“I have no forts, no houses, no country. I have no cultivated fields, no silver or gold for you to take — all you can get from me is war, nothing else. I have met your men in battle and have killed them. We are greatly pleased about this. Our men who have fallen in battle have won paradise…”
Those were the words of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, a Somali religious and nationalist leader who for 20 years became notorious for leading armed resistance to the British, Italian, and Ethiopian colonial forces in Somaliland.
Hassan is seen as the forerunner of the modern Somali state due to his active resistance to the British and the vision he had of a Somalia united in a Muslim brotherhood.
Born in 1856, Hassan studied under local religious scholars and perfected the holy book Quran. He undertook the Hajj and studied under Mohammed Salih in Mecca in the 1890s.
Hassan came back to Somalia from Mecca in 1895, and soon after began urging his people to expel the British and Italian forces and their missionaries.
He further called for a strict observance by all Somalis of the Islamic faith.
Through this and his patriotic poetries and charisma, Hassan commonly referred to as Sayyid attracted a large following who became known as the Dervishes.
At the time, Britain and its allies felt that Hassan’s rejection of colonialism confirmed he was mad, so they branded him the “Mad Mullah.”
After creating allies with other Somali clans and acquiring weapons from regional regimes, the Mad Mullah led his followers to battle the superpowers.
In 1899 he declared a holy war (jihad) on the colonial powers and their Somali collaborators.
Four major British, Ethiopian, and Italian expeditions were later made against Hassan between 1900 and 1904.
By 1905, Hassan was forced to conclude a ceasefire, and he, together with his followers, constructed a small theocratic state in the Italian protectorate.
But three years later, he started his holy war again and achieved a major victory at Dulmadobe in 1913.
The Dervish settlements were however bombed by the British at the beginning of 1920, and Hassan fled to Ogaden, where he died of Influenza.
The Dervish revolt came to an end after his death.