Religious Roles in Somali Islam

Somalia Table of Contents

In Islam, no priests mediate between the believer and God, but there are religious teachers, preachers, and mosque officials. Until the civil war in Somalia, religious training was most readily available in urban centers or wherever mosques existed. There boys learned to memorize parts of the Quran. Some teachers traveled on foot from place to place with their novices, depending on the generosity of others for their living. The teachers served the community by preaching, leading prayers, blessing the people and their livestock, counseling, arbitrating disputes, and performing marriages. Few teachers were deeply versed in Islam, and they rarely stayed with one lineage long enough to teach more than rudimentary religious principles.

In the absence of a wandering teacher, nomads depended on a person associated with religious devotion, study, or leadership, called a wadad (pl., wadaddo). The wadaddo constituted the oldest stratum of literate people in Somalia. They functioned as basic teachers and local notaries as well as judges and authorities in religious law. They were rarely theologians; some belonged to a religious brotherhood, or to a lineage with a strong religious tradition. In the latter case, they were not necessarily trained, but were entitled to lead prayers and to perform ritual sacrifices at weddings, on special holidays, and during festivals held at the tombs of saints.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress