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Mubarak's Musings is a Somalia Report weekly column published every Wednesday (usually). Follow Mubarak on Twitter, at @somalianalyst.
It seems every year the Shabaab is in trouble, on the verge of defeat, or is about to implode from within. Or so, we are told. This time round the excitement is around Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys’ speech at a mosque on Friday in which he refuted a recent Shabaab "General Leadership" (the al-Shabaab decision-making body, dominated by "transnationalists" such as Ahmed Godane and Ibrahim al-Afghani) statement in which the group banned any other armed jihadi group, Islamic party, or Islamic movement from operating in Somalia beginning from 26 March 2012.
In his homily, the Sheikh gives us an insight into the ideological differences within the Shabaab, his position within the group, and the campaign of intimidation by the Shabaab to rein in dissidents within the group.
Sheikh Hassan was to give a commentary about a Friday sermon at a mosque; however he decided to take the opportunity to “correct” the “Muslim Mujahideen.”
He starts by saying that he heard about the Shabaab statement rather late, and that he got it from the media. This shows that the Sheikh is not part of the Shabaab General Leadership (Al-Qiyadatal Aammah), and clearly was left partially on the outside when he joined the Shabaab in late 2010 after his Hizbul Islam organization lost almost all its territory to the Shabaab.
He sounds rather meek, claiming that if the people (in this case, the Shabaab) don’t correct one another, the time for Shabaab ceasing to exist will come. His tone is conciliatory, being careful not to be seen as being insulting to the Shabaab leadership.
The Sheikh uses historical analogies, trying to compare the situation now in Somalia with that of the Islamic nation after the fall of the Ottoman empire, saying that no one group had the right to be the sole representative of the Muslim nation and therefore the Shabaab had no right to claim to be the rightful heirs to Muslim allegiance in Somalia. He says that since this is a Fardul Ayn Jihad—a defensive jihad that is an individual obligation—the Shabaab cannot claim monopoly over the Somali jihad. He says the jihad can be carried out at an individual level or at a clan level.
The Sheikh’s words have brought to the surface some of the core beliefs of the Somali-oriented members of the Shabaab. That is, that the Somali jihad is incumbent on the Somali nation and can be fought by individual clans. The official Shabaab policy allows clans to be involved, but under the banner of the Shabaab, to whom they have to pledge their allegiance.
Also important, the Sheikh, while explaining that no one Islamic movement deserves obligatory pledge of allegiance, mentions “this group, the Wahhabis, who took over the Arabian Peninsula; nobody accepted them as being the sole Muslim community worthy of allegiance.” He said in such a tone that made it clear he doesn’t see himself as a Wahhabi.
Sheikh Hassan tells us that what concerns him is that the Shabaab (whom he does not name directly) would spill the blood of other Muslims, wrongly using Ahadith (prophetic sayings) to prove the rightness of their actions. He says that “the people should not be killed for a shirt that has not even been made," by which he is pointing out the absurdity of the Shabaab General Leadership banning other Islamic movements in Somalia before they have even conquered the whole country—a recurring theme in his talk.
The Shabaab General Leadership had threatened with war anyone who creates a new Islamic group, and Sheikh Hassan’s above comments could indicate that there is a new Islamist nationalist movement brewing, one which the Shabaab are attempting to kill before even before its birth. Talk about pre-emption!
Demonstrating the fear within the Shabaab to speak out against their leaders, the Sheikh tells his audience that it was a must for him to speak out because “you are all afraid.” He laughs a nervous laugh, and the audience almost reluctantly laugh with him.
He gains confidence and starts using stronger words to reject the Shabaab decision:
“To our brothers (the Shabaab leadership): what you said is unspeakable; it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t acceptable. Another thing is the threats. We are too old for threats now in the world. Who threatens people nowadays?”
If Sheikh Hassan speaks for the nationalists within the Shabaab—and he does seem to speak for many of them as he was their leader in the nationalist Hizbul Islam—then they will not be dissuaded from creating their own group. Not without a fight, it seems.
He tries to reason with the Shabaab (good luck with that!) that even people with weapons of mass destruction (the West) can not do things alone. He tells them that selfishness is a shame—all this in an attempt to get them to accept another armed Islamist group to be created.
The Sheikh strangely seems to favor holding democratic elections, commenting that the Somali people have not come together and chosen “what we all agree upon.”
He ends his talk with the conciliatory tone with which he had begun, asking his audience “who will correct us if we don’t correct ourselves?” He then adds that he knows every wadaad (literally Islamist. In this context, old Islamist) is afraid of speaking out but he would “put forth” himself for sacrifice (his audience laughs a knowing laugh), and ends with “stop that, stop that, stop that, stop that, and show compassion for the nation.”
Amusingly, General Galaal of the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ)/Transitional Federal Government (TFG), who, among other things, regularly speaks to the media to bash al-Shabaab, welcomed Sheikh Hassan’s speech, saying that the Sheikh is now "less extreme" and he should be listened to.
I did listen to him, and he isn’t “less extreme”. He wants more groups to be created to fight the TFG and her allies. And he still considers the ASWJ “grave worshippers.” If creating a new jihadi group to continue the fight against the TFG and her allies is less extreme, then Sheikh Hassan sure is a moderate now.
The Sheikh was clearly talking about his support for allowing other jihadi groups to be sanctioned by the Shabaab. The need for other groups may arise from the fact that not everyone is keen on being a member of al-Qaeda—the Shabaab merger into AQ apparently caught many Shabaab nationalists by surprise. The Shabaab ban on future jihadi groups in Somalia is therefore a clear attempt to stop an exodus from the Shabaab of nationalist leaders and their supporters.