by JP Slight · Cited by 12 — Abdullah Hassan’s Jihad, 1899–1920. John P. Slight. An arid desert country…home of a ‘Mad Mullah,’ cause of one of the most prolonged and least successful
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16 British and Somali Views of Muhammad Abdullah Hassan™s Jihad , 1899Œ1920 John P. Slight An arid desert country…home of a ‘Mad Mullah,’ cause of one of the most prolonged and least successful of our ‘little wars.’ 1 I. Overview Since the start of Hassan’s jihad against unbelievers and insufficiently pious Muslims in 1899, the “Cinderella of the Empire” had suffered terribly. 2 Hassan’s jihad caused “universal perdition,” with an esti- mated 200,000 deaths over twenty years in a territory of three million people. 3 An estimated 30,000 alone died in three years as the result of internecine warfare after the British decided the cost of keeping the “Mad Mullah” in check was too burdensome and withdrew to the coast in 1909. The withdrawal led Hassan to resume raiding Somali tribes in the protectorate. This, coupled with the British policy of arm- ing these tribes to fend for themselves, contributed to the death toll. 4 Hassan was condemned by the British, but a few of the same observers also grudgingly admired his determination and sustained resistance to imperial power. This essay shows how the varied British interpretations of Hassan served to reduce his movement to a one-dimensional character. It also illustrates how Hassan, like other contemporary Muslim leaders in Northeast Africa, was believed to be part of a “Turco-German” plot against the British during the First World War. The article utilizes a rich existing corpus of source material to analyze Hassan’s views regarding jihad and his motivation for beginning and continuing this struggle. It also demonstrates how some Somalis viewed his jihad . These Muslim views show how British perceptions of Hassan failed to discern the profound and complex religious factors that motivated his movement. brought to you by COREView metadata, citation and similar papers at by DigitalCommons@Macalester College

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John P. Slight 17Somaliland, “a veritable furnace for eight or nine months” of the year, became a British protectorate in 1885. 5 British motives for expan- sion were to obtain provisions for the nearby Aden garrison and to forestall further expansion by rival European powers on the Somali coast. The protectorate was seen as an insignificant corner of the Empire until the rise of Hassan. Born in 1856, Hassan studied under local religious scholars and then traveled for rihlah (travels in search of religious knowledge). He undertook the hajj and studied under Mohammed Salih in Mecca in the 1890s.6 He returned to Somaliland in 1895 as the local head of Salih’s own Sufi order, and preached unsuc- cessfully at Berbera, constrained by disputes with other orders. Has- san found more success when he traveled to the Somali hinterland. His jihad began in 1899 with a raid on a Qadiriyyeh Sufi zawiya at Sheikh. After that he made clear his hostility to Somaliland’s British and Ethiopian rulers, as well as all Somalis who were not sufficiently pious in his eyes. Britain’s four military expeditions against Hassan in 1901–1904 ended in failure due to his guerrilla warfare tactics. The Ilig Treaty of 1905 led Hassan to migrate to Italian Somaliland. A quiet period followed, but the British withdrawal to the Somali coast in 1909 caused widespread anarchy in the interior, and Hassan returned to continue his jihad. The establishment of the Somali Coastal Con-stabulary, which became the Camel Corps, harried Hassan from 1912 onward and engaged in “desultory fighting” throughout the First World War. 7 Hassan’s switch from mobility to fixed defensive fortress positions gave the Camel Corps greater military success against him. In 1920, the Colonial and War Offices sanctioned a campaign using the RAF and the Camel Corps, which resulted in the destruction of his forts, the deaths of many followers, and his flight to Ethiopia. Before Hassan could regroup, he died from influenza in December 1920 and the remnants of his movement returned to their tribes. Works dealing with Hassan fall into three categories: (1) those writ- ten when he was active or recently dead, 8 (2) the 1960s and 1970s, after Somali independence,9 and (3) studies published since the 1970s. 10 The roots of the historiography about Hassan lie in contemporaneous Brit- ish insights in works that form a rich seam of enquiry into their inter- pretations of the man and his movement. Works written after Somali independence are coloured by nationalist feeling and are largely pan- egyrics to Hassan. He was seen as the Father of Somali Independence. These analyses provide little examination of his Islamic motivations. The last category of works strikes a more balanced tone. They view

