Somalia / Somaliland: University students obstructed music event

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Somalia / Somaliland:
University students obstructed music event

The students of the University of Hargeisa in the capital Hargeisa in Somaliland, a self-declared independent state, rejected and obstructed a celebration for the World Music Day, which was scheduled to take place at the conference-hall of the university on 21 June, 2008. This incident indicates the level of influence of the Wahabi Islamists in the zone. Here is how the drama unfolded.

By Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays

It was not until the last minute when the conference-hall was set for the event, as well as the local invitees, key-note speakers, folklore dancers, government officials, journalists, and foreign guests were soon to arrive there that the students unleashed a wave of protest. They violently emptied the conference-hall of all the chairs and tables for the invitees, and they removed from the walls all the slogans, pictures, and decorations for the event.

Inspired by local Wahabi clerics, who had been preaching in advance against this event in their daily sermons in the mosques in the town, these students justified their acts of rejection and obstruction on the grounds that the music was un-Islamic.

Organised by ministry
The event was apparently supposed to have been part of the Somaliland authorities’ relentless campaign for international recognition. It was the first time in the history of their yet internationally unrecognised country, Somaliland’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism had organised a celebration for the World Music Day in the capital Hargeisa. By locally promoting and celebrating the international events, the Somaliland authorities wanted to show that the country is governed from democratically established institutions. The zone of Somaliland generally is considered more peaceful than the rest of Somalia.

However, local Wahabi clerics have strongly challenged their campaign by proving on their part that they also govern the county from the platforms of the mosques. ‘Community censorship’ of music is not only limited to the conflict parts of Somalia.

Local papers in the Somaliland dared to at least write about the incident, while it appeared as if the local stringers of the international media intentionally muted it.

“We are against music”
Somaliland has an estimated population of between two and three million people. (UN OCHA Somalia, March 2006). It declared independence from Somalia in 1991, though it has not yet been recognised internationally. But, it has since enjoyed a relative peace and sort of governance, which has spared her from falling into the same deep quake-mire of civil war and state of anarchism that has engulfed the rest of the troubled Somalia.

“We are against all that goes against our culture and religion,” says Mohamed Ismail Farah, one of the protesters. “We prefer to die for it instead of allowing World Music Day in our university, because we are against music,” says Mohamed Mohamud Rage, another student of the university. (Hiraanonline/Ogaal newspaper, Hargeisa, 22 June 2008).

As the drama unfolded in an unexpected way, the government began to mass up hundreds of its police force around the university with the intention to easily disperse the protesters, but the students declined to reverse their previous decision. Indeed, they showed strong resolve that they were even prepared to engage in a bloody confrontation with the police.

Clerics praised the students
At this stage, in order to avoid possible confrontation, the government relocated the event to Hargeisa Club hotel, and withdrew its police from the university.

No sooner had the police left the university than the students victoriously gathered in the same conference-hall of the university, where they first prayed in congregation, and then organised straight away a religious event, attended by local clerics of the town.

In their sermons, the clerics whole-heartedly praised the students for their action to reject and obstruct the World Music Day in their university. They thoroughly preached to them about the evils of music and why Islam forbade its practice in the Muslim societies. Also, they categorically criticised what they termed as their government’s misconduct of publicly promoting music and music-related events, which they described as “un-Islamic.”

World Music Day has been a hot topic in all the sermons of the Islamic clerics in the mosques in Hargeisa in the days after this incident, labelling it as un-Islamic culture, out-sourced and promoted by “infidels”, with intent to deviate Muslim societies from their noble religion. (Jamhuriya, daily newspaper, Hargeisa, 22 June 2008).

Hargeisa: home of arts
The University of Hargeisa was first inaugurated in the year of 2000 with the faculties of education and business administration. To date, according to its official website, the university now has more faculties with over 2,600 students in its various schools.

