Mohammed Abdullah Hassan

Sayid Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan (Somali: Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan; 1856–1920) was a Somali religious and military leader of the Dervish movement, which led a two-decade long confrontation with various colonial empires including the British, Italians, and Abyssinians.

Sayyid Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan
Sayid Maxamed Cabdille Xasan
محمّد عبد اللّه حسن
Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan.jpeg
Statue of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia
Born7 April 1856
Sacmadeeqa, Haud
Died21 December 1920 (aged 64)
Other namesMAH[1]
Sayyid Mah[1]
Mad Mullah
Father of the Somali nation[2] Sayyid
Emir of the Somali
Known forLeader of Dervish movement


Due to his successful completion of the hajj to Mecca, his complete memorization of the Quran and his purported descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad, his name is sometimes preluded with honorifics such as Hajji, Hafiz or Sayyid.[3][4]

Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan (Somali: Sayid Maxamed Cabdille Xasan, Arabic: محمّد عبد اللّه حسن); Sayyid Muḥammad ibn 'Abdallāh was born to a Bah Cali Gheri mother and Ogaden father. Due to his influence in the precipitation of Somali nationalism, the Central Powers, contemporary fanciers sometimes refer to him as the Father of Somali nationalism.[5][6] In 1917, the Ottoman Empire referred to Hassan as the "Emir of the Somali".[7]

According to Douglas Jardine, the name 'Mad Mullah' did not originate with the British or the Italians as is often thought, but is a translation of the Somali expression wadaad waal (the Mullah that is a lunatic) used by Somalis in Berbera. One Somali poet at the time, Ali Jama Habil composed a poem titled 'Maxamed Waal' (Mohamed the Lunatic). According to apologist Said Sheikh Samatar the Somali word waalan covers a spectrum that ranges from sheer lunacy through 'lunatic' valour to an other worldly inner serenity.[8]

In Berbera the established Qadiriyya tariqa would soon be challenged by a new tariqa. The most prominent Sheikh of the Salihiyya order were Isma'il ibn Ishaq al-Urwayni and the Dervish emir Hassan (called Mullah by British) who arrived in Berbera in 1895 and constructed his own mosque and began propagating. He was strongly against khat and chewing tobacco, both of which the Qadiriyya had permitted.[9] Amongst other disputes, he would come to debate the leading Qadiriyya sheikhs of Berbera including Aw Gaas and Xaaji Ibrahim Xirsi. Sheikh Madar, the leader of Somali Qadiriyya was invited to participate in 1897 and after rigorous discussion, the Qadiriyya tariqa had proved victorious and Mohamed Abdullah Hassan had been refuted. British authorities took note of the disturbance and turmoil and he was thus expelled from the city. The divisions were deep and both sides had accused the other of heresy, Hassan would go on to form the Dervish movement based on Salihiyya just two years after the debates partly in rebuke of the Qadiriyya status quo.[10]

In March 1899, one Duwaleh Hirsi a former member of the Somali Aden police then Mr Percy Cox's (former counsel-resident of Zeila and Berbera, 1893–1895) expedition guide in Somaliland allegedly stole a rifle and sold it to the tariqa at Kob Fardod. The vice-counsel at the coast, Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux, sent a letter to the mullahs at Kob Fardod demanding the return of the rifle. The letter was carried by a Somali mounted policeman named Ahmed Adan. Upon his return after the delivery of the letter, Cordeaux interviewed Adan, who provided the following information:

I knew many of the people there—some of them were relations of mine. My brother-in-law, Dualeh Aoreb, was there. I asked them if they had any rifles, they said they at first had only six, but had just received fifty-five from Hafoon. I saw two or three of the new lot, they are Martins(new). They told me they had one or two "14-shot rifles." I saw some Mullahs walking about with Sniders. The Sheikh himself and some of his Mullahs used to practice daily shooting at a target; they put up a shield against a tree. I used to talk with people every day. We talked about many things, some of the words they said were good and others were bad. They called me a Kafir, and laughed at my uniform, saying that I smelt, and asking me why I wore the Sircars clothes. There were hundreds of people there, some from every tribe, Dolbahanta, Habr Toljaala, and Habr Yunis.[11]

