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The Baardheere Jamaaca (Jama’ah)

“The first Somali Jihad occurred around Baardhere (Bardera) in southern Somalia as a confrontation between the Baardheere religious settlements, or the Baardhaare Jamaaca (Jama’ah), and the Geledi Sultanate at Afgoye.

Baardheere was founded in 1819 by Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan Yeberaw. Sheikh Yeberaw was born in Dafeed, a town located in southern Somalia in the Benaadir (derived from the Arabic word bandar, i.e., port, and encompasses the Somali southern coast, including the cities of Mogadishu, Merka, Brava, and Kismayo) region, between Afgoye and Bur-Hakaba. When he returned from the Hajj to Meccah and al-Madinah to his home town, he wanted to establish there a reformist Jama’ah, but was refused. Then, he decided to imitate Prophet Muhammad, made a hijra from the Somali coast to Baardheere (Baar means “palm tree” and Dheere means “tall”), which is located in the hinterland on the Jubba River, in the modern-day province of Gedo, and established his Jama’ah there.

According to the Historical Dictionary of Somalia, Jama’ah in the Somali context is “an agricultural settlement, founded by a religious leader of one of the major Sufi orders in Somalia: Qadiriyya, Ahmadiyya, or Salihiyya”.

This unique Somali Sufi religious institution has several characteristics. First of all, since the Jama’ah was an agricultural settlement, its communities spread widely in the riverine areas of the Jubba and the Shabeelle rivers in southern Somalia whereas they couldn’t exist in other regions in Somalia because climatic conditions and the pastoralist structure of society did not encourage agricultural settlements. Indeed, “colonial records indicate that in the 1920s there were more than 50 jama’a in former Upper Juba with a combined membership of 30,500, 30 in Banadir with a membership of 2,880, four in Lower Juba with a membership of 760, and eight in Hiran with a membership of 1,001”.

Secondly, the Jama’ah communities were comprised of “groups of followers who were chiefly somalized Bantu together with outlawed members of Somali tribes”, who were ready to settle down and work in agriculture. To be even more specific, according to the Historical Dictionary of Somalia, “membership in a jama’a, has historically been derived from young male celibates and theoretically was voluntary and cross-clan. Lineage, however, was a factor with some jama’as and generally a man joined his father’s order. New members underwent a formal initiation ceremony during which the order’s particular dikri was celebrated. Members gave the oath of allegiance to the jama’a and swore to accept the head of the branch as their spiritual guide (Ijazah)”.

Thirdly, the Jama’ah institutions provided its members “a sense of community, a masjid (mosque), a duksi (Qur’anic school), a common land for farming, and a shelter”.[12] In the framework of the Jama’ah institutions, the land was owned by the whole community and the sheikh of the Jama’ah assigned each follower with his specific duties of work on the land and care of livestock. Sometimes, the sheikh of the Jama’ah allotted a specific portion of the land to a particular follower to cultivate, but more generally he divided the fields into six groups, while allotting each member to work in each group one day a week. Thus, these religious institutions “constituted a new hierarchical system that substituted kin lineage with the chain of the order Silsilat al-Tariqah”.

Fourthly, these institutions were established very often in an area between the territories of two rival clans. Thus, they not only provided a buffer zone and served as instruments of conflict resolution between the warring clans, but also took advantage of tribal disputes to extend their holdings and had often been a cause of friction with nomadic tribes over questions of watering, boundaries, and tribal allegiance.

During colonial times, the Jama’ah institutions played several roles. First of all, they “became safe havens for runaway slaves and outcasts”. Secondly, they played a much bigger role than just being religious communities by serving as “anti-colonial forces struggling against Italy”, which “also fought against colonial collaborators, such as salaried chiefs and those enrolled in the colonial services”. Last but not least, “it is also evident that modern Somali political organizations had their origins in the Jama’ah institutions”.

