Sayyid Abdullah Hassan

Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (born 1856, Somalia, died 1920, Ogaden) was Somalia's religious and nationalist leader (called the ‘Mad Mullah’ by the British). For 20 years he led armed resistance against British, Italian, and Ethiopian colonialist forces in Somalia. He was the eldest son of Sheikh Abdille, a religious Ogaden Somali.

Hassan's hero was his maternal grandfather, Sade Mogan, who was a great warrior chief. In addition to being a good horseman, by 11, Hassan had learned the entire Qur'an by heart. In 1875, he worked as a Qur'anic teacher. He then devoted 10 years to visiting centres of Islamic learning in Somalia and Sudan. In 1891 he married and in 1894, he went on Hajj. He stayed in Makkah for a year and half and joined the Saalihiya suffi order. In 1895, he returned to Somalia. By then the Ethiopians were plundering and occupying Somali Ogaden. Somalia came under rule of several countries including UK, Italy and Ethiopia.

In 1897, fearing Christian influence he started preaching religious reform. Hassan got weapons from Turkey, Sudan, and other Muslim countries. He appointed ministers in different areas of Somalia and sent emissaries appealing for Somalis to join his movement. In 1900 Hassan attacked the Ethiopian garrison at Jijiga successfully. He then raided British areas. From 1901-1904, the Dervish army inflicted heavy losses on Ethiopian, British and Italian forces. By 1913, Hassen ruled the entire hinterland of the Somali peninsula.

In 1920, the British struck Hassan’s settlements with a air and land attack and inflicted defeats. Hassan’s army fled to Ogaden. Here he tried to rebuild. He refused a British subsidy peace deal. Then smallpox and rinderpest broke out in Ogaden and half of Hassan’s forces died. A tribal raid under Somalis armed by the British killed the remaining Dervish but failed to catch Hassan. Along with some followers, he escaped to Arsi Oromo in Ethiopia where he tried to stabilize his position.

In 1920, Hassan died of influenza at the age of 64.