What is particularly revealing about Ahmed Adan's interview is the confusion that was caused by another letter carried by a Somali, supposedly also from the British administration at the coast. This second letter angered the mullahs at the Tariqa ;

"On the third day the Mullah sent for me. I had seen him before; he often used to come into the house. I went to him, and he said he would give me his reply to the letter I had brought; that he had just received another letter which had been brought by a Somali. He asked me about it, but I told him I knew nothing about it, and asked him who had brought it. He said, “A Somali.” A man named Salan had come in that day. I thought that he must have brought the letter. He then gave me a letter. It was written on the back of the letter I had brought him. I saw the Government stamp on it. He (the Sheikh) said, “This is the reply to your letter. I will give you the answer to the other letter to-morrow.” He said that the second letter contained “bad words.” Next morning he gave me two letters, and I then went away, and got into Berbera on Saturday night.”[11]

The second letter provoked the mullahs, the hostile tone in the reply is due to the offensive second letter carried by Salaan the Somali. Both replies; one regarding the rifle curt but relatively inoffensive and a second addressing the confusing insolent second letter are in the British record.[12]

The Dervish WarEdit

Aw Abdille Ibrahim was one of two chosen khusuusis to accompany the Sayid after the Fall of Taleh.

The news that sparked the Dervish rebellion and the 21 year disturbance according to the consul-general James Hayes Sadler was either spread or concocted by Sultan Nur of the Habr Yunis. The incident in question was that of a group of Somali children that were converted to Christianity and adopted by the French Catholic Mission at Berbera in 1899. Whether Sultan Nur experienced the incident first hand or whether he was told of it is not clear but what is known is that he propagated the incident in the Tariqa at Kob Fardod in June 1899.[13] In one of his letters to Sultan Deria in 1899, Sayyid Hassan said that the British "have destroyed our religion and made our children their children" alluding to Sultan Nur's incident with the Roman French Mission at Berbera. The Dervishes soon emerged as an opposition of the Christian activities, defending their version of Islam against the Christian mission.[14]

Risala lil-Bimal: Letter to the BimalEdit

There are only one people during the Dervish struggle the Sayyid extensively asked in a letter to join his struggle. Those were the Bimal clan. His letter to the Bimal was documented as the most extended exposition of his mind as a Muslim thinker and religious figure. The letter is till this day still preserved. It is said that the Bimal thanks to their size being numerically powerful, traditionally and religiously devoted fierce warriors and having possession of much resources have intrigued Mahamed Abdulle Hassan. But not only that the Bimal themselves mounted a extensive and major resistance against the Italians, especially in the first decade of the 19th century. The Italians carried many expeditions against the powerful Bimal to try and pacify them. Because of this the Bimal had all the reason to join the Dervish struggle and by doing so to win their support over the Sayyid wrote a detailed theological statement to put forward to the Bimal tribe who dominated the strategic Banaadir port of Merca and its surroundings.[15]

One of the Italian`s greatest fears was the spread of 'Dervishism' ( had come to mean revolt) in the south and the strong Bimaal tribe of Benadir whom already were at war with the Italians, while not following the religious message or adhering to the views of Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, understood greatly his goal and political tactics. The dervishes in this case were engaged in supplying arms to the Bimaal.[16] The Italians wanted to bring in an end to the Bimaal revolt and at all cost prevent a Bimal-Dervish alliance, which lead them to use the forces of Obbia and the Mijertein as prevention.[16]

Illustration of Mohamed Abdullah Hassan by da Rondini, from cover of Il Mullah del paese dei somali by Douglas Jardine[17]

Ethiopia, Britain and ItalyEdit

However, soon angered by his autocratic rule, Hussen Hirsi Dala Iljech' – a Mohammed Subeer chieftain – plotted to kill him. The news of the plot leaked to Hassan. He escaped but his maternal uncle, Aw 'Abbas, was killed. Some weeks later, Mohammed Subeer sent a peace delegation of 32 men to Hassan, but he had all the members of the delegation arrested and killed. Shocked by this, Mohammed Subeer sought the help of the Ethiopians and the Dervish withdrew to Nugaal.