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Bildhaan Vol. 10 18 Hassan’s movement as informed by his Islamic beliefs, 11 or as moti- vated initially by religion, but they also stress his preoccupation with politics, the organization of his movement, and military measures. 12 These recent works are more nuanced than the contemporaneous Brit- ish interpretations of Hassan outlined below. ***** Hassan was the most implacable Muslim enemy of the British dur- ing this period. While his movement was small in scale compared to other resistance movements in the Empire, such as the Boers, Hassan’s successful military leadership and organization confounded British attempts to destroy his movement until his switch to fixed fortress positions rendered him more vulnerable to attack. The resilience of Hassan’s movement led to several British responses. Whilst many Brit- ish observers acknowledged the religious motivations for Hassan’s jihad , most belittled the man. First was the interpretation that Hassan was a religious fanatic, who caused misery to the Somali population and set back the British “civilising mission” in Somaliland. This inter- pretation reduced the man to the stereotype of a fanatical Muslim rebel, a “Mad Mullah.” A second interpretation sought to strip away his Islamic motivation and contended that Hassan was using the religion to mask a cattle- thieving operation. This view stemmed from the desire of officials to downplay the continued effectiveness of his movement. During the First World War, a third interpretation emerged: that Hassan was influenced by enemy propaganda. Either through unwill- ingness or inability, most British missed other factors that drove Has- san, such as his Sufi influences and profoundly religious motivation, anchored in a reformist and revivalist context. However, some observ- ers picked up on this and so not all British analyses of Hassan viewed him through such simplistic negative tropes. The British were aware that he was not only opposed to them because Somalis bore the brunt of his violence. This rebounded on Hassan, with segments of Somali society opposed to him, such as religious leaders and certain tribal chiefs, and led to a lack of support for his jihad .

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John P. Slight 19 II. Hassan as a “Fanatical” Muslim Rebel Much of the published British literature on Hassan repeats the works of others and reinforces several perceptions of him, the key one being that he was a fanatical rebel. These writers were mainly officials and soldiers who had served in Somaliland. While none had met Has- san, they either saw the effects of his jihad on the Somali population or encountered his followers in skirmishes. Their published accounts tally with the few official British papers related to the movement that remain in colonial archives. 13 Contemporaneous accounts view Has- san’s movement in a variety of ways, yet all portray him as a militant tyrant. British officials and commentators, however removed or close to Hassan’s movement, could not fail to be aware of the religious charac- ter of his struggle. Captain Summers, who served in Somaliland, said Hassan “established a great reputation as a religious leader,” which helped him gather a following from tribes in the Ogaden under Ethio- pian rule and in British Somaliland. 14 Angus Hamilton’s account added a further layer of British understanding. He emphasized the effect of the hajj on Hassan, who returned from Mecca “with the intention of reviving the religious spirit of his people” through his jihadist move- ment. 15 This places Hassan in the conceptual framework of a “returning hajji ” whose spiritual and intellectual experiences inspired his motiva- tion for beginning a militant Islamic movement against the rule of non- believers over Muslims. This appreciation of the revivalist element of Hassan’s movement is corroborated by Henry F. Prevost-Battersby, who stated that Hassan “seemed inspired by a genuine passion for the faith,” which led him to “rebuke the easy going Islamism” of Somalis. While this was seen as a primary motivation for Hassan’s jihad , it was apparently inevitable that this preaching would clash with the British, because it was “difficult to preach the pure faith of the Prophet to a people under foreign rule without saying something detrimental to the foreigner.” 16 But these interpretations of the religious character of his movement were overlaid with representations that reduced Hassan to a crude Muslim tyrant. British representations of Hassan as a fanatic are most clearly seen in the epithet they gave him, “The Mad Mullah,” a title routinely used in literature and official correspondence. 17 The first mention of this moni- ker was in an official report in 1899, in which Somaliland Consul-Gen- eral J. Hayes-Sadler wrote, “the Mullah has gone religious mad.” 18 This

