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“The likeness of a group of people divided on the lower and upper deck of a boat, the passengers on the lower deck decided not to bother coming upper deck fetching water, instead easily bore a hole in the lower deck. If those on the upper deck stop them not, indeed they all perish; if they did, surely they are all protected (from an awful disaster)” . Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alaihi wasallim).

Universally, regionally and eternally, the parable of the noble prophet Muhammad (salallahu alaihi wasallam) applies. Today and the boat we are all on board (Somalia), the complex problem arises not only from the few on the lower deck who dare bore a hole in it, pluck out a timber thereof, give pirates chance to rob it, turn blind eye to dumping radioactive waste in the waters around it; but from the majority on the upper deck who let alone stop, dissuade, discourage and disown them, rather cheer, cajole and hail them as heroes. The crisis which crippled Somalia has its roots in two major issues, namely abusive tribalism and the lack of outward, extrovert vision and concept. The former seems to be influencing the latter and vice versa.

The Arabs in Medina were divided into to two major clans, Aws and Khazraj, feudalism based on abusive tribalism was rampant, thus bloodshed was frequently common. When Islam came, the prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallam) created brotherhood (in Islam) between the migrants from Makka (Muhajiroun) and the helpers (Ansar) in Medina, thus a new generation was born. The Medinite community still apparently retained their tribal identity but its structure, purpose, function and significance has been subdued, diluted and harmoniously fine tuned into the Universal Islamic Fraternity.

On occasions when the natural instinct of abusive tribalism resurfaced leading to rumination and revival of pre-Islamic squabbles and schisms, the prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallim) would suddenly intervene by warning them to get rid of it as it rots, get rid of it as it rots. In cases of vying one another in tribal dignity and grandeur, reinstating original identity triggered social division, the prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallim) would revitalize the real social bond based on the sole brotherhood in Islam by once saying Salman AlFarisi (A non Arab companion, Persian by origin) is one of us, from our very own household (Ahlal Beyt). By merely underestimating his own unbeliever uncle Abu Lahab’s belonging to the noble lineage (Qureish), denying him intimacy and brotherhood due to blood relationship, rejecting him the dignity and role of companionship, while consigning it to a non Arab stranger but a believer, indeed there is a moral lesson and the message of unity was conveyed.

Surely abusive tribalism rots the moral values and reduces Man into a wild beast. The person is blinded from every truth. There are similarly obnoxious, cumbersome and intricate issues, for which everlasting solution has been provided without altering its apparent features. Hajj and Umra rituals like Assafa Wal Marwa had been practiced by idolaters in Makka before Islam. Islam approved the ritual practice with condition that it is solely meant for Allah and not the idols. Slavery was reduced to non existent level by remoulding the social structure into a framework of justice and equality. Slaves could be viewed as a burden, rather than a mere domestic servant, when due rights for the slave and strict conditions in their treatment necessitated personal responsibilities and duties on the master. Islam declared equal rights such that equal penal code on the master who caused the slaves’ injuries was introduced; freeing them was made an expiation for shortcomings in acts of worship, committing sins, or seeking the pleasure of Allah. Even the title of slave was substituted with that of Mawla (supporter or attendant), Mawali (plural of Mawla) later became great personalities in Islam, scholars blessed with honour, dignity and knowledge.

Execrably, abusive tribalism in Somalia is similar to social life in pre-Islamic Arabia. It is deeply embedded in the social structure and vehemently imbued in the public concept as a dogmatic ritual. The individual can not survive, otherwise leads a precarious livelihood of loss of identity and wandering lonely in the wilderness among other clans, except within the circles of one’s clan. It is the likeness of fear all, trust few scenario of which the few are the closest of the clan or sub-clan. In this case, It is most befitting to apply the same ideal solution which reformed and transmuted the wildest and harshest of humans into the most civilized of Mankind. It is impossible to uproot and obliterate abusive tribalism at once and for good. Hence let us employ the same previous engagement policy as mentioned above, in order to transmute abusive tribalism to positive tribalism. Let us say keep your tribal structure, as your statutory rights within the society, as your identity but the following rules apply:

