latter group does not believe in secrecy and has openly operated in Puntland. The governor’s binary view was palpable: Puntland militants are OK but not those from Mogadishu.

Another war of words among clerics involves Sheikh Mohamoud Shibli, a leading Somali Salafi cleric based in Nairobi, and a group of writers and activists whom he has deemed as transgressors.

Shibli v. Jibril

Abdirahman Jibril is a Somali cleric who wrote a book titled, Islamic Extremism: The Untold Story. When the book was published in 2015, no one noticed it. However, a few months ago, the book and its author went viral on social media.

Jibril addressed three main issues in his book: What is extremism? Where did it come from? And what is the solution?

Jibril (left) and Shibli

To Jibril, an extremist is anyone who wants to apply Islam literally. According to Jibril, the extremist is a puritan who believes he or she is following and fulfilling what is written in the Quran, and anyone who differs with them is misguided. Jibril sees the Quran and Hadith (Prophetic Tradition) as the source of extremism. In fact, he writes that the Quran “remains the single most important source of extremism or radicalization among the youth.”

If you are wondering why Muslim youth join these extremist groups, Jibril has a simple answer. He says, the role of Islam and its belief system are the core of the problem. Jibril writes plainly and bluntly that “Islamic teachings are the main source of terrorism.”  Jibril’s solution is for Muslims to deal with extremism honestly and truthfully. He proposes that some of the Islamic teachings in the Quran and Hadith must be discarded, some changed, and others modified. Modern Muslims, Jibril concludes, must not implement the meaning of the Quranic texts literally.

Mohamud Shibli heard about Jibril and got a copy of his book. Shibli has a penchant for viciously attacking people who he believes have deviated from Islam, often with savage efficiency. A few months ago, he was a guest speaker at an Islamic conference in Kampala, Uganda, when he gave a speech titled, “The Five Soldiers of Iblis (Satan).” The maligned five are as follows: Abdirahman Jibril (writer), Ali Raage, Abdisaid Abdi Ismail (writer), Abdulkadir Kishki, and a Somali website named Maandoon.com.  By singling them out the five as soldiers of Satan, Shibli declared them as individuals—or entities—that have committed kufr (disbelief).  He warned the public of associating with these heretics.

Abdisaid A. Ismail, the author of a controversial book about apostasy

In several videos, Jibril responded to Shibli rather tepidly. Instead of defending what he wrote in his book, he talked about his good character, his strong faith in Islam, and then highlighted the extremist views of Shibli and his Salafi colleagues. To some observers, Jibril’s reaction reflected a staggering naiveté. Then, there was an issue of Jibril’s command of English. His pronunciation raised a red flag as his book was written in beautiful English. Moreover, there was no indication in the book’s preface that it was translated from another language. Rumors arose as to whether Jibril himself was the actual author of the book as he lacked grasp of the issues at hand, not to mention his poor mastery of English. Then, the surprise came when Jibril issued a video apologizing for writing his book and asking for forgiveness. In a bizarre announcement, he recanted what was written in his book, but came short of withdrawing it from circulation.

Shibli vs. Kishki

If Shibli went after Jibril vigorously as though he had smelled blood, his lashing out on Abdulkadir Kishki, a Canada-based Somali cleric, was equally relentless and ruthless. Kishki was one of the “soldiers of Satan” that Shibli had denounced. In what Shibli called “Kufriyaat Kishki” (Kishki’s disbeliefs), the Somali-Canadian cleric was accused of criticizing the companions of Prophet Mohamed, denying the capital punishments of “ar-Rajm” (Stoning) and ar-Riddah (Apostacy), hobnobbing with Shiites, and permitting Muslims to celebrate non-Muslim holidays. Shibli’s narrative was all but set in stone: Kishki is an ignorant man who uses cut-and-paste research. Finally, to add insult to injury, Shibli posted an image of Kishki attending a religious event with known Shiites in Canada.

Abdulkadir Kishki

Unlike Jibril, Kishki was not a pushover. He fought back vigorously and called Shibli many names: From “Leonardo da Shibli” (as of Leonardo da Vinci), “Dajaal” (antichrist), sadist, and someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. Kishki denied the accusation that he was a Shia. And regarding that photo Shibli had posted of him with Shiites, he was merely attending an interfaith dialogue in Canada. Kishki called for an open debate with Shibli—a request that has gone unanswered. In a series of videos, Kishki portrayed Shibli as a Salafi extremist with tenuous relations with the truth, who excommunicates innocent people from the realm of Islam.

Shibli has authored several books in Arabic and is a frequent guest in Somali TV channels and lecture circuits. His lectures are popular and his demeanor is relaxed and easygoing. At times, his speeches can lull you to sleep. He has a reputation for unhinged hyperbole. Several years ago, he said in a lecture that he had seen 700 young Somali girls, ages 14 and 19, sequestered in a medical facility in London and suffering from AIDS. That shocking revelation landed like a bomb among Somalis in the diaspora, especially those living in Britain. Fortunately, a capable Somali journalist named Abdulhafid Mohamoud with Universal TV in London did a superb investigation on the matter. He contacted the British health ministry officials, who called Shibli’s assertion “baseless.” There were only four known Somali patients suffering from AIDS in London at the time and none was hospitalized. It remains a mystery as to why Shibli would peddle such outrageous fake news.

The war of words among Somali clerics is not yet finished. So far, Shibli has given four out of six lectures on social media denouncing the “soldiers of Satan.” Kishki, on his part, has responded to Shibli several times. There is no prospect of this war ending soon as each camp sees itself as self-righteous. Dr. Khadar Jama, a wise cleric in Southern California, has lamented on Facebook about the escalation of excommunication charges among clerics. He said, “There are some clerics who have placed Isbaarooyin (checkpoints) in front of paradise.” That metaphor reminds me of Somalia’s vicious civil war when checkpoints ruled the day.

Hassan M. Abukar
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Mr. Abukar is a political analyst, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at abukar60@yahoo.com.

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