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Issue 451 -- Sept 18- 24, 2010
1969 Military Coup In Somalia Part XLIII
By Dr. Mohamed-Rashid Sh. Hassan, London
This is the forty- third article of a series of articles that Dr. Mohamed-Rashid analyses the military coup and its legacy
Islam and The Emergence of the Nation-State
During the period in 1950-1960, national political parties with secular political ideas structured along the lines of Western political ideology emerged in Somaliland and Somalia. In their policies, stress was put on secular ideas, nationalism and state formation, and political Islam was often avoided. This was due mainly to two reasons. Firstly, it was a period that nationalism, either in its universal or international appeal became very popular. It was obvious that the long-term objectives of colonial rulers in the Muslim countries wanted to keep political Islam out of the business of state construction, because of two reasons: First, central to the modern state in the European tradition is the separation of religion and state. Second, they did not want to confront another grand Islamic Empire like the Ottoman Empire. As result of this, Britain and France, the two colonisers of most of the Arab and the Islamic world had an ambivalent approach to Arab nationalists. While they were against nationalist resistance movements, at same time they wanted to leave these countries in the hands of nationalists with a secular political worldview.
For the same reasons, Britain encouraged urban Somali nationalists who wanted to form the first Somali political party; the Somali Youth League (SYL), though the party's objectives was to see the end of colonialism. According to Touval, the role of the British Administration in Somalia in the 1940s was not merely that of a benevolent onlooker, but they provided guidance and help to inexperienced Somali SYL politicians.
In the 1940s the British colonial administration in Somaliland introduced secular education. Religious leaders saw this as a deliberate attempt on the part of Britain to undermine the Islamic faith. This gave rise to a confrontation between religious leaders and the British, which was only calmed down with the intervention of some enlightened Somali educators such as Mohamoud Ahmed Ali, Sheikh Ali Ibrahim and Yusuf Hajji Aden Qabileh. They succeeded in persuading the religious leaders to see the benefit of secular education and as a result of this a compromise was reached that whereby religion would be a major part of the curriculum of the protectorate.
The British colonial administration was afraid that another politicisation and radicalisation of Islam similar to that of Sayyid Mohamed might erupt in the country so they were sensitive to Islamic issues. For instance, they left the Sharia to deal with marriage, inheritance, and minor disputes through lower courts named "Qadi Courts".
When the country achieved its independence, the national government incorporated Islam more into state institutions. The constitution of the Republic underpinned that the head of the state must be a practising Muslim and Islam was to be the religion of the state. However, the post-colonial state behaved similarly to the European colonial state in its attitude towards Islam. It did not want to see political Islam making any challenges to the state and its secular political ideas and on several occasions security forces clashed with religious leaders on the issue of Islamic rule in the affairs of the government.
In the first Somali government, a new Ministry of Religion and Justice was established. The Ministry had the task of the overall supervision of the religious affairs of the country and was staffed by religious scholars mainly educated in higher institutions in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Nur "Gadhyare" who graduated from Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia in 1965, returned to Somalia that same year. The Sheikh had been a secret member of the Islamic Brotherhood, having joined the organisation in 1963 while he was in the University. When he returned to the country, he became an employee in the Ministry of Justice and Religious affairs and he became eventually the Director of the religious Department.
A colleague of the Sheikh, Sheikh Mohamed Moalim, also returned to the country after he graduated from the old Islamic University of Al-Azhar in Cairo. He also got a job in the Ministry of Justice and Religious affairs with the help of Sheikh Ahmed Nur. Another graduate from the University of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Abdi Qani, had also joined the Ministry. These three scholars were not satisfied with subservient position that the government had given Islam, so they and their supporters put together a programme of action. The first stage of this programme was to raise the Islamic awareness and education in the country, and that they started their plan with opening of a big Islamic and Arabic library in the centre of the capital. Sheikh Mohamed Moalim started series of lectures in one of the main Mosque in Mogadishu, during the evenings in his own free time. The lectures attracted a lot of people, particularly the elite and the students.
The government often blocked their initiatives, and the three sheikhs were aware perfectly of how President Nasir of Egypt had treated Islamic scholars, when the Islamist initiated similar projects in Egypt.
In Somalia in 1967, the three Sheikhs mentioned above and their supporters formed the first Islamic organisation with a wider objective in Mogadishu. It was named the Islamic Awaking Organisation. Munatahmat Nahtat Islamamiya. The first chairman of the Organisation was Sheikh Abdi Qani Sheikh Ahmed who later became the Minister of Justice and Religious affairs in the earlier years of the military government. Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Nur (Gadhyare) became the Vice-chairman of the Organisation.
Leaders of the organization criticized the way in which the parliamentary election of March 1969 was conducted as well as the scale of the corruption and nepotism in the country. They called for the introduction of Islamic values to government ethics. To avoid an open challenge to the government, they tactically focused on charity activities and evening Qur’anic schools.