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Bildhaan Vol. 10 20characterization was frequently used by subsequent authors as it cre- ated a colourful picture of a stereotypical Muslim fanatic that the Brit- ish public were familiar with from the days of the Mahdi. For example, an article in the United Empire journal said, “Religious fanatics, espe- cially in the East, are frequently dubbed mad,” Hassan’s insanity being an “obsession that he was the only true follower of Mohammed, and that everyone else was an infidel.” 19 The British saw this resistance as irrational, a result of madness brought on by religious fanaticism and brain damage,20 as opposed to what was closer to the truth, which was Hassan’s deeply felt grievances at the state of Islam in his homeland and the fact that Somalis were ruled by non-Muslims. Observers such as Major H. G. C. Swayne, a soldier who served in Somaliland, had a more nuanced view of this “madness,” contending that Hassan was part of “propaganda in which Sufi and other mullahs like him were engaged.”21 Hassan’s Sufism will be discussed below, but first it is nec- essary to examine some of the more lurid imagery of Hassan that the British seemed to revel in describing. Added to Hassan’s “religious madness” are British portrayals of him as a cruel despot who engaged in torture, mutilation, and widespread atrocities that destroyed the lives of ordinary Somalis and his followers alike. For example, Major H. A. Rayne, in his judicial capacity as Dis- trict Commissioner at Zeila, encountered “wrecks of women and chil- dren,” who asked for relief. Apparently their plight was due to Hassan: “their villages had been destroyed, their property looted, their men- folk killed, by the murdering gang of thieves who carried out inces- santly the merciless policy of this awful man.”22 Swayne described the “gruesome sight” at Medishe fort after the British captured it, “typical of the methods of the Mad Mullah.” There, a solider saw the remains of one of Hassan’s followers, “at the end of a rope, suspended from the roof over a slow fire, hung by the waist” as punishment for some transgression.23 Hamilton wrote that as a result of setbacks against the British in 1903, some Somalis attempted to desert. Consequently, “It was ‘heads off’ just then in the camp of the Mullah upon the smallest pretext, for the Holy Man had recourse to the sternest measures to enforce obedience.” This apparently caused “dissensions in his coun- cil” and “little cohesion among his followers.” 24 This points to a fur- ther complexity of Hassan’s movement. It was not a monolithic entity united against the British.These sensationalist tales were not only confined to writers appeal- ing to the British market. They were reflected in official British intel-

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John P. Slight 21ligence reports. One stated that, “atrocities…have recently been practised by the Mullah to an unprecedented extent. Wholesale execu- tions are carried out on the slightest pretexts, and men, women and children go in fear of their lives.” The report appears to be an attempt to show that Hassan relied upon tyranny and misinformation in order to keep his followers, who otherwise would “surely” desert but for “the belief that we torture and kill captives…fostered by the Mullah.” 25 These accounts implied that the results of Hassan’s jihad fell most heav- ily on Somalis as opposed to the British.Douglas Jardine, another Somaliland official who wrote a book on Hassan, summed up these negative views of him but stressed he knew no other way of acting. Jardine described Hassan as: “Tyrant and cut- throat, slayer of innocent women and children, cattle-thief, profligate, and libertine.” These “opprobrious epithets” show how British observ- ers interpreted Hassan in caricatured terms.26This superficiality extended to Hassan being compared to that other Muslim “fanatic,” the Mahdi, an easy analogy for the British to make. To observers such as Ismay, an intelligence officer in Somaliland, the connection was direct. The Mahdi’s successes made such an impres- sion that Hassan “tried a similar organization.”27 Ralph Drake-Brock- man says that tales of the Mahdi, apparently heard by Hassan in Cairo and Alexandria,28 “held him spellbound.” 29 The Mahdi was portrayed as a freedom fighter, who “raised the flag of revolt against a people suffering from poverty and oppression,” whereas Hassan was an evil figure who “brought destitution and even anarchy.” 30 These interpreta- tions show the inability of the British to view Hassan on his own terms, a man engaged in a jihad to make Somalis follow a purer form of Islam as well as overthrow their non-Muslim rulers. Richard Corfield of the Somali Camel Constabulary believed Has- san was a mere cattle thief. Corfield wrote in letters written in June and July 1910 that after the Governor-General of Sudan, Sir Reginald Wingate, left Somaliland after his consultative trip to find a solution to the issue of Hassan, his “illusions” about Hassan were “completely broken.” These illusions were that “he was a great religious fanatic, like the Mahdi, with the possibility of wielding enormous power in the Muhammedan world.” Corfield thought that Wingate now realized that Hassan was “little better than a raiding cattle thief.” 31 Corfield hoped to present Hassan in a more prosaic light to his family in Eng- land. This irritation with what Corfield saw as the elevation of Hassan into a religious leader was reinforced in a later letter. He wrote, “it is

