PART # 2.
1920 - 1960 Islamic Radicals in Somalia:
To understand this phenomenon, it has to be placed in the Somali historical context. Islam has been used as a strong mobilizing ideology in anti-colonial responses and nationalist struggles. The first modern organization in the name of Islam was formed by Haji Farah Omar in Aden in 1925. However, it was banned because of its political activities. The second attempt occurred after the return of Italian rule under UN trusteeship in the 1950s, when the Somali Islamic League was formed in Mogadishu. It set out to promote education in the Arabic language, and lobbied Egypt to open Arabic schools that would be comparable with the Italian school networks. After independence in 1960, some students who had graduated from Arab universities held modern Islamic ideas and introduced them to Somalia. These Islamic scholars were inspired by the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Salafia (Wahabi School) of Saudi Arabia. The process started with the formation of Al-Nahda (the Renaissance) in Mogadishu (1967), Wahadat al-Shabab al-Islami (the Union of Young Muslims) in Hargeysa (1969)and Al-Ahli (the native)student organizations in Mogadishu (1970).
The somali Communist regime of 1969, however, abolished Islamic societies and banned all non-state institutions. So Islamic activism operated underground and had by the 1970s taken greater strides, in reaction to the military regimes’ espousal of Marxist ideology. The organizations al-Ahli, Al-Wahda and al-Nahda were coordinating stiff resistance to the socialist ideology. Initially, they all claimed affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood, but that situation had changed by 1975 after the execution of 10 Islamic scholars who opposed secularized family law. Young Islamic activists fled to Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and made contact with different aspects of political Islam. Eventually, besides traditional Sufis and Shafi’i jurists, four Islamic affiliations emerged in Somalia: the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafia and its derivatives, Takfir (declaring unbeliever groups) and Tablighi Jama’a (conveying group). All modern organizations in Somalia are rooted in one of these four schools. For instance, Al-Shabab and Hizb al-Islam claim affinity to the Salafia movements. The complexity of Somali political Islam is such that even traditional Sufis known for their focus on the spiritual aspect of Islam are becoming more political and militant. The organization Ahlu-Sunna wa al-Jama’a is reacting in military ways to the destruction of the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs by the Shabab. In the final analysis, these organizations agree only on the principle of adopting Islam as the ultimate reference for the state and society. Beyond that, they disagree on political views, being influenced by socio-economic conditions, global politics and regional conflicts.
Political Islam has been approached from the perspective of those modernist theories that consider that traditions, including religion, are destined to decline, due to the rise of secular nationalism and nation-state institutions. Based on this assumption, Islamic movements are treated as presenting a threat to world order and as security challenges for the 21st century. This notion and the policies built upon it have contributed to further antagonizing and radicalizing many groups within political Islam, both in Somalia and worldwide. In Somalia, tremendous changes have happened over the last 20 years and the political setting has shifted towards political Islam. Certainty, the period of Western projected dominance of secularism, and the state that it represented, collapsed in 1991. Political Islam emerged from its ashes and is now digging itself a strategic position in the realms of the state. Moreover, the people of Somalia are looking to Islam as an alternative salvation and solution. They believe that Islam is capable of diluting radical clanism and reconstituting the state. However, that form of Islam should be authentic and moderate; it should not be based on an extremist interpretation that preaches relentless violence. Currently, the choice is either ruthless extremism or participatory moderation. The question is: which one of these two Islamic banners prevails? Which one would the Somali people choose and support? Which one should the international community accept and work with?
To begin with, Somali intellectuals are required to re-evaluate political reality in Somalia and realize that the choice is between Islamic extremism and moderation. Thus, non-Islamists should make strategic engagement with Islamic moderation. On their part, moderate Islamists have to welcome the participation of all parties in the rebuilding of the state. All moderate Islamic scholars should realize that the country is in peril and should stand up and articulate the true nature of Islam. All Somalis have to reawaken their natural religiosity and reassert their mobilizing capacity for exceptional solidarity, as brothers and sisters. Moderate Islamists have to show that Islam accepts political participation and plurality for all the citizens. They have to demonstrate that Islam protects human rights and freedom of expression. They have to reconfirm their commitment to peace and regional security. In so doing, they have to convince the international community and regional states that the new Somalia will be a bastion of peace and an icon and hub for development and regional cooperation.
Finally, extremism will emerge as a triumphant ideology, hence the strategic choice of all concerned parties must be to join with the new government against rising extremism – and the government should combine clemency with resolve and take the path of state reconstitution seriously.