Religious Roles in Somali Islam
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.