Towards the end of 1900, Ethiopian Emperor Menelik proposed a joint action with the British against the Dervish. Accordingly, British Lt. Col. Eric John Eagles Swayne assembled a force of 1,500 Somali soldiers led by 21 European officers and started from Burco on 22 May 1901, while an Ethiopian army of 15,000 soldiers started from Harar to join the British forces intent on crushing the 20,000 Dervish fighters (of whom 40 percent were cavalry).

On 9 January 1904, at the Jidaale (Jidballi) plain, the British Commander, General Charles Egerton, killed 1,000 Dervish.[18] This defeat forced Sayyid and his remaining men to flee to Majeerteen country.

Around 1909, in a secret meeting under a big tree later nicknamed "Anjeel tale waa" ("The Tree of Bad Counsel"), about 400 Dervish followers decided to stop following the mullah upon receiving the expulsion letter from the head of the Tariqa, Sheikh Salah, excommunicating the mullah. Their departure weakened, demoralized and angered Sayyid, and it was at this juncture that he composed his poem entitled The Tree of Bad Counsel.

Fight against the QadiriyyaEdit

Despite leaving Berbera after being rebuked by the leading Sheikhs of the rival Qadiriyya school the enmity did not end. Heated poems would be exchanged between the Sayyid and prominent Sheikh Uways al-Barawi from Barawa, the leader of the 1908 Benadir revolt.[19]

Uways recited this qasida criticizing the Sayyid:[20]

صل على محمد واله واصرف بهم من كل سوء داهيه
من اقتدى محمدا بشرعه لا يقتدى جماعة الشيطانية
هم المبيحون دماء العلما والمال والحريم هم إباحيه
ويمنعون الدرس للعلوم كالفقه والنحو هم الكراميه
بكل شيخ مات كالجيلاني لا يتوسلون كالجناحيه
لا يقتدرون خلف من له شعر سيماهم التحليق كالوهابيه
ويشترون الجنة بمال في دارنا جهرا هم الكلابيه
ويختلون بالحريم للإجا زة كأمهم فذا سفاحيه
يتبعون رأيهم لا كتبنا ويدعون النور من بلاسيه
ويفعلون النكر في ذكرهم فعلا وقولا يقتضي كفرانيه
كاللعب قائلين أألله شكا به جلهم الشماليه
لهم ضجيج وأنين وحنيــــــــن وفحيح كالكلاب الناحيه
ويكثرون الحلف بالطلاق وينكرون الكلفة الالهيه
ضلوا وأضلوا العباد في الثرى برا وبحرا اي من السماليه
أليس ذو لب وفهم يغترر بهم ففر عنهم كالدواهيه

Give a prayer to Muhammad (Sayyid) and his family and turn, through them, from all evil calamities
The ones who has immitated Muhammad (Prophet Muhammad) through his law does not follow the faction of Satan
They are the justifiers of [spilling] the blood of the ulama and of wealth and women, they are libertines
They prohibit the study of sciences such as law and grammar, they are the repugnant

Through every Shaykh who has died such as Al-Jilani they do not seek petition, like the faction of sin
They do not follow behind the one who has locks of hair, their characteristic is to wear their hair like the Wahhabiyya
They trade paradise for cash publicly, in our land, they are a sect of dogs
They dally with women who come for license, like with their own mothers, and this is fornication

