Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sheikh Uways Al-Barawi (1847

Uways al-Barawi

Sheikh Uways Al-Barawi (1847-1909) was a Somali scholar credited with reviving Islam in 19th century East Africa. He was born in Barawe on the Benadir coast. His father was a minor religious teacher.

• 1 Early life
• 2 Journey to Baghdad
• 3 Journey Home
• 4 Death
• 5 Influence
• 6 References

Early life

Sheikh Uways obtained a simple elementary education in basic religious sciences and only later furthered his studies with eminent scholars. He studied the Qur'an, Qur'anic exegesis, syntax and grammar, legal principles and basic Sufism under the tutelage of one Shaykh Muhammad Tayini al-Shashi in his local vicinity.

Journey to Baghdad

Being a devout student of Islam and excelling in piety the young Sheikh Uways caught the attention of his teacher who then introduced him to the Qadiriyya doctrines and took him to the Birth place of Qadiriyya, in Baghdad, in approximately 1870. This journey completely changed his spiritual search and religious credibility. He studied with the eminent Qadiri, Sayyid Mustafa b. Salman al-Jilani and later claimed to receive an ijaza from his teacher, thus boosting his reputation. Despite this, B. G. Martin described his training and education as "relatively provincial, mildly uninspired, and above all conservative and conventional." He also made Hajj to Madinah and Makkah during this spell, which normally marks a spiritual milestone for Muslims. And truly so, his life took a drastic turnaround.

Journey Home

In 1883, he made his way back to his hometown to settle their for good, a very important journey in enhancing his reputation as a scholar was when he passed through the Hejaz, Yemen and northern Somalia. Northern Somalia in particular, Choi Ahmed claimed through oral tradition that Shaykh Uways met the renowned Somali Qadiri Shaykh Abd al Rahman al-Zayla'i near Qulunqul right before his death to be given complete control of the Qadiriyya in Somalia. On the other hand, S. Samatar claims that Shaykh Uways merely visited his tomb and received a symbolic ijaza to preach. Whether or not the former or latter claims were correct , both Choi Ahmed and Samatar imply that Shaykh Uways successfully established himself as the successor to the much revered Shaykh Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i.
Shaykh Uways brought huge reputation as he returned to his hometown of Baraawe. Elevated as a leader of the Qadiriyya in southern Somalia (which later became a sub-branch named after him, the Uwaysiyya), Shaykh Uways began missionary works throughout East Africa. His prominence was met with envy by the rival brotherhoods of Ahmadiya and Saalihiya (B. G. Martin), even his family members (S. Samatar). The intense clash for influence led Shaykh Uways to seek greener pastures, perhaps in emulation of the holy Prophet Muhammad's hijra from Makkah to Madinah.
This decision made room for further proselytization that increased his influence. He moved inland and founded Beled al-Amin (translated by Samatar as "Town of Peace") which flourished into an agricultural town. Bearing testimony of his mass appeal, Samatar mentions that "nomad and farmer flocked to his community, bringing with them gifts in vast amounts of livestock and farm produce". Freed from external pressure, Shaykh Uways and his followers were able to devote time towards proselytizing the Qadariyya threatening the influence of the Sahiliyya led by Sayyid Muhammad Maaruf from the Comoros Islands, the Salihiyya of Sayyid Muhammad Abdallah Hassan in northern Somalia and Christian missionaries from inland Ethiopia.


The struggle of Shaykh Uways against the Salihiyya was so intense that he was resolute to being a martyr (Martin). Moving north to curb the influence of radical nationalist and puritanical teachings of Salihiya neo-sufis, Shaykh Uways was tragically murdered by Salihiyya followers in 1909. His death was a shock to even Salihiyya adherents, where Choi Ahmed writes them feeling remorseful. The Sayyid, however, composed a poem to celebrate his brotherhood's victory, although Choi Ahmed mentions a differing view of the Sayyid's reaction from northerners.
The tragic ending of the Uwaysiyya leader was compounded with the death of all but one disciple who later carried on the Uwaysiyya legacy (Martin). This remaining disciple composed a moving qasida that eventually became a liturgy of the Uwaysiyya order. Uways's house was later bought by Shaykh Sufi and turned into the main headquarters of the Uwaysiyya.
His influence pervades throughout East Africa, from islands surrounding Zanzibar to as far west as the Eastern Congo and as far south as the Tanganyika(Choi Ahmed). His influence in Zanzibar was attributed to his close relationship with the Sultanate, two of whom he took as his Khalifah. This close relationship was established as a result of the Zanzibar Sultan's encouragement. His widespread appeal is also attributed to the present circumstances of the Benaadir coast where foreign migration robbed local economic domination. The locals thought their calamity correlated with their lack of spiritual strength rather than external circumstances. Sufi orders then "provided a context for exploring these failings and proposing solutions by means of a renewed moral framework" (Reese). This phenomena elevates the status of wadaads (Choi Ahmed) where merchants subsidized activities of the wadaads (Reese). Due to the Qadiriyya's popularity, of which Shaykh Uways led, his elevated status was most felt.


Choi Ahmed, Christine, 1993. God, Anti-Colonialism and Dance: Sheekh Uways and the Uwaysiyya, in : Gregory Maddox (ed.), Conquest and Resistance to Colonialism in Africa. New York: Garland Publishing, 145-67.
artin, Bradford G., 1993. Shaykh Uways bin Muhammad al-Barawi, a Traditional Somali Sufi, in: G. M. Smith and Carl Ernst (eds.), Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam. Istanbul: ISIS, 225-37.
Reese, Scott S., 1999. Urban Woes and Pious Remedies: Sufism in Nineteenth-Century Benaadir (Somalia). Indiana University Press.
Samatar, Said S., 1992. Sheikh Uways Muhammad of Baraawe, 1847-1909. Mystic and Reformer in East Africa, in: Said S. Samatar (ed.), In the Shadows of Conquest. Islam in Colonial Northeast Africa. Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 48-74.
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Categories: 1847 births | 1909 deaths | Somali Sufis | Mystics | Somali

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