Friday, May 17, 2013
Hundreds of sweating Sufis chant and sway as the lead sheik moves
into the middle of a circle of worshippers and bursts into a chant
louder than anyone else's.
Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is
having a major comeback since al-Shabab, an armed militant Islamic
group, was pushed out of Somalia's capital in August 2011. The Sunni
insurgents had banned Sufis from gathering and prevented them from
worshipping. Sufi sheiks, or elders, were attacked, graves of their
saints were desecrated and rituals and celebrations became rare or
Beyond the circle of worshippers are dozens of
women, some of them so moved that they are crying. Nearby is the grave
of a Sufi saint where the worshippers go to pray to show reverence. Free
food, including toasted coffee beans fried in oil, is distributed in
"With Allah's wish, we are here free and worshipping today," said
Sheik Abdullahi Osman, a 72-year-old Sufi cleric, who has beads dangling
from his neck. Sufis in Mogadishu spend hours feasting, praying, and
invoking Allah's name. Traditionally Sufis used sticks to protect their
shrines but now it's common to see a guard with an AK-47 slung over his
shoulder in this seaside capital.
"There's no choice other than
defending ourselves and our faith," said Mohamed Ahmed, an armed Sufi
follower guarding the gathering. The arrivals were being checked and
other guards stood outside a gate.
Ruqiya Hussein, a veiled woman, traveled from an al-Shabab-held town 90 kilometers (55 miles) away to get to a place of worship.
am thrilled to see my sheiks come back to lead us again," she said,
squeezing her henna-tattooed fingers before she joined a group of women
swaying and chanting rhymes.
Sufis were known for spreading Islam
across Somalia through peaceful teaching and practicing tolerance toward
other faiths. Some Sufis hope that their style finds fertile ground in a
nation recovering from the wounds of extremism and war.
others we don't kill or harass people. Instead, we provide examples of
how to live." said, Sheik Abdirizaq Aden, the regional leader of the
Al-Shabab, a group of al-Qaida-linked militants that seeks
to instill an ultra-conservative brand of Islam across Somalia,
controlled Mogadishu from roughly 2007 to 2011. The group still
dominates most of south-central Somalia but has seen its territory
reduced after military pushes by African Union and Somali forces.
Sufis in the capital now feel free to practice their faith. In central
Somalia, after the graves of sheiks were desecrated and killings
occurred, Sufis used weapons to kick militants out of some key towns.
The conflict in that part of the Horn of Africa nation persists.
fell into chaos in 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Siad
Barre and turned on each other. Two decades of violence followed, but
the capital and some other towns have seen strong security gains during
the last 18 months that have allowed businesses and even sports leagues