“You must understand the difference between Islam and Arabism-Something which is difficult for African people to understand. The Arab did to Islam what the European did to Christianity, he subtracted the spirituality, and made it a political instrument to conquer the African. But when it comes to the African, he accepted the spiritual aspect of it, and forget the political.”
Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
Before we dive into this discussion, I must grace you with my usual set of disclaimers. 1) This is a discussion on why/if Somalis (and to a larger extent, contemporary Africans) hold a belief that Islam can only be accessed vis a vis the appropriation of linguistic and cultural norms of the Arabian peninsula, which loosely means that this conversation isn’t an attack on Islam, religiosity or traditional values, but an inquiry into the changing religious/cultural climate of post-1991 Somalia, and whether these developments are the precursors to an imminent cultural genocide. 2) I’m really not interested in having this conversation with the mouth-breathers of Somalia-The ones who proudly boast of our ‘Arabness’, and spend beaucoup hours on facebook conducting fatwa’s and policing hijab styles. No, mate, you’re not invited to this discussion, as we’ve already seen the fruits of your intellectual legacy-banned bras, Hyena sandwiches and an unjust war against samosas. To you lot, I say, a Wahhabi plague upon your houses and hope that welfare state become a thing of the past.
Now onto the quote above-If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. John Henrik Clarke, I strongly encourage you increase your standard of living by indulging in his body of work. This man was a brilliant historian and an outrageously gifted orator who had a way of challenging our contemporary understanding of African spirituality and our relationship as converted peoples to Christianity and Islam-An unpopular topic amongst the African intelligentsia. In this discussion, I’m particularly fascinated by this quote, as it puts an emphasis on the distinction between Islam and Arabism-the latter being a paradigm that borrows inspiration from the Arabian peninsula in matters of culture, language, and spiritual guidance, the former the chosen religious path of most Somalis.
It must be stated that the history of Islam in Africa, particularly in regions like Somalia is as old as the religion itself, and while history points to a troubling relationship between African and Arab peoples, there is also a powerful historical link that predates Islam in the form of trading, conquest, and movement of tribes between these regions. I state these obvious facts in anticipation of critics who will readily dismiss the signs of an aggressive Arabization of contemporary Somalia by pointing to our historical ties to this region. They argue that we’ve always had this knack for plagiarizing Arabia and that this seemingly new phenomenon is nothing but a divisive tactic, conjured in hopes of straining the love affair between Arabs and Somalis. Now look, we know, we had/have ties to the Arab world, but there’s a distinction between loose political ties and a metamorphosis of an entire culture in the span of two decades. Basically, this is my fancy way of asking, when the hell did we go from this…
I’ve really struggled with using these images of Somali women, as its easy to reduce this entire process to women’s clothing of choice, and believe this process is much more complicated and nuanced. But one can’t deny that the aesthetic transformation of Somalis is reminiscent of other regions, I’ll let you guess where, and that this change is largely connected to this idea that a ‘good muslim/Somali woman’ has a specific uniform-I’ll also let you guess the geographical origin of this uniform (I’ll give you a hint, not from Malaysia, Sudan nor Turkey). But yes, this is the physical representation of what many Somalis are witnessing.
So far I’ve pieced together that conflict and abject poverty are often the close cousins of religious fundamentalism, and understand that the conflict in Somalia has done a number on our collective cultural memory, and it’s only natural that people turn to religious devotion in times of grave despair. I get it, I really do.
But there’s a problem, umm…this discussion isn’t only limited to Somalia and its contemporary political turmoil, but also an epidemic in the Diaspora. One can easily argue that this process of arabization is more pronounced in the diaspora than in Somalia. From the Somali-dominated environs of West London to Toronto to Stockholm to
Minnihopeless Minneapolis, one can witness a seismic cultural shift that is often traumatizing to any Somali with vivid memories of our distinct culture and traditions. We’ve been relegated to the world of nostalgia filled with youtube clips of our Waberi musicians and Fadumo Qasim in secreracy for fear that the religious gestapo may revoke our ‘Somali card’, and dismiss us as western infidels.
We’re bombarded with more jilbabs and niqaabs than gabisars, more Abu-somethings than Libans and Ragehs. A friend once said, ‘gone are the days of ‘subax wanagsan’ (good morning in Somali) and areligious greetings now replaced by traditional Arabic greetings. It’s really okay to say good morning in your language, I promise no piety points will be lost during this process. The self-appointed religious police scrutinize and attack any remnants of our secular past, police our cultural singers, and ostracize anyone (especially if you have a vagina) who dares to reflect on this changing environment, often charging them with heresy and declaring them person non grata.
What happened? Where did it go wrong? and did it go wrong? We went from a secular society in possession of an unique and indigenous link to Islam to a society that…well…quite frankly, a society that resembles what happens when self-hating negros get a hold of religion; they become Saudi Arabia. But to be fair, perhaps this trend is a good thing?
Brain-dead miscreants Some Somali would argue that this cultural shift is a positive thing, and that Somalis are on a righteous path towards spiritual enlightenment, and through this paradigm shift, Somalia may begin to transform from a tribalistic, corrupt, and morally bankrupt society to a theocratic utopia. Now granted most of the people that argue this often possess a strong aversion to books and women, but their perspective is equally valid and deserves a seat at the ‘what to replace tribalism with’ conversation.
I think these are the type of conversations in need during this redevelopment period, and I understand it is in the interest of certain individuals to promote the idea that dialogue in Somalia is dead, and wahhabism has won. Wrong. Many Somalis are outraged, bewildered, and in a state of trepidation, and believe we’re on the cusp of culture wars in the coming years as we begin to restructure and stabilize this region. Speaking of culture wars, I once accused a friend of yielding to Arabism after witnessing his Saudi-style Al-defeh outfit, and he replied, “You’ve chosen the West, and I, the Arabs,” a poignant social commentary on the various forms of cultural imperialism that left me thinking, ‘where’s Somalia in all this?’. So, I’m asking this uncomfortable question, ‘what the hell happened to Somalia? – Enquiring bloggers wanna know, and particularly interested in your insight to the following questions.
1) Is there a process of ‘arabization’ currently underway in Somalia? If so, is this a good thing?
2) A wise man once said, ‘The African; more Arab than the Arab’, which points to a tradition of black Africans appropriating and exalting anything foreign in lieu of anything indigenous and black. True of False?
3) What’s the status on the permissibility of Hyena consumption, now that Kismayo has fallen? I’m asking for a friend :/
4) Fellow Africans Muslims or Africans from African states with a sizable Muslim population, do you also notice a similar trend of appropriating Arabism? I’m thinking Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea might have something to add to this discussion.
P.S. This is the Somalia, many are aiming to erase.