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



In October 16th, 2011, I flew out of Nairobi, to Cairo where I wanted to spend some time studying Arabic. My thought was I’d spend a year there and return to Kenya. But I never did. Despite wanting to return, fateful events hampered my return to Kenya and after 15 months in Egypt, I flew out to Sweden, my birth country that I had left in 2005.

If you squint and look past all the cars and skyscrapers, you should be able to see the huts and kids with kwashiorkor and lions running about.



I’ve been unable to write about Kenya. I have half a dozen drafts of blog posts I started but couldn’t finish.Writing about Kenya forces me to realize that I will never go back. I might go back as a tourist, one day, but I’ll never go back to the country that shaped me. As I write this, emotions and memories that were locked up for so long, rush to the surface of my consciousness, gasping for air. The realization of my loss weighs like a heavy rock in my heart. I’m mourning.

It’s been well over 3 years since I left the home that housed my soul. The recent massacre of 147 people in Garissa University, Kenya, reverberated so deeply in my being that it rattled the box where I had locked everything that Kenya was to me. For the past three days, I’ve been unable to speak about the horror, to read the news. If I’d come across updates on social media, I’d quickly scroll past them.

My best friends are in Kenya. Though I say I’m Somali when asked of my ethnicity, Kenya will forever be my home of my roots. When it was announced that Trevor Noah was going to succeed Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, I was so elated because I felt an affinity for Noah; an affinity I feel for everyone from the continent. If I come across anyone from Africa – West, Southern, East ( especially East) – doesn’t matter- I feel a rush of excitement, as if I’ve reunited with a long lost friend. I speak a mixture of Swahili and English with my siblings, at home.My most painful memories were forged in Eastleigh. My happiest moments were spent in Jamia Mosque and The Book Villa on Moi Avenue. One of my scariest moments was when I had to walk from Pipeline in Embakasi to Tassia at night, in the pouring rain because the stupid matatu driver decided pipeline was the last stop because he wanted to return to Tao via Mombasa road to make a killing. When it rains in Kenya, people act like vampires running away from the daylight, and you’d hardly find a matatu to ride  and even if you did find, the prices would hike up to 300% at times.

What I saw in my 6 years, what I experience,felt,learnt,recovered from – I died over and over again, the four walls in my room upstairs are a witness to that.

It is said humans originated from Africa; but  I returned to my origins, in Africa. Raw life experiences peeled back my artificial, glossed over 16 year old self, until I was fully exposed. Under the walls and layers and everything I was told I had to be, was the 6 year old authentic Mulki. But Mama Afrika was ever so gentle and comforting as I was undergoing painful extractions of my false parts. Mama Afrika was like the cocoon that held me, imprisoned me, suffocated me, shielded me, supported me as I was metamorphosing from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Now that I’ve finally opened the box…I’ll collect all the memories, the untold stories, and preserve them in writing.

I didn’t lose Kenya when I left it, but by suppressing the memories, I deprived myself of the richest years of my life.

The pain and discomfort I felt at the onset of writing this, have dissipated and the heaviness I felt has strengthened my heart. I finally accept that my time and purpose in Kenya is over, but my experiences will forever be with me. It’s time to write this story.



The Art of Being

Dedicated to Rachel.

Entitlement. I didn’t quite understand the true connotations of this word. I wasn’t a spoilt brat and I knew to finish the food on my plate. I knew about the faceless poor in Africa and sent them a thought of consideration when prompted. I loathed the rich and entitled snobs who treated money like mere paper and throwing  it about like confetti. I felt that was being entitled and I felt like a good person for disliking that trait; surely that made me grateful,no?

When I moved to Kenya with my family, the inner struggle to adapt that ensued gave a resounding no as answer to the aforementioned,what I thought was, rhetorical question. No, you’re not grateful, no, you’re not a good person by merely disliking snobs.

