by Abdiaziz Hashi Arab
Sunday, July 07, 2019
In recent days, the ambassador of India to the Federal Republic of Somalia, His Excellence Shri Rahul Chhabra, who is also the High Commissioner of India to the Republic of Kenya, went on tour to Somalia visiting Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, and Garowe city. The ambassador went to Garowe first, where he was received by the president of Puntland State of Somalia, His Excellence Dr Said Abdullah Deni. After the initial talks, the ambassador Chhabra held a press conference together with president Deni, where he announced several economic collaborations with the Puntland State of Somalia—including visas to India. Whether the purpose of these visas is medical or student visas for students who want to study in India’s top universities, it will be available in Garowe, and the Indian embassy to Somalia will facilitate that. Given the current situation that our country is in, this is a marvellous piece of business for Somalia as a whole, and we should thank president Deni for the audacious achievement. If this pledge comes to fruition, India will become the first country that provided a visa to Somali passport holders in Somalia. As you all aware that since the collapse of our central government in early 1991, most of the countries in the world withdrew official recognition of our national passport, let alone provide us visas at our doorsteps. This is the magnitude of the deal that India pledged in Garowe. However, during the ambassador Chhabra’s stay in Garowe, it coincided with the annual celebration of the International Day of Yoga. In 2014, the United Nations, a world governing body, had designated the 21st of June as the International Day of Yoga with the resolution 69/131.
As part of formalities, the ambassador and his staff wished to celebrate the Yoga Day in Garowe, and pass their experience to the Somali youth; their wish was gracefully accepted by president Deni. Thus, Yoga was practised and celebrated publically in Somalia for the first time ever. This has triggered some angry reactions from culturally-oriented groups, as well as some religious fanaticism. With some (not all) especially self-proclaimed sheikhs issuing fatwas—claiming that the hosting president, his staff and the participants of the Yoga exercise have committed an immoral act against Islam. Although Yoga originated in ancient India some five thousand years ago as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline, it has moved from the religious attachment to it, and become an international meditation exercise. Yoga, like football, karate, and all other Marshall arts that we teach our children as an exercise or to defend themselves was first invented by Buddhist monks or Hindu priests. However, this is an argument for another article, I am not writing to support or discourage the advert of Yoga on our soil. Here, I want to concentrate only on the overzealous reactions and acceptance of Yoga Day in Somalia. In this paper, I will be attempting to tackle several questions regarding the arrival of Yoga in Somalia. What are the sociocultural or cultural evolution signs or symbols that the overreaction of the yoga exercise in Somalia is sending to us? Also, we need to ask ourselves, are we at early doors of post-culturalism? Or, are we actually witnessing the advert of post-culturalism era unfolding on our own doormat before our very eyes?
Before we attempt answering these critical questions, let us take a short, but crucial odyssey, around the development of human societies and the development of human culture. There was a time in the history that humans were living on hunting, chasing after preys. They remained on that condition for an extended period until humans dispersed throughout the earth, and learnt how to herd livestock animals such as; cattle, goats and camels, and tamed the domestic animals such as; horses and donkeys for transportation purposes. Only after this period, humans were able to settle down on one place and build houses. And the sociocultural evolution of humans started to develop impulsively. More of humans’ awareness of their surroundings increased, more of their knowledge of themselves and their surroundings augmented too.
Similarly, more of their knowledge enhanced, more their goods and belongings amplified. And this linear has been continuing since the time began and continues till the end of time. This means that human development has gone through phases of cultural evolution in various stages. Also, this means that social development and moving from one step to another is ever evolving development and never static. Thus, human sociocultural evolution kept developing through different stages; from divine inspirations (from prophet Noah to prophet Muhammad AS) and the subsequent of Islamic rule of the world (the Islamic Golden Age) to the European Enlightenment, modernity and the revitalisation of science and reason. The French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution had advanced the economic growth of humans, and their understanding of the ethics of governance, the rule of law, justice and democracy respectively. Every growth and development, however, comes with its setbacks and hiccups, European Colonialism from sixteenth-century until the United States’ thermonuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The attack instantly obliterated more than 200,000 people—and eradicated two large cities, this and the two World Wars preceded, unequivocally represent the darkest period of human history.
