Tol Leadership Council: Education and Training

Education and Training
This is the first of a number of educational essays that the The Education[1], Culture, and Training Subcommittee of the Tol Leadership Council (TLC) will present for a broader readership. All the essays will reflect the core philosophy of the TLC which defines the concept of Tol (kinship) as a positive, cohesive, inclusive and compassionate social structure over that of Qabiil (tribe) which it views as negative, exclusionist and the root cause of internal fissures and hatred for others.

TOL Organization and Tribal Affiliation:
A Brief Conceptual Reflection
Prepared by:
The Education[1], Culture, and Training
Subcommittee of the Tol Leadership Council (TLC)[2]
I. Introduction

The concepts of kinship (tol) and clan or tribe (qabiil) share the general characteristic that they both refer to primordial forms of social identity in human civilizations. However, they have diametrically different implications in today’s world which is characterized by national states and the complex phenomena of universalism and globalization that had brought together various and hitherto scattered and often warring tribes or clans.

In contemporary sociological and anthropological literature, the definition of tribe varies widely and with conflicting identifications ranging from common language, common culture, same ancestral lineages, or common rulers. It implies a collection of individuals who are joined together by the factor of territory, blood, language, culture or history. However, the generic meaning of tribe in strictly genealogical perspective is an in-word identification of someone through an exclusive and male-based claim of assumed common ancestorship. What norms and rules accompany this way of being in the world is,primarily subject to the particular interests prescribed by the clan. In contrast, tol or tolnimo, in its literal meaning, conveys cohesion, construction, knitting, or joining things or individuals together etc. In its customary usage, tol implies rectitude, compassion, unity against injustice and against external aggression, and civic belonging beyond the immediate kin. Ibn Khaldun (1967) described this social cohesion assabiya (communal solidarity) as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history. According to him `asabiyyah is neither necessarily nomadic nor based on blood relations. In the modern period, the term is generally analogous to solidarity. Tolnimo, in fact, could form the guiding ideal for the moral bonds of membership and leadership that are the basis for the principal of community (Selznick 1992; 2001). Thus, though tribe and tol have common primordial roots in traditional sense, they are very different in the conceptual imagination and, most significantly, in practical application.
In his keynote address during the pioneering Tol convocation held in Minneapolis in April, 2010, Professor Ahmed I. Samatar laid out the cardinal distinction between tribal mentality and that associated with kinship or more specifically tolnimo in its Somali roots.

He asserted this: “The first (clansim), connotes what Somalis would call qabiil and, thus, is motivated by small-mindedness and the ‘Othering’ of those who don’t belong to the assumed male-centered genealogical tree; the latter is grounded on the concept of tol that, to be sure, acknowledges primordial ties but, more importantly, stresses the following: optimum protection of individual and communal welfare, and meeting of obligations to other communities (from the intimate neighbor to the most geographically distant of the Somali people) in a larger context of peace, social justice and generosity….In short, qabiil is always negative, if not degenerative, and lends itself to internal fissures and hate for the non-member. Tol, on the other hand, is elastic and, therefore, conducive to group solidarity yet always linked to deep empathy for strangers. We believe such a perspective transforms the way many contemporary Somalis relate to each other and, thus, bodes well for engagements that enrich constructive pluralism.“

II. TOL and Tribe in Social Relations

With regard to tol and tribe, we draw out basic differences between these two notions in the following traditional institutions: kinship or blood related family; territorial relations of neighborhood; and communal relations sharing worldly interests and cultural values

A. kinship or blood related family

The nucleus and fundamental institution of human society is the family unit. After this limited circle, the next social sphere is that of kinship and blood relationship. Kinship according to Encyclopedia Britannica ‘is the broad-ranging term for all the relationships that people are born into or create later in life and that are considered binding in the eyes of their society’. It is the expansion of family that produces ties of kinship, relatives and community, which, in turn, gradually develop further associational life. The family and relatives serve as the most important instrument of social continuity in knitting human relations horizontally and vertically through generations to demarcate and discharge social obligations with devotion and enthusiasm. In this respect, the family can be called the headwaters of civic progress and sustainable evolution of human civilization. All divine revelation, such as Islam, have assigned to the family unit as a center of gravity for the making of a healthy and strong foundation for any community. This bond of blood relations is the starting point of the tol concept – one that extends solidarity to all relatives. Tol is synonymous to the concept of genuine community where members are not manipulated or sacrificed without concern for their interests and needs as individuals (Selznick 2001)

