By David Ochami
Just as in life, radicalism and controversy was evident in slain Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo’s burial rites.
Minutes after he was killed, his militant supporters seized his body from the police for immediate burial. They carried the body shoulder high to the Masjid Musa Mosque in Majengo, Mombasa, and later conducted the burial with the bloodied clothes intact without prayers.
Under traditional Muslim rites, the body should have been washed and wrapped in a shawl and buried after prayers, steps that were left out ending a complicated life of controversy.
“We buried him with his clothes and the blood stains because he is still living with us,” said Sheikh Abubakar Ahmed, Rogo’s co-accused in terror charges.
“We consider him a martyr or shahid who died in course of jihad and the burial had to be like that,” said Ahmed on Tuesday.
Still on Tuesday, the body of Abdul Aziz, a prison officer at Shimo la Tewa who was killed in a grenade attack at Beersheba in Kisauni during the riots was also buried at a cemetery as per Muslim burial rites.
In life, Sheikh Rogo would have declared people like Aziz an apostate undeserving of Muslim burial rites and ceremonies. In his logic, which popularised after his arrival in Mombasa from Siyu in 1989, Aziz could not be considered a Muslim for joining Kenya’s security forces. In a speech delivered after April’s bomb attacks against a church in Mtwapa, Rogo proclaimed that “in this country we (Muslims) live among infidels” and Muslims serving in the security services are infidels.
“There is no difference between Mohamed and John if they are both serving in the armed forces,” he said at the Masjid Musa.
Sheikh Rogo’s complex and hate rhetoric was as extreme as it was ludicrous. He claimed to have great knowledge of Arabic texts, Islamic history and global history and events, which he easily weaved into a compelling torrent of oratory that gripped the imagination of followers.
His sermons included tirades against the media, the US, Kenya government, other preachers and also rejection of formal learning.
After dropping from school, he concentrated on Islamic studies joining an intermediate Islamic school in Kisauni where he majored in Tafsir (translation) and Arabic language. His first confrontation with the secular world was in 1989 when he publicly opposed the expulsion of Tanzania Islamist priests from Mombasa by the government.
“This angered him gravely,” says a friend adding: “Sheikh Rogo lamented for days about this incident.” In 1992, Rogo joined the Islamic Party of Kenya and run for civic post in Bondeni ward and failed, thereafter he lost interest in politics.
Early this year, he disclosed that joining politics was a transgression he regretted because “Muslims should not aspire to join politics or become civil servants in a secular setting.”
Sheikh Rogo’s logic exposed an obsession with death and jihad but also twisted feats of conspiracy theory and intimidation of those with divergent views. Critics considered him paranoid, arrogant and even double agent.
He would work his supporters into frenzy and also opposed any inter-religious dialogue.
He admonished Muslims for holding only superficial knowledge of the religion’s doctrine declaring: “Most Muslims in East Africa do not understand Islam. They only know the pillars of Islam but not the substance.” He said Muslims live in poverty and ghettoes as a divine retribution for abandoning authentic teachings and obligations, which according to him, include the duty to wage war against infidels, “false religions” and apostates.
Two days after the attack on a church in Mtwapa, the vocal Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (issued a statement through its Secretary General Sheikh Khalifa condemning the bombing.
“Any place of worship is place of peace and should not be destroyed be it a church, synagogue or mosque,” said Sheikh Khalifa. Sheikh Rogo considered this a heretical view claiming that Christianity is a false religion.
On July 6, days after a terror attack on churches in Garissa where 17 people were killed including a Muslim policeman, Sheikh Rogo declared the killing as “a just retribution” for what he considered desecration of Muslim lands by Christians.
He cherished to die in war and said this in a speech: “Every Muslim should do everything to lose their lives, wealth and whatever they can for the sake of Allah.” He gave the example of Prophet Mohamed who “lost seven teeth in the Battle of Uhud” to support his argument.
In justifying the role of violence, Sheikh Rogo claimed that the phrase “Islam is a religion of peace” has been manipulated to bully Muslims to submission and claimed its correct interpretation should be to compel Muslims to wage war to thwart unbelievers.
“When you say Islam is the religion of peace it means it will depend on weapons to defend itself. Islam is not supposed to be weak and be patronized [because] without the sword, Islam will not stand.”
Majority Muslim preachers in the Coast would think otherwise. Although no Muslim cleric is willing to declare the late Sheikh Rogo a heretic, in private, most of scholars in Mombasa say his teachings were a heresy of mainstream Muslim belief and thought. After listening and analyzing some of Sheikh Rogo’s fiery sermons delivered this year in Nyeri and Mombasa it is clear he was a divisive figure.
Save for politician Hassan Omar, most Muslim preachers and scholars refused to be interviewed for this article an indication of either shaky theological grounding, vested interests or mortal fear of the radical cleric’s militant followers.
According to Omar, Sheikh Rogo was not popular with Islamic scholars due to his radical preaching and many opposed his sermons but after his murder are eager to go quiet to stem a backlash. Rogo was considered an internationalist who disbelieved in national borders and aspired for an Islamic caliphate.
In a speech delivered in Nyeri on April 12, Rogo considered Somalia to be the seedbed of jihad in Africa and Asia proclaiming that “Islam shall prevail in Somalia and the whole of Africa” urging al Muslims to “ go to all places where people have taken up arms in support of Islam and join them.”
This obsession caused him to oppose Kenya’s military intervention against Al Shabaab in Somalia and declare Muslims serving in the Kenya Defence Forces as apostates.
Omar says Sheikh Rogo’s belief in jihad “upset many Islamic leaders” but adds that despite misgivings, the deceased wielded immense influence for talking about historical and contemporary issues affecting Muslims without fear. He believes that Sheikh Rogo developed radical views after his first stint in jail on charges of plotting attacks against Israeli properties in Mombasa and Kilifi.
According to Omar, Rogo believed there was a conspiracy against him and that evidence in that and subsequent court cases was fabricated.