In social science, scientists define sociocultural evolution as a set of theories of cultural, social evolutions that describe how cultures and societies change over time. The American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) for instance, argued that different communities have reached different stages of social development. Talcott reached this conclusion by using world history. Anthropologists and sociologists believe that humans are social species; therefore, societies exist in multifaceted social environments with natural resources and restrictions and adjust themselves to these environments. It is thus unavoidable that all communities change. Also, German philosopher Hegel claimed that societies start out in a primitive state and gradually become more civilised over time, and social development an inevitable process. Can we apply these theories on the real ground, especially, for example, have we (Somalis) change as a society since post-colonialism?
As we know, the overwhelming majority of Somali people are clan-based Muslims, and before the European colonists set foot on our soil, the majority of Somalis’ way of life depended on mobile, pursuing nomadic pastoralism or agro-pastoralism. In other words, three generations back, most of Somalis were living in rural areas, only after we become engaged fighting the European colonials, we have started to settle in one place, and establish cities. Before, there were only few small cities have existed or perhaps I should say villages along the shores, where nomad Somalis came to trade their livestock. This was a giant leap forward and a massive jump in our history. Since we have taken the first step to urbanisation, without realising, our cultural and nomadic dependence decrease, whereas our civilisation and dependence urban life increased. For the first time in our long and proud history, we were able to proclaim and register our land and sea as ours, and established in 1960, a government to protect our sovereignty and our people. This led us to the idea of mass urbanisation, in building houses that we can live in them permanently, building schools for our children to be educated, and building hospitals and roads, this averted us from the nomad life. The urbanisation and civilisation in our society continued in successive regimes until the civil war broke out our country in 1991, on the other hand, cultural dependence was decreasing even further. This is because, more we have moved forward and gained knowledge, and civilisation, more we moved away from the old culture. This is not to demean our culture in any way shape or form; but the reality on the ground tells us that in Somalia, right now, there are more car drivers than camel-herds—whereas before was the other way around. Therefore, it is unequivocally clear that things in our culture had changed and continue to evolve.
Although, the 1991 civil war was painful, as Somalis took arms, not to defend their country but to slaughter each other, and expel each other from the fathers’ land. Nevertheless, the civil war was a giant leap forward in our sociocultural development, as Somalis in mass numbers were exposed to the outside world, leaving the homeland—where for the first time in their history they have compromise their culture with their hosted nation’s culture or lack of it. This does not necessarily mean given up your culture upfront wholly or being asked to abandon it. Instead, it meant that the law of adaptation and the mutual influence have an effect on our culture over time, and slowly but surely diminishes the pillars of minority culture. Because, culture is practical, once the practical aspect of any given culture is dead, or weakened, a cultural theory neither nourishes nor avails against distinction. During the Somali civil war era, it was the time that the world became a village—as globalisation process intensified across the globe, and left no stone unturned, broke the iron curtain in Europe, the Middle East became the new Near Middle East—whereas the Far East became the new Middle East. China, India, the European Union and the United States had started the Second Scramble for Africa. Eventually, China managed to knock Japan off their perch in economic terms and pursuing to do the same to the United States to claim the world’s undisputed number one economy. All these things happened while we (Somalis) have taken a day off from the office.