In this context, tolnimo is consistent with the basic Islamic ethics and virtuous conduct. While all faiths emphasize good family relations, Islam has taken it to notable heights. It considers family relation as a duty, an example of disinterested commitment, to be discharged without any expectation of instrumentalist return. Thus, a Muslim is required to be kind to all his relatives irrespective of their creed, culture or clan affiliation. The Prophet emphasized the high stakes involved here in a compelling way: “Rahim (family ties) is a word derived from Ar-Rahman (The Compassionate One), and Allah says: I shall keep connection with him who maintains you and sever connection with him who severs you.”

The position of mother in Islam is well known: it asserts that paradise lies at the feet of mothers. The teaching of the Prophet indicates that matrilineal relatives, such as habaryaro (mother’s sister), are only next to one’s mother. Analogically abtiyo (mother’s brother) must be equal to, if not preferable to, adeer. Thus, tolnimo in this perspective represents a richer and more inclusive bond that recognizes the rights and place of honor of all relatives, irrespective of patrilineal or matrilineal links. But, this does not mean that it is correct to blindly favor one’s relations. On the contrary, if such a knee-jerk bias towards one’s kin results in corruption or injustice, it is bound to sow discord and denude civic life and institutions. Both Tolnimo and Islamic mores see such acts as highly repugnant to common values and social coherence.

Divisive tribalism’s darkest side can be noted by endless rivalry and spiraling conflicts among closest relatives, depicted by the popular saying, “I am against my brother, my brother and I are against my uncle, and the three of us are against…” Perhaps the most extreme tribal form is shown by the othering of one’s own family by separating, on the basis of lineage roots, between mother and her own children or between one and his own maternal relatives, such as abti, habar yar, habra wadaag/ilma dubri, ilma abti, etc, let alone mocooyo and reer mocoy”. It is the worst example of tribal mindlessness and, hence, self-destructiveness to reject or alienate at least half of one’s own genetic composition.

B. Territorial relations of neighborhood.

After kinship relations, come one’s neighbors. Generally, neighbor refers to close territorial relations of individuals, families or group of people. Your neighbor is a person (s) living close to your residence. To a certain extent, similar to family relatives, neighborhood is usually not determined by personal preference. In tribal mentality, which screens everybody through a clan filter, there is no room for a civic neighborhood. It is only a matter of time before exclusionary and destructive conflicts set in if neighbors have different clan affiliations. As the evidence shows, in the context of the continuing Somali civil strife, it is the closest neighbors who are waging vicious tribal wars on each other. In stark contrast, the tol concept markedly sidelines chauvinistic ancestral filtering. To reassert, Professor Samatar made it plain that living the spirit of tolnimo requires at once “optimum protection of individual and communal welfare, and meeting of obligations to other communities (from the intimate neighbor to the most geographically distant of the Somali people) in a larger context of peace, social justice and generosity”. Tol, in its essential meaning of collaborative co-existence, then, induces affirmative and stable neighborhood environment. It is solidarity and integration shown by people with their neighbors. Moreover, and culturally, Somali society has a tradition of dense inter-clan marriages or exogamy that converts the neighboring populations into a network of families and relatives for further strengthening of social bonds