They follow their own opinions, not our books, and they claim to the light from the faction of Satan
And they practice denial at their dhikr, in word and action it requires blasphemy
Like their game of saying Is it God? - doubting him, the northern faction (dervishes) glorify them
They make a clamour, a wailing and groaning and howling like mournful dogs

And they frequently use the oath By the divorce and reject the ceremony of Allah
They have gone astray and make people go astray on earth by land and sea anyone from [among] the Somalis
Is it not the owner of reason and understanding deceived by them?
Then flee from them as from calamities

—Uways Al Barawi Qasida on Salihiyya

With a long response the Sayyid ended with these sharp words:

A word from the backsliding apostates (Qadiriyya)
Who have gone astray from the Prophet's way, the straight path
Why is the truth so plain, hidden from you?

This exchange would lead to takfir or accusations of apostasy from both men and the murder of Uways by the Dervish in 1909. This ironically proved Sheikh Uways' accusation that the Sayyid deemed it lawful to spill the blood of the learned. The Sayyid would mock Sheikh Uways death with a final poem Behold, at last, when we slew the old wizard, the rains began to come!".[21]


The Dervish fort / Dhulbahante garesa in Taleex

During 1909-1910, the dervish capital moved from Illig to Taleh in the heart of Nugal where the dervish built three garrison forts of massive stone work and a number of houses. He built a luxurious palace for himself and kept new guards drawn from outcast clans. By 1913, the dervish dominated the entire hinterland of the Somali peninsula building forts at Jildali and Mirashi, and at Werder in the Ogaden and Beledweyne in southern Somalia. On 9 August 1913, at the Battle of Dul Madoba, a Dervish force raided the Dolbahanta clan and killed or wounded 57 members of the 110-man Somaliland Camel Constabulary. The dead included the British officer who commanded the constabulary, Colonel Richard Corfield. Hassan memorialized this action in his poem simply entitled "The Death of Richard Corfield". In the same year, fourteen Dervishes infiltrated Berbera and fired few shots on its citizens fleeing, nonetheless causing panic. In 1914, the Somaliland Camel Corps was founded as an expanded and improved version of the constabulary.

A British force was gathering against the Dervishes when they were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. Among the British officers deployed was Adrian Carton de Wiart (later Lieutenant General), who lost an eye during the campaign, and Hastings Ismay, a staff officer who was later Winston Churchill's chief military adviser.


In the beginning of 1920, the British struck the Dervish settlements with a well-coordinated air and land attack and inflicted a stunning defeat. The forts of the dervishes were damaged and the army suffered great losses. They hastily fled to Ogaden. Here, again with the help of his patriotic poetry and charisma, he tried to rebuild his army and accomplish the coalition of Ogaden clans, which made him a power in the land once again.


On 21 December 1920, Hassan died of influenza at the age of 64, his grave is believed to be somewhere close to Imi town of the Somali Region of Ethiopia; however, the exact spot of the Sayid's grave is unknown. In mid 2009, the Somali Regional State administration announced that they would exhume his remains and rebury them in his old castle at Imi.[22] Most of the people who knew the exact location of Hassan's tomb were long dead, but the Regional Information Minister Guled Casowe told VOA Somali Section that a few, very old individuals might be left and they would be able to reveal the details of Hassan's grave. Remains were found in a graveyard at Gindhir and the Somali Region of Ethiopia then tried to test the DNA to determine whether they could be those of Sayid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan.[23]


