The curious case of cognitive dissonance

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin”

[an-Nisa’ 4:135].

I cannot stand bigotry thinly veiled as activism. When I see someone who is otherwise vocal on matters close at heart, clam up in regards issues that clash with personal interests due to cognitive dissonance,that person loses the last shred of credibility they had and I can’t help but feel disdain.

I’m not saying that everyone should be the devil’s advocate and always be anal retentive in their opinions. I understand that it’s not easy and everyone has a right to their opinion, even if it isn’t the honest to god truth.

The people I’m talking about are those who purport to be champions of the truth and are very vocal about ‘the truth’ unless it comes to matters of personal interests. If you can’t hold up yourself to the truth at all times and tolerate the cognitive dissonance that arises in you when you have the truth on one hand and your interests on the other, SIT DOWN! Don’t fool yourself or others by thinking that you are fighting injustice. Fight the injustice in yourself first!

I was in Kenya when the al-shabaab first entered the scene in Somalia, right after the Islamic Courts. What people don’t know is that the reason for the exponential growth of al-shabaab in the years 2006/7-2009/10 is that they were initially endorsed by two well-known and respected Somali scholars;

Umal and Shibile.



Now you’re probably thinking, hey hold on a minute, those are our esteemed scholars, don’t say anything bad about them. Well, that’s the kind of unwavering loyalty that duped many people.

You see, it’s not a secret that Umal was an avid supporter of the shabaab and because of his star power, many Somalis fell for this and the shabaab managed to gain stability amongst the Somali community before the tide turned.

This isn’t some kutiri kuteen, I actually witnessed and investigated this. I heard Umal making takfir on Cabdullaahi Yusuf, saying he’s an apostate and deserves to be killed.

But right around the time the shabab showed their true lunatic colours and started the suicide bombings, popular opinion turned. People lost their father, their aunt, their uncle, their husband, their child to these savages, and they realized that this wasn’t what it seemed like in the beginning.

Because of the public furore, Umal and Shibile quickly switched gears and started condemning these attacks, but they never for once admitted the key roles they played or recanted from the years of public support that opened the gates for the shabaab.

My friend’s dad who is a graduate of Madinah University, personally confronted Umal and told him to speak out on certain issues that went on at the time. His response was baffling. Said he ‘ Oh, I can’t. They won’t listen to me. You take the mic, you tell them.’ Now, mind you he was the imaam of Abu Bakr Masjid in Eastleigh, which was one of the biggest masajid at the time and the most established. I lost all respect for him. He refused to recant and admit his mistakes because he feared he’d lose credibility and be criticized. That’s not standing for justice, that’s standing for personal interests.

Right around that time, 2008/9, another key figure arose; Xassaan. I personally knew him the year before his rise to notoriety, and no one knew who this guy was. All of a sudden he was touted to some scholar, and he started giving out lectures and hold lessons. Xassaan and Umal are actually closely related, so it came as a surprise when they had a public fallout. Umal and Shibile had allegedly gone to Ethiopia to sign some agreement with the Sharif administration, and Xassaan wrote a public letter slamming these two for betraying their beliefs.

Soon after, Xassaan rose to the self-appointed position of being the al-Shabaab spokesperson and he managed to sway countless of young men in Kenya to join the Shabaab. He’s the most hardcore psychopath I’ve ever seen, but one thing I had to give him credit for is that no matter how the public went against him and he became unpopular, he never compromised his convictions and did not hide like Umal or Shibile did.

For this I respected him. I respected his unapologetic psychopathy. Better the devil you know.

The Somali people gave their unwavering loyalty to these religious men, thinking that they would uphold the truth at all times, and instead they were duped .

I personally know of a certain sheikh who urged his wife to register as a single parent so as to get benefits, and his reasoning was ‘ how am I to make da’wah if I spend my time working for the family?’. Now, I won’t mention his name because this is something he did in private, and it’s between him and Allaah, but I mention this to encourage critical thinking. Many a times people are turned away from Islam because they think that it’s monopolized by the likes of these men, and that the only legitimate deen is that which is endorsed by these public figures.

If you’re going to stand for the truth, be prepared to go down a lonely path.


Follow the path of guidance, and do not worry about how few are the people who follow it. Beware of the paths of misguidance, and do not be deceived by the large numbers of those who are doomed.

Al-Fudayl ibn Iyaadh


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