I spent the better part of the first two years fighting my new world. I hated it. I hated it. I didn’t unpack my bags because that’d mean I’d have to unpack my mind. My mind was still huddling in the corner of my old room back in Sweden because it refused to stretch to fit this new reality. I wanted to recreate the utopia I lived in and I was going to do that by criticizing anything that was subpar. The unpaved roads,the erratic routine of the matatus, the lack of public libraries! I viewed Kenya like a tracing paper; I desperately wanted to copy my old world onto this and how disgruntled I became when it refused to follow suit!

Somewhere between the second and third year my adoptive country took on a different hue in my eyes. I stopped tracing it after Sweden and I started to view it as a whole on its own. I broke down the monolith into neighbours,classmates,fellow commuters. I started acquainting myself with our housekeepers and was appalled to learn that they had to walk for an hour to get to our house at 7.30 a.m. each morning. That was two hours spent each day on the road to feed their families with the saved busfare. As I learnt more about the struggles – or rather, what I perceived as struggles- of the Kenyan people I also noticed a discrepancy; they weren’t disgruntled. They seemed content with life as it was. I’d say they seemed even more content than the faces I grew up seeing around me.

At first, it seemed paradoxical ; that the very people I grew up learning gratitude from were more grateful than me and my likes, even though we possessed more. But life is often paradoxical, the way a reflection in the mirror is vertically flipped, but not really. When I removed my convictions and stance from the lens through which I was viewing this new world, I saw things very clearly.

The poor are not born with a silver spoon in their mouths nor do they grow up entertaining endless possibilities by virtue of a family with many gateways towards higher levels. Not necessarily money, but connections and property.

Everything they have, the little they own they achieved through sweat and blistered feet. Because they never hold expectations, they never feel entitled. Hardships are a permanent fixture to life, like the chilling winters or hot summers. It’s not something that fazes them because it just is. Every little reprieve is welcomed with open arms and every achievement is seen as a blessing. Because abundance is not a common thing, their energy goes more towards being. Being ; optimistic, relentless, determined, respectful. Grateful for just living.

I had my hands full, so I never discovered the palms of my hands. I was too distracted by frivolous expectations and self-important entitlements to reflect on what wasn’t. I was simply too busy having things to just be. Kenya taught me to see my jagged edges in the potholes, and to see my emotional thirst in the frequent water shortages. It removed all distractions and acted like a mirror; wherever I turned there I was.

And FYI;  I wasn’t really disliking the snobs; I was jealous. 

African comedy

Anne Kansiime is a well-known comedienne from Uganda . Having lived in Kenya for years, I resonate with the East African humour and culture. She never fails to have me in stitches!!

Kenyan English

I lived in Kenya for six years, from 2005-2011, and one of the things that I loved about the country was the Kenyan accent and the direct translation of Swahili to English. I tried to remember the funny phrasing as below with the probable Swahili  source, and it had me and my sister in stitches! We reminisced about when we were new to the country and struggling to understand the patois of the people who hailed from the villages but worked in Nairobi. English is the official language but is usually only spoken by upper-middle to upper class Kenyans who’ve completed their secondary – and often tertiary- education.


[ Nasikia njaa/ Nasikia baridi] I hear hunger/ I hear cold –  I feel hungry/ I feel cold

[ Ukona miaka mingapi?] How many years do you have – How old are you

[ Una kaa wapi?] Where do you pack/ where do you stay – Where do you live

[ Chapa stories] Beat stories – Tell stories

[ Chukua breakfast] Take breakfast – Eat breakfast

[ Wewe ni dini gani] What religion are you – What religion do you follow

[ Fanya haraka] Do faster – Hurry up

[ Hata mimi] Even me – Me too

On the light – Turn on the light

[ Imekataa kufanya] It has refused – It’s not working

[ Naweza sikia kizungu kidogo] I can hear some English – I understand a bit of English

[ Unakaa smart ] You look too smart – You look good

[ Umenimaliza!] You’ve finished me – You made me laugh

I’m alighting the matatu right now – I’m getting off the bus right now

My names are – My name is

[ Akona roho safi] He has a clean heart – He is kind-hearted



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