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John P. Slight 23although the historian of the Camel Corps stated, “the Dervishes had become extremely truculent” by 1914. This was attributed to encour- agement from “Turkish and German propaganda.” 35 This response showed a willingness by the British to deny agency to local leaders of the Islamic resistance, as illustrated in studies of the Sanussiyya Sufi order and the Sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinar. 36 The British instead attributed these struggles to a wider conspiracy by Britain’s wartime enemies. The debatable presence of enemy propaganda was irrelevant to those who wrote after the War and Hassan’s demise. Apparently, despite “much propaganda emanating from German and Turkish sources in Abyssinia,” Somalis in the protectorate remained loyal to Britain throughout the war. 37 But the British emphasis on Ottoman and German influence over Hassan was far less than in the examples of the Sanussiyya and Ali Dinar. Because Hassan’s movement had been active long before the War, officials could not manipulate the idea of Ottoman and German involvement with Hassan as much as they did with his co-religionists in Libya and Darfur. Nevertheless, British intelligence in Sudan reported that the “Mul- lah is being incited to action by Turkish emissaries from Abyssinia.” The report said there was a Turkish emissary in Hassan’s retinue and “that a Turkish flag had been presented to the Mullah who is stated to have said he would fly it over the fort at Hais as soon as Turkish troops arrived and the march on Berbera began.” This was wishful think- ing, both on Hassan’s part and for colonial intelligence in Sudan, who connected every Islamic enemy in the Empire in this period to their wartime enemies. The report also mentioned Lij Yasu, the new Ethio- pian emperor, who the British thought had converted to Islam and was “openly assisting the Mullah with ammunition.” Despite these “Islamic efforts” noted by the British, “friendly Somalis have proved loyal.” 38 This Islamic influence from Ethiopia was dismissed by Brit- ish intelligence, which thought Somalis regarded Lij Yasu as a “giant impostor.” 39According to Somali historian Aw Jaamac Cumar Ciise, Hassan appealed to the Ottoman commander at Lehaj in Yemen for help, and an agreement signed by Hassan’s envoy put his followers under Otto- man protection.40 A document in the Colonial Office archives, appar- ently circulated in the Somali hinterland, supported the British view that Hassan was involved with the Ottomans. It summarized the 1914 Ottoman jihad proclamation and exhorted Somalis to join Hassan. 41 However, the document’s authenticity is unclear, and it is unknown

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Bildhaan Vol. 10 24whether it was circulated with Hassan’s permission or if it garnered any response from Somali tribesmen. Hassan did entertain a certain veneration for the Ottoman Sultan, as seen in his panegyric poem: And he [Hassan] turns to his dear friend Taking refuge with that pillar of religion Sultan of every victory Who lashes unbelievers Breaks their power. 42This evidence suggests that while Hassan had some contact with the Ottomans and regarded their Sultan as a religious figurehead, this had little impact on his movement, compared to other Islamic resistance leaders in this period such as Ahmed al-Senussi of the Sanussiyya. Hassan did have some dealings with Germany in this period, but in such an insignificant way that British officials realized it was inconse- quential. At the end of 1916, a German armourer was sent to Hassan by Lij Yasu and the German Consul in Ethiopia to manufacture ammuni- tion and repair rifles, but “received such abominable treatment that he escaped in June 1917, only to perish on the road.”43 This was nowhere near the scale of the British conviction that the Sanussiyya and Ali Dinar were enmeshed in Ottoman and German intrigue to challenge British rule. There were no British officials in Somaliland who thought Hassan was connected to Istanbul or Berlin in the same manner as those in Sudan who, in sharp contrast, produced reams of official cor- respondence that detailed how Ali Dinar was in league with Britain’s wartime enemies. Hassan had a slightly different interpretation of his relationship with the Ottomans, Germans, and Lij Yasu. In a letter to the British that responded to their accusations of his connections to all three, he wrote, “The suggestion is that I was weak and had to look outside for friends; and if, indeed, this were true and I had to look for assistance, it is only because of the British, and the trouble you have given me.” 44 This appeared a half-denial. Hassan wanted to assert that he was a power in his own right. The British failed to discern the intricacies of Hassan’s movement.