  • You shall not discriminate people on the basis of either belonging to your clan, sub-clan or not. All shall be equal to you as brothers and sisters.
  • The cooperation, peaceful co-existence, assistance and support between you and your immediate next of kin, members of clan or sub-clan, shall not lead to rejection of the former to other clan members, hostility to others, denial of others rights, rivalry or complexity towards members of other clans.
  • You shall be subject to doing justice to everyone, whenever, wherever, whomsoever, including yourself, it involves. The prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallim) says: On the execution of anyone who commits an act of theft, even if Fatima bint Muhammad (his own daughter) stole, I would chop off her hand. On the real advice and support to one’s brother, he said: Assist your brother either he be an oppressor(by stopping him from committing crime), or being oppressed (by defending him). You shall endeavour to bring the criminal to justice even if the latter be yourself, your family, your parents, brothers or sisters.
  • You shall give due rights to everyone, in terms of fulfilling your social duty for the public or otherwise, by adhering to the prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallim)’s statement: There is no advantage for an Arab over a non Arab.
  • You shall not have the least sympathy, pity, devotion, emotional feelings, intimacy or respect towards the criminal, even if the latter is your family, your parents, brothers or sisters. The set criteria of your love and intimacy to others shall be solely based on one’s piety, devotion, virtue, justice, honesty, innocence, righteousness, regardless of to whichever clan, sub-clan, or even nationality the person may belong.

Once above mentioned conditions are fulfilled accordingly, the social tribal classification remains no more than an ideal paradigm, a symbol of identity and knowing each other. The purpose of being divided into nations and tribes conforms to the Quranic statement of knowing each other and yields a positive result. Islam deals with the core and essence of matters rather than its superficial practice and reflections, by redirecting intentions and inner conscience to its sound nature. The fruition of this initiative depends on the wider concept of exploiting the positive side of this two edged weapon (Flawless and positive tribalism versus Negative and Abusive tribalism). There is no any harm in favouring the charity to those who are in dire need among the closest of kin, sub-clan or clan members as long as there is none more worthy or best deserving among any other members of the public. It would be much better to found the motives on locality identities rather than tribal proportion and division. If the former can not be attained, let us operate as a team, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, for a complete image and better goal.

While unfortunately the negative tribalism utopia knows no moral boundaries, the clan member’s crimes are seen as correct, his aggression and oppression as struggle for the former benefit, his terrorism to other clan members as freedom fighter. There are many who stubbornly advocate for the falsehood, destruction, corruption and the misdemeanor, because There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life May dazzle thee, and he calls Allah to witness about what is in his heart; yet is he the most contentious of enemies. When he turns his back, His aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But Allah loveth not mischief. When it is said to him, “Fear Allah., He is led by arrogance to (more) crime. Enough for him is Hell;-An evil bed indeed (To lie on)! AlBaqara 2:204-206

Yet unfortunately, the extremely few who enjoy the following attributes are subdued and subjugated to a weaker and helpless status: And there is the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is full of kindness to (His) devotees. AlBaqara 2:207.

Last but not least, it is my personal duty to convey an everlasting message to all those who have hearts and minds to ponder and reflect; the positive aspect of tribalism can be utilized efficiently as is being done on the following ideal and simple example:

Money remittance : The amount of few hundred US dollars. Destination is to Somalia. Recipient’s address, after geographical location of the region, is his clan or sub-clan. QABIILMA?. YUU KAHAY?.

It is a conventional and traditional way of identification in an epoch of high-tech biometrics identification. It clearly demonstrates how light years we fell behind in the race against time, yet it is still positive use of tribalism, light years better than the negative tribalism which causes harm to both life and chattel.

In a nutshell, my main objective and message is that actually total extermination of all forms of tribalism is impossible, there is potentially positive part thereof which can be cultivated for the good use. The social structure is based on tribal network whose architects are the very individuals who are constituents of the tribe. It demands unimaginably huge effort to abolish it, with no guaranteed success. It is much easier and more success-guaranteed to exploit its transferable positive aspects.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and they do not reflect in any way those of the Anti-Tribalism Movement.