The word “harbi” is an Arabic word meaning “military”.
Ali Harbi Ali, a young British Muslim man from an elite Somali political family, was charged in London last week with having carried out a murder on 15 October. He is charged with having made a journey of 241km from his home in London in order to stab to death a devout Christian white British MP, Sir David Amess, while the MP was listening to the needs of his constituents in a Christian church. Harbi Ali sat waiting patiently for the police to arrest him.
In so far as a largely Somali-based Muslim jihad has extended south into Kenya and now further down to Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, this murder of an elderly MP in an English coastal resort is also an African issue. Have no doubt, the Harbi Ali case will have a jihad-type political resonance throughout east, central, west and southern Africa. For South Africa, it is an issue for its next-door neighbour.
Given his Somali heritage, it is not possible to separate the trial of Harbi Ali from the history of East Africa, just as this history cannot be separated from Islam. The reality is that the slave hunt by Arab Muslims for black Africans began in Mozambique only 300 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and at least 700 years before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Western Cape.
Mozambique received its name from the East African Arab slave trade, when Mussa bin Bique based himself on the island of Mozambique more than 500 years ago, well before the Christian Portuguese colonised the island and the region, with their own Atlantic slave trade to follow. The Wikipedia entry for Mussa Bin Bique reads as follows:
“Mussa Bin Bique (Arabic: موسى بن بيك), other names Musa Al Big or Mossa Al Bique or Mussa Ben Mbiki or Mussa Ibn Malik, was ruler of the Island of Mozambique and wealthy merchant, before the Portuguese overtook the island in 1544.”
Islam in Mozambique has a history that goes back to at least the tenth century. The records show that the region was known and well frequented by Muslim travellers and traders. Mussa Bin Bique was considered to be a sheikh, i.e. a person with authority in Islamic knowledge. The name of the island, and subsequently the entire African nation of Mozambique, was derived from his name. With Islam came literacy in the fields of poetry, history, commercial transactions, and other literary genres. By the middle of the fifteenth century, permanent and flourishing commercial and religious sultanates had been established along the coast and some had penetrated up the Zambezi.
As colonial history is erased from many landmarks and regional names, there is a university in Maputo bearing the name of Mozambique’s ruler Mussa Bin Bique called Mussa Bin Bique University, established in 1998.
For nearly everyone in South Africa, this is a subject that has been totally excluded from the teaching of history in schools. Across the continent, it was a subject entirely censored from the politics of national liberation as well as of Pan-Africanism, not least in Mozambique itself, where the overwhelming majority of people do not know the historic meaning of their country’s name. The name of the slave trader Mussa bin Bique is even in the name of Mozambique’s governing political party of the past 46 years, Frelimo, short for Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, the Portuguese for “Liberation Front of Mozambique”, as well as of Renamo, Frelimo’s antagonist in the country’s previous civil wars.
In the same way, this is an Africa-wide subject that is excluded from the one-dimensional discourse of Black Lives Matter, just as in this October’s Black History Month in the United Kingdom – the month of the murder of an MP in a church. It is one of the most crucial issues for black people globally in the 21st century.
Watch this case. Follow the news. Read the history. DM