Of these Somali Islamic institutions, the earliest and most famous was the Baardhaare Jama’ah. It should be mentioned in this context that the doctrinal orientation of both Sheikh Yeberaw and the Jama’ah which he established is not totally clear and highly disputed. Whereas Dafeed sources claim that Sheikh Yeberaw was affiliated with the Ahmadiyyah Sufi Order, Ioan M. Lewis claims that “it is not entirely clear that the sheikh’s doctrinal orientation was directly associated with the Ahmadiya Order” J. Trimingham argues that Sheikh Yeberaw’s doctrinal orientation as well as the nature of the Jama’ah which he established were associated with the Qadiriyyah Sufi Order and Lee V. Cassanelli mentions that despite the fact that “several early European explorers identified the Baardheere Muslims as Wahhabis… it is possible that Baardheere was from the beginning an independent religious congregation with no specific tariiqa (order) affiliation, or one which incorporated radical Muslims from different tariiqas, as Massimo Colucci suggests”. formal dresses for women over 50

Yet, Sheikh Yeberaw’s reformist zeal was totally clear. Sheikh Yeberaw introduced in his newly established Baardheere Jama’ah some reforms and began to implement some elements of Islamic Shari’ah aimed at purifying the Somali Islamic faith. Thus, he introduced an Islamic dress code for both men and women, requiring women to wear the veil; he outlawed chewing tobacco and qat and abolished the ivory trade because of his belief that elephants were unclean animals; he opposed tawassul (intercessory prayer through saints), faith healing, fortune-telling, and popular dancing, especially where it involved women and men mixing. Furthermore, Sheikh Yeberaw’s Jama’ah followed a strict interpretation of the Qur’an, avoiding the permissive qiil (local interpretation of the Shari’ah law) readings.

The Baardheere Jama’ah was self-sufficient economically and developed its own administration and army. The Jama’ah was composed of six sections, which elected leaders in consultation with the ulu al-amri (the one in charge, the supreme authority) of the Jama’ah, who could only be elected from the people of Baardheere. The ulu al-amri was always a direct descendant of the Jama’ah’s founder and was advised by the section leaders representing the Jama’ah’s diverse membership. Sheikh Yeberaw died in 1836 and was succeeded by Sheikh Ali Dhurre, who was the organizer of the military apparatus of the Jama’ah, which helped it face considerable hostility from the surrounding tribes.

Expansion and Destruction of the Baardheere Jamaaca (Jama’ah)

Since its foundation, people from all parts of Somalia had sought religious learning at Baardheere. Indeed, from its modest beginnings in 1819 as a retreat for fewer than one hundred followers, the Baardheere Jama’ah grew steadily in numbers and influence. It drew adherents from a great many Somali clans; at its peak in about 1840 the movement probably counted twenty thousand supporters.

It is important to note that in Somalia, the title “sheikh”, designating a wadaad (man of god) of superior learning, does not mean a political leader. The role of religious teachers and leaders was to mediate between man and God and between men. The sheikhs were assumed to stand outside secular rivalry and conflict. However, in practice, religious figures have become directly involved in fighting. This tension between the men of religion and the Somali laity can be resolved when recourse to arms is being done in the name of a religious cause.

And this is exactly what happened during the 1830s, when the Baardheere Jama’ah spread its influence in most of the inter-riverine region between the Shabeelle and the Jubba rivers. In the mid-1830s, the Baardheere Jama’ah decided to expand its sphere of influence to the surrounding clans and, thus, entered a militant phase, first under Sheikh Ali Duure and Sheikh Abiker Aden Dhurow then under Sherif Abdirahman and Sherif Ibrahim. They fought the Oromo Borana to the west of the Jubba River, they conquered farming settlements to the southeast of Baardheere, they attacked and destroyed the trading town of Luuq on the Jubba River to the north, and, finally, in 1840, they extended their rule to the coast, conquering the villages of Baidoa, Molimad, and the coastal town of Baraawe (Brava), the historic seat of the Qadiriyyah Order, forcing its inhabitants, who appealed to the Sultan of Zanzibar for protection, to submit to the new regulations and to pay an annual tax.

It is not clear whether the Sultan of Zanzibar sent forces to help the inhabitants of Baraawe or not. But, it is important to mention in this context that by the middle of the nineteenth century, the southern Benaadir coast as a whole recognized the suzerainty of Zanzibar, especially after the Omani dominions were divided and Sayyid Said moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1840. Yet, the sultan of Zamzibar’s power was vague and uncertain compared with the direct influence exerted by the Geledi Sultanate in the lower Shabeelle, which dominated the hinterland for about 100 years, from the end of the eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century and the Italian colonial rule. Yet the Sultan of Geledi did not generally dispute the Sultan of Zanzibar’s position, and the two sultans were friends and maintained between them a delicate balance of control over the Benaadir.