Coming back to the yoga incident and the reaction is drawn from a lot of people who claimed they have rejected the Yoga on cultural and religious grounds. As humans, it is all common that we fear the unknown, it is in embedded in our DNA, there is no surprise in that, and I think no one has the right to criticise someone because of FOTU. So, what is the fear of the unknown? Sociologist Kathryn Sanford defined the FOTU as “Xenophobia is when some people have irrational thoughts and beliefs about people and situations that they perceive to be strange or foreign. Essentially it is the fear of anything that is beyond their comfort zone”. Precisely this is how we reacted to the yoga exercise in Garowe, not only we rejected it (because of fear that Yoga may change our religion or culture) but we demeaned those who overcame their fear of the unknown and decided to participate in the exercise. Explaining the two side of FOTU Sanford said: “When we choose to live with our fear of the unknown, the choices and decisions we make do not serve us well. Any decision we make based on this fear will not be a decision that will move us forward in life”. So, how can we overcome the notorious FOTU? Sanford argued there is only one way to defeat FOTU, and that is facing your fears head on and not turn your back to it.
This FOTU concept remains me a funny tale that happened in Saudi Arabia, during the King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud’s reign. Although it is a tale told through generations of immigrant workers in Saudi Arabia, it is funny and will make us understand how to overcome our fears of the unknown. It was told that King Ibn Saud wanted to launch landline telecommunications throughout Saudi Arabia, for the first time in their history, so every citizen can have a telephone in their homes. However, his ambition to better the telecommunication infrastructure of his country attracted fierce criticism from a group of sheikhs of the Wahhabi sector. According to these tales, these sheikhs argued that the telephone is haram because it is impossible to hear the sounds of a person hundreds of miles away from you and, they added, therefore, the person on the other side of the phone must be Satan. The King was smart, not only he understood the issue of the clerics, but he quickly came up with a solution. He ordered the person on the other side of the phone to recite some verses of the Quran, and he offered the phone to the clerics to listen. Once they listened to the recitation of the Quran, the clerics satisfied that is no harm with the use of telephones. Since, the Saudis found a balance between reason and their religious belief, and more crucially, they look that they integrated as a society. Is this integration positive or negative? It’s an argument for another article.
So, let us go back to the yoga incident once again, and ask ourselves what have we learned from that incident? First, the yoga incident has divided our nation down the middle as supporters and opposition groups, and this can only be a good thing—because it demonstrates that our society has reached a level of freedom expression that they can accept or reject ideas peacefully—without violence. History tells us that when we have disagreements, we usually settle it from the barrel of the gun. Second, and this very important, it seems that we have reached post-culturalism, or in other words, we are at early doors of post-culturalism. And this is proving that we are developing and moving forward as a society. Similarly, this progress is vital not only for our growth as a society but to catch with the nations that are ahead of us. Third, we have to learn how to survive in this dynamic and ever-changing world, we need to integrate with the world; with a mutual influence, meaning exchanging culture and interests. The life we are living in is based on that, mutuality; give and take, neither just a giver can survive forever, nor just a taker can do the same. It is as the philosophers past and present call it; the universal law of parity.
To conclude, the world societies are in various stages of development as societies, some are ahead of the rest like the developed world who are at the outskirt of the post-digital era, as they are aiming the next stage of their development. The quickest route to catch up with these societies is to implement and sustain reason and modern education (i.e. science and arts) in our society. Moreover, we should found a formula or an equation that allow us to import knowledge without damaging our religion or culture, and I believe we can just do that. To do this, first, we have to overcome our fear of the unknown.
Therefore, we must face our fears as a society and tackle them head-on. As one philosopher said before follow your heart but take your brain with you. In this instance, we should follow suit our interests as a society and take our minds with us. Also, we should differentiate invariable things that we should never change for anyone like our identity and religion, from variables, things that we can manipulate, develop or change, like hosting a yoga session to exchange with unlimited medical and student visas. Finally, we should never make ourselves vulnerable to the outsides, we should show resilience, proudness and an attitude of not ducking from challenges. For example, if we are too sensitive of dealing with people who are entirely different to us, it will be a disadvantage to us, and society’s will found our weakness—whereas if we show confidence and self-belief, it will be an advantage for us—even if we lose a deal.
Abdiaziz Hashi Arab