The efforts and fervor of the erstwhile Anti-colonial leader of the Somali Dervish movement, who by the time of his death had reclaimed and united large swathes of the lands historically territorial to the Somali peoples, to this day inspires and mobilizes the autochthonous peoples of Somalia to form a consolidated bulwark against imperialism (namely that of Ethiopia) as captured in the struggles of the Islamic Courts Union,[citation needed] the Ogaden National Liberation Front,[citation needed] and the former Western Somali Liberation Front.[24] Hassan has thus become more than just a token of pride for the various sectional groups in Somalia, but has also been seen by some as icon of Pan-Somalism, at times even distinguished as one of the great revolutionaries of the turn of the 20th century by notable Pan-Africanist movements,[25] who led the Senussid resistance against the Italians. Hassan's reputation thus transcends the very borders he sought to liberate from foreign rule and domination, the very essence of the Pan-Africanist movement.[26]

In the Haud region, there is a monument marking Hassan's place of birth called Sacmadeeqa.[27]


In popular cultureEdit

  • The documentary film The Parching Winds of Somalia includes a section on the Dervish struggle and its leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan.
  • The historic romance novel Ignorance is the Enemy of Love by Farah Mohamed Jama Awl has a Dervish protagonist called Calimaax, who is part of an ill-fated love story and fights against the British, Italians and Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa.
  • A 1983, film entitled A Somali Dervish was directed by Abdulkadir Ahmed Said.
  • In the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Loyalty", references are made to the Dervishes and their leader. The episode also features a character purported to have been descended from Muhammad Abdullah Hassan.
  • In 1985, a 4-hour and 40 minute Indian-produced epic film by filmmaker Salah Ahmed entitled the Somalia Dervishes went into production. With a budget of $1.8 million, it included an actual descendant of Hassan as its star, and featured hundreds of actors and extras.[28]
  • In the popular comic book series Corto Maltese, the protagonist travels to the Horn of Africa during the Dervishes' battle against the British, and witnesses the former power storm a British fort. During these travels, he develops a long-term friendship with a Dervish warrior named Cush, who subsequently features in several other of Corto's adventures around the world.