The people of Somaliland are undisputedly credited by all Somalis for their invaluable contributions to the early formative stages of the contemporary Somali art forms by transforming the traditional folklore dance into the modern type of song sung with musical instruments.

Indeed, Somaliland produced the founder of the modern Somali theatre, Xussein Aw-Farah, as well as the father of the beautiful and modern music, Abdulahi Qarshe. The story of Tobanka inan ee tiriigga shita, the “ten guys who light the lantern,” ten-member group of young men, who contributed a lot to the formative years of Somali music during the 1940s, are still locked in the minds of all Somalis. It was mainly because of this group that Hargeisa has since then become famed as hoyga fanka, the “home of arts.”

Wahabi groups
The recent negative reaction of the students of the University of Hargeisa to the World Music Day is a clear indication underscoring the ferocity of the prevailing community censorship on music in the Somali-speaking Horn of Africa in general; the very same community that once used to promote music and music-related activities, and complained of the heavy-handedly music censorship of Somalia’s former military regime, is now paradoxically censoring by itself, and criticising its government for not prohibiting music and music-related events.

Moreover, this incident in Somaliland proves that the current pervasive community censorship on music in the Somali-speaking Horn of Africa is not only the consequences of the political and security instability in the region but, to a bigger degree, it is about perceptions resulting from a long-time preaching to these communities against their music by Somali Wahabi groups in the region.




Somaliland – a zone in the north of Somalia

Sources

Hiraanonline / Ogaal newspaper – 23 June 2008:

‘Ardayda Jaamacadda Hargeysa oo is-hortaagay Xuska Maalinta Muusigga Adduunka ee Somaliland’

Jamhuriya (daily newspaper) – 22 June 2008:

‘Wararkii Wargayska Jamhuuriya Ee Maanta Qaarkood’

University of Hargeisa’s official home page:

hargeisauniversity.net

Condeja’s blog – 24 June 2008:

‘Protest Against World Music Day conduct Students of Hargiesa University’



UPDATE

Somali PEN condemns the renewed attacks on Somali music and musicians

On 15 July 2008 Freemuse received this press statement from Somali PEN:

From: Somali-speaking Writers PEN Centre
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 2:52 PM
To: Freemuse
Cc: Somali-speaking Writers Centre of International PEN, President.
Subject: Press Statement: Somali PEN condemns the renewed attacks on Somali Music and musicians

The Somali-speaking Centre of International PEN is deeply disturbed by the latest renewed attacks on Somali music, musicians and music-related events in Somalia.

On Friday 18 June 2008, Abdulkadir Adow Ali, a Somali musician, singer, actor and music composer was killed in Mogadishu. Three unidentified men armed with knives stabbed the late musician to death while he was heading to his home.

The identities of the murderers and their motives are still unknown. So far, the Somali government have made no investigation in respect of this case.

On Saturday night 21 June 2008, attackers believed to belong to a radical Islamist group threw a hand-grenade at a cinema-hall in the capital Mogadishu. In this attack, one person died and four others were injured.

On Sunday night 22 June 2008, a similar attack using a hand-grenade was launched at another cinema-hall in Baidaba. More than ten boys of the local youths, who were watching films and music-related videos, were killed in the attack while another two died from their wounds at the hospital in the town.

On Sunday night 29 June 2008, militia from the Union of Islamic Courts reportedly attacked a traditional folklore-dancing event in Ceelgeelle, a rural village on the outskirts of Bal’ad town in the Middle Shabelle region, 30 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu. In this attack, two of the nomad-dancers lost their lives.

All these acts of targeted attacks and atrocities are direct violations against the rights of the Somali artists to freedom of expression, as well as the Somali community’s choice to get access to their arts and enjoy their music.

Somali PEN strongly condemns these acts and calls on the groups and individuals committing such acts to immediately stop their campaign against music, arts and music lovers.

For further information, please contact us at
Somali PEN Free Expression Committee

Email: somalipen [a] gmail.com

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