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John P. Slight 25IV. Hassan’s Islamic Beliefs and Somali Responses to his JihadHassan carried out his jihad under the aegis of the Salihiyya order, founded by Muhammad Saleh in Mecca in the late nineteenth cen- tury. This was part of a cluster of “neo-Sufi” orders, influenced by the Islamic revival and reform movement, which preached a return to a purer form of the faith. Abdi summarizes the aims of Hassan’s mis- sion as a struggle against the lax religious practices of Somalis and to revive their Islamic spirit. 45 It is in this context that his jihad must be seen. Hassan believed that part of this agenda necessitated the tradi- tional religious strategy of the Lesser Jihad to respond to the iniquity of Christian rule over Muslims. This was a facet of Hassan that the British failed to appreciate. However, there were some British observers who noted the nature and impact of Sufism on Somali society. For example, Frances Swayne, a rare tourist to the protectorate, wrote that Somali Islam was a “very strict sect…Christians would do well…to take exam- ple by them in religious observances.” 46 Another writer viewed the Salihiyya as “very fanatical…their extremely uncompromising reli- gious views…resemble the austere Wahabbis .”47 Sir Geoffrey Archer, Governor of Somaliland, called the Salihiyya the “most fanatical” of all Muslims.48 British observations of Somali Sufism reflected a suspicion of the orders due to their supposed extremism. A “Memorandum on Political Affairs in Somaliland,” written after Hassan’s demise in 1925, showed extensive knowledge of Sufism, but with a derogatory inter- pretation of the phenomenon. Somalis were presented as “fanatical and ignorant” and easily led by “Mullahs” who “infest the country.” The “Mullahs,” perhaps understandably after Britain’s bruising experi- ence with Hassan, were seen as a negative force, “preaching resistance to Government orders” and thus a “considerable power for harm” against the colonial administration.49 However, like Willes-Jennings’ contradictory attitude,50 zawiyas were seen as harmless, which reflected the conflicting nature of British attitudes to Sufism.51Hassan’s career as a jihadist leader had a profoundly religious moti- vation but was coloured by military and political factors that arose from his leadership of a militant movement. Samatar and Martin have argued that Hassan used his leadership of the Salihiyya order in Somaliland to adapt the sect’s hierarchical model to create a large-scale organization that surmounted clan politics.52 Whilst Hassan’s move- ment was political in nature, the religious sentiment that underpinned his movement is the area of focus here. Although Hassan was a reli-

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Bildhaan Vol. 10 26gious personality in his own right, his connection to the Salihiyya order was important. Jardine hinted at this when he wrote that Hassan’s fol- lowers always went into battle “invoking the name of Mohammed Salih.”53 If Hassan used Islam as a front for thieving, it seems implau- sible that his followers chanted Salih’s name before going into battle. Another episode that shows the importance of the Salihiyya con- nection is the denunciation of Hassan by his erstwhile mentor in 1909. Salih accused Hassan of “no longer minding the shar’ia law” because he killed and looted Somalis. Salih charged Hassan with not being a good Muslim and excommunicated him from the order for “not know- ing your proper religion…Mohammedans are not those who take their neighbour’s blood on their hands.” 54 This caused a rupture between Hassan’s followers but did not halt his jihad.55 The connection to the Salihiyya order was important, but the continuation of Hassan’s strug- gle after the break with his mentor points out the strength of his own religious feelings and motivations for the struggle, consistent through- out his career, which are examined below. Similar to the case of Darfur’s Sultan Ali Dinar, 56 there is an unusual amount of material on Hassan in the colonial archives. Along with contemporaneous British accounts and research carried out by Somali and other historians in the last thirty years, there are many examples of Hassan’s proclamations, letters, writings, and poetry. 57 Analyzing these against the grain of their location in British sources (that used them to highlight Hassan’s fanaticism), it is possible to reconstruct how he saw his struggle as religiously motivated against British imperialism and insufficient piety in Somali Islam. Hassan’s proclamation before he began his jihad stated, “Unbelieving men of religion have assaulted our country from their remote homelands. They wish to corrupt our religion…Our aim is to cleanse the land of unbelievers.” 58 This declara- tion of struggle against the perceived oppression of Islam is supported by Hassan’s first letter to the British as a jihadist leader in 1899: “you have oppressed our ancient religion without cause…If you want war, we accept it.” 59 Subsequent letters to the British are consistent in the reasons for Hassan’s jihad. One in 1903 stated his wish to “protect my own religion.” This letter also showed Hassan’s belief in the religious rightness of his cause: “We fight by God’s order…We ask for God’s blessing. God is with me when I write this.”60 A further letter to the British in 1913 humbly stated, “I am a pilgrim and a holy fighter, and have no wish to gain power and greatness in this world.” 61 Hassan’s correspondence to the British had frequent references to himself as the

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