The fight against Islamic jihad groups in Somalia that launch deadly attacks on government officials and intellectuals, as well as against local forces and African Union (AU) peacekeepers, is widely reported in local and international media, but little is covered about the lesser known but fiercely raging ideological war between Somali Muslim reformers and the radical Wahabi wadaad, or clergy.
Recently, the radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohamoud Mohamed Shibli issued a fatwa, an Islamic religious ruling, excommunicating (tafkir) five Somali moderate and reformist Islamic scholars and authors, including the prominent Muslim reformer Abdisaid Ismail and Abdirahman Jibril for spreading “subversive and dangerous ideas” and of misleading Kenyan and Somali Muslim youth.
Jibril, the author of Islamic Extremism: The Untold Truth, was forced to publicly, and some say disgracefully, retract his book and declare his “repentance” after he faced social and family pressures following the issuance of the so-called death fatwa against him and other fellow Muslim reformers and Islamic scholars.
Jibril’s seminal book is about the link between Islamic radicalism and the Wahabi interpretation of Islam advocated by the wadaads and the deadly Islamic insurgency that has been raging in Somalia for the past decade and half. The Wahabi-inspired armed insurgency has since claimed the lives of thousands of Somalis and Kenyans and left the Muslim Horn of African nation in ruins.
This is not the first time the Wahabi clerics issued fatwas against Islamic reformers. In 2014, Islamist radical wadaads issued a similar fatwa against Abdisaid Ismail, an Islamic reformer and prominent author of the Somali language booklet, Xadka Riddada (Islamic Apostasy Laws).
The issuance of the latest fatwa was seen as being part of the wadaad’s efforts to silence voices of dissent against Wahabism and to prevent exposition of their role as the ideological reference for the Islamic jihadists waging the ongoing militancy in the Horn of Africa.
Unlike the traditional Somali Sufi wadaad, who call for moderation in religion and the depolitization of Islam, Wahabi wadaads have political ambitions and are the purveyors of the jihadist Wahabi ideology that drives Al Shabaab and other Islamist terror groups that are wrecking havoc in Somalia and in Kenya, and are responsible for the hundreds of people killed or wounded in Horn of Africa.
The Wahabi wadaads regularly issue fatwas against the reformists, calling them apostates, a charge that carries death penalty in their interpretation of Islamic texts.
The fatwa-issuing Wahabi wadaads, many of whom are based in Nairobi, control most of the mosques and Islamic centers and propagate Wahabism and the doctrine of Jihad, armed militancy against and hatred for non-Wahabis, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
These Wahabi clerics regularly and fiercely oppose any hint at reform and moderation or criticism of the Wahabist ideology that fuels the deadly terrorist insurgency in Somalia, which at times spills over into that nation’s neighboring countries, including Kenya, with deadly consequences.
The clerics bully and threaten reformist Muslim scholars who try to discuss the direct link between Wahabi ideology and the insurgency in Somalia and Kenya and to suggest moderate interpretation of the Islamic canons in an effort to confront militancy and jihadist sentiments among Somali youth in particular and society in general, and to promote peace and harmony in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa.
The clerics have repeatedly issued fatwas calling for a Jihad (holy war) against the Somali government and AU peacekeeping troops in Somalia, including those from Kenya.
The wadaads call for the reformers’ books to be banned and burnt, and warn their supporters and the wider Somali public against listening to or watching the moderates’ talks and sermons, or visiting their websites and blogs.
Rich Celebrity Wadaad Phenomena
The Wahabi wadaads, though a minority among Somali Muslim clergy, wield considerable influence not only among large section of the population, but also with the political leaders in Somalia.
The clerical clique is a monied, closely-knit group that gets financial support from wealthy Arab fellow Wahabis in the Gulf States. These wadaads also collect donations from the general public on local TV and radio programs to enrich themselves.
These wadaads, who mostly have dual citizenship with Western and Somali or Kenyan passports, travel widely to Western countries, where they deliver hate-filled sermons for Somalis in the Diaspora, particularly in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The rich celebrity wadaads are a far cry from the traditional and austere peace-loving Sufi wadaads of Somalia. This is a new phenomenon in Somali society, and is truly the ideological source of the jihadist sentiments and radicalism that are now fanning the flames of war and discord in communities in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region at large.
Guuleyste Ali is a Somali academic. Twitter: @guuleyste