However, it is clear that the expansion of the Baardheere Jama’ah upset the Sultan of the Geledi at Afgooye, near Mogadishu, who in this period was the major leader in southern Somalia.

Thus, the conquest of the coastal town of Baraawe by the Baardheere Jama’ah was a very significant event since at the time Baraawe was a noted center of Sufi learning and the historical seal of the Qadiriyyah Order, where the then Sultan of the Geledi, Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim (d. 1848), had studied. Therefore, seizure of Baraawe challenged the religious power of the Sultan of Geledi. Moreover, the Baardheere Jama’ah curbed the lucrative ivory trade, which was a major source of income for the local population residing in the region at that period, as well as threatened their traditional way of life.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the conquest of Barrawe and the dramatic success of the Baardheere Jama’ah provoked a concerted response from the clans of the inter-river areas under the charismatic leadership of the Geledi Sultan. The Sultanate mobilized an expedition force of 40,000 from all clans, and after a few days of siege, stormed Baardheere and completely burned it, while all its inhabitants were killed or fled. With the deaths of Sherif Abdirahman and Sherif Ibrahim in battle, the first instance of jihad in southern Somalia and in Somalia in general came to an end.


The Baardheere Jihad was the first example in the history of Somalia of the clash between militant reformist Islam and Somali traditional Sufi Islam. Since then, militant Islamist reformism has appeared several times in Somalia’s history. The main examples are the movements of Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, al-Ittihaad al-Islaami, Islamic Courts Union, and al-Shabaab. All these movements have aimed, among other things, at the purification of local practice of Sufi Islam. However, its activities have also affected regional politics and evoked regional intervention, which have ended up in large-scale regional conflict and destruction.

The Baardheere Jihad also served as the first event in the history of Somalia in which certain Islamic scholars led internal fighting to gain politico-religious hegemony. Indeed, it was a conflict between the rising power of Islamic reformists and the established traditional power of the Geledi Sultanate. Thus, it constitutes a precedent for current Islamic militancy and extremism in Somalia. It offers lessons that doctrinal differences and political ambitions may develop into violent wars under the leadership of charismatic and ambitious religious scholars.

It also illustrates the long running struggles within Islam in Somalia. The circumstances of the Baardheere jihad reveal, among other things, the diverse social forms that Islamic culture could generate and the radically different views that Somali Muslims could hold of their world.

Still, this conflict has not been well researched and there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge of it, which if and when filled, may give us the opportunity to draw a fuller picture of this Jihad and its significance. Such gaps are, for instance, the Sultan of Zanzibar’s role in this conflict; the organization of the Baardheere Jama’ah’s administration and army; the biographies of the sheikhs of the Baardheere Jama’ah; the doctrinal orientation of Sheikh Sheikh Yeberaw and the Jama’ah, etc.

Finally, in the context of the history of Islam in the African continent as a whole, one may look at the Baardheere Jihad and see some similarities with the Jihad of Othman dan Fodio in West Africa, who died only two years before the hijra of Sheikh Yeberaw and the establishment of the Baardheere Jama’ah in 1819. The main similarities are the imitation of Prophet Muhammad, making a hijra and establishing Muslim rural enclaves in the countryside, which were a defiance of the legitimacy of the political authorities as well as the purification of local practice of Sufi Islam. Both in West Africa and Somalia, these Jama’ah institutions developed into important centers of learning as part of an expansion of the Islamic educational system into the countryside.

In my point of view, the Baardheere Jihad, although taking place in Somalia away from the other Jihadist movements of the day in West Africa, cannot be disconnected from these movements. Therefore, the best way to look at it and tell its story will be not only on the particular background of the history of Somalia and the development of Islamic reformist doctrines within Somalia, but also on the general background of the penetration of Islamic reformist doctrines into Sub-Saharan Africa as from the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century and the clash between this kind of Islam and the traditional Sufi African Islam which ensued thereafter starting in West Africa and Somalia and expanding into other parts of the continent.l” Dr. Moshe Terdiman