Some poems by the Sayid include:[29]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Abbink, GJ (2003). Dervishes,'moryaan'and freedom fighters: cycles of rebellion and the fragmentation of Somali society, 1900-2000. p. 38. formally declared by Sayyid Mohammed 'Abdulle Hassan (1864-1920), (abbreviated as MAH)
  2. ^ Abdi, Abdi Abdulqadir Sheik. "Divine madness: Mohammed Abdulle Hassan (1856–1920)." (1993).
  3. ^ Sheik-Abdi, Abdi. "Somali nationalism: Its origins and future." The Journal of Modern African Studies 15.4 (1977): 657-665.
  4. ^ Journal of the African Society, Volume 19. African Society. 1920. p. 222. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  5. ^ Samatar, Said S. "Genius as madness: King Tewodros of Ethiopia and Sayyid Muhammad of Somalia in comparative perspective." Northeast African Studies 10.3 (2003): 27-32.
  6. ^ Abbink, G. J. "Dervishes,'moryaan'and freedom fighters: cycles of rebellion and the fragmentation of Somali society, 1900-2000." African dynamics (2003): 38.
  7. ^ Empires at War: 1911-1923, edited by Robert Gerwarth, Erez Manela,p 48
  8. ^ Irons, Roy (2013-11-04). Churchill and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland: Betrayal and Redemption 1899-1921. Pen and Sword. p. 21. ISBN 9781783463800.
  9. ^ Abdullahi (Badiyow), Abdurahman (2015). THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT IN SOMALIA. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. p. 71. ISBN 9781912234035.
  10. ^ Abdullahi (Badiyow), Abdurahman (2015). THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT IN SOMALIA. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. p. 72. ISBN 9781912234035.
  11. ^ a b Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI, New Delhi.In closure 5 in No. 1. Statement by Ahmed Adan, Camel Sowar
  12. ^ Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI,New Delhi, Inclosure 2 in No. 1. And inclosure 3 in No. 1.
  13. ^ F.O.78/5031,Sayyid Mohamad To The Aidagalla, Enclosed Sadler To Salisbury. 69, 20 August 1899.
  14. ^ J. D. Fage, A. D. Roberts, Roland Anthony Oliver (eds.) (1986). The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7. Cambridge University Press. p. 196. ISBN 0521225051. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Samatar, Said S. (1992). In the Shadow of Conquest: Islam in Colonial Northeast Africa. The Red Sea Press. ISBN 978-0-932415-70-7.
  16. ^ a b Hess, Robert L. (1964-01-01). "The 'Mad Mullah' and Northern Somalia". The Journal of African History. 5 (3): 415–433, page 422. doi:10.1017/s0021853700005107. JSTOR 179976. S2CID 162991126.
  17. ^ "Bibliografia Ost-Afrika: un archivio bibliografico e documentario sull'Africa Orientale". UNIFI. Retrieved 25 February 2018. Copertina ill. da Rondini
  18. ^ "1,000 Dervishes slain; British Rout the "Mad" Mullah's Forces in Somaliland". New York Times. 12 January 1903. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  19. ^ Abdullahi (Badiyow), Abdurahman (2015). THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT IN SOMALIA. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. p. 73. ISBN 9781912234035.
  20. ^ Reese, Scott S. (2001). "The Best of Guides: Sufi Poetry and Alternate Discourses of Reform in Early Twentieth-Century Somalia". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 14 (1 Islamic Religious Poetry in Africa): 49–68. doi:10.1080/136968101750333969. JSTOR 3181395. S2CID 162001423.
  21. ^ Abdullahi (Badiyow), Abdurahman (2015). THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT IN SOMALIA. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. p. 74. ISBN 9781912234035.
  22. ^ Honouring Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, By Mohamed Bakayr Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ "Guled Asowe: We are Searching The Burial Place of Sayid Mohamed.", VOA, 02 January 2010 (accessed 18 January 2011)
  24. ^ "History of Somalia".
  25. ^ Sons of the soil, the Mad Mullah by Pan-African Renaissance, February 5th, 2017
  26. ^
  27. ^ Njoku, Raphael Chijioke (November 22, 2013). The History of Somalia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313378577 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ Exploits of Somalia's national hero becomes basis for movieKentucky New Era
  29. ^ Diiwaanka gabayadii, 1856-1921 - Maxamad Cabdulle Xasan · 1999 , PAGE 26
  30. ^ notes on Dervish personalities. ISMAY: 3/1/22.1919


  • Abdisalam Issa-Salwe, The Failure of The Daraawiish State, The Clash Between Somali Clanship and State System, paper presented at the 5th International Congress of Somali Studies, December 1993 [1]
  • Abdi Sheik Abdi, Divine Madness: Mohammed Abdulle Hassan (1856–1920), Zed Books Ltd., London, 1993
  • Battersby, Henry Francis Prevost. Richard Corfield of Somaliland (1914), ASIN: B000WFUQT8.
  • Jaamac Cumar Ciise, Taariikhdii Daraawiishta iyo Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan, (1895–1921), Wasaaradda Hiddaha iyo Tacliinta Sare, edited by Akadeemiyaha Dhaqanka, Mogadishu, 1976.
  • Jardine, Douglas J., The Mad Mullah of Somaliland, H. Jenkins, 1923.
  • McNeill, Malcolm, In Pursuit of the 'Mad' Mullah, 1902.
  • Said S. Samatar, Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: The Case of Sayyid Mahammad Abdille Hasan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982 (analyzes Mahammad Abdille's poetry and assesses his nationalist and literary contributions to the Somali heritage)
  • Silberman, Leo. "The 'mad' Mullah: Hero Of Somali Nationalism." History Today (Aug 1960) 10#8 pp 523-534.
  • Skoulding, F.A. With 'Z' Unit in Somaliland, RAF Quarterly 2, no.3, (July 1931), pp. 387–396.
  • Swayne, H.G.C., Seventeen Trips through Somaliland and a visit to Abyssinia: With Supplementary preface on the 'Mad Mullah' risings, 1903.