Right of neighborhood is a commandment, regardless of race or religion differences. Here also, tolnimo upholds the Islamic principles regarding rights of as well as duties towards neighbors. In this milieu, Allah says: “…and do good to parents, kin-folks, orphans, the poor who beg, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger…” (4:36). Furthermore, the Prophet is reported to have said: “Angel Gabriel kept exhorting me to attend to my obligations towards the neighbor so much so that I imagined he might be included among my heirs.” One has to show benevolence, for this is in harmony with the Prophet’s words: “The best neighbor is one who behaves best towards his neighbors.” Your neighbor has the right to live peacefully in your neighborhood free from all fear of mischief in deeds or in words. It is a tribalistic mentality that keeps neighbors in constant fear of danger or deceit. As a result, such a situation breeds antagonisms that poison the public sphere. Behavior of this sort, then, runs in diametrical opposition to the spirit of tolnimo and the basic Islamic teachings of respect, gentle and generous treatment of all neighbors. Somali adage expresses; ‘Oodi ab ka dhow’ –neighborhood is nearer than ancestral kin. The degree and type of mutual interactions are contingent on the caliber of the citizens of the neighborhood and the weight of the social capital they invest.

C. Communal relations, common interests and cultural values.

Human beings are quintessentially social. Notwithstanding diversity in many aspects within societies, there are, except in situation of barbarism, minimum common values that prompt interdependence, justice, human rights, and the sanctity of individual’s worthiness. We noted earlier that the concept of “qabiil” is associated with the primacy of patrilineal descent, as it overemphasizes male lineage at the cost of the rights and roles of matrilineal relatives, which inherently confines its adherents to narrow diagonal lines in a given social matrix. This exclusive male patrilineal relations, has practically and conceptually rules out matrilineal cousins from tribal context unless the tribe practices endogamy- that is, rule that one must marry within one’s own tribal group. Again, this practice creates, at least theoretically, traditional barriers against solidarity of societies and serves as a severe constraint to most institutional foundations for human relations. Because clanism gives license to the vehemence of particularistic emotions and ego, and undervalues universalist ethos such as probity and forgiveness, the “others” are relegated to the status of unwelcome aliens. Conceivably, the ultimate cost of such tribal fanaticism is the obstruction of new ideas, cultural innovation and transformational development that results in mutual impoverishment.

Tol-based communities have a different experience, resulting from their inherent flexibility, all-encompassing organizational setup and outlook. As the earlier Somali community formations indicate, there were considerable degrees of tolerance and freedom of shifting of clans or group of people from their original location and clan linkage to new situation and affiliations. Most individuals were relatively free to enter new social contract of mutual protection and community obligations. These shifts were common among Somali pastoralists where it was hard to find absolutely “pure” tribe in its lineage composition and settlement. It is very instructive to notice how community leaders managed these ethnic movements and intermingling. For instance, instead of a tight tribal name, they adopted communal names like gadabuursi, sheekhaal, digil iyo mirif, etc. As traditional stories indicate, they reduced the chain of lineage into few grandfathers mostly ending with vague phrases like “shimbira ceel kujirow jiririq”. So, Somalis in their original setup had feeling of tolnimo and, therefore, were open to the rest of Somali communities where clan membership was circumstantial and permeable.

The advent of colonial occupation changed that paradigm by essentializing tribal identities in pursuit of the infamous “divide and rule” strategy. Here, one could also add that post-colonial urbanization ushered-in new and hospitable settings for furthering a merging of identities and social croos-engagement. This partial renewal and an advancement of grand tolnimo were, however, undone by the ruining of national institutions, failed leadership, the grim present, and the continuing violent jostling over the future. The total destruction of the Somali Republic was attributed to accumulated and mutually re-inforcing corrosions caused by regional, clan and class conflicts that beset the post-independence years (A.I. Samatar 1994). Moreover, despite the initial and commendable developmental efforts of the military order, the Somali state eventually burned out as a result of, primarily, the degeneration of the regime, particularly in the last decade of its life, into an inept and dysfunctional tribalist cabal so distant from its formative actions and early evocation to strengthen the ethos of civic belonging.

A successful reclamation of tolnimo, then, decolonizes the mind, leading to the promise of political maturity that fruitfully engages in the interweaving of self-formation, private preoccupations, and adherence to public obligations. The noble Qur’an recognizes this dialectic by at once instructing the compatibility of knowing of the rich variations among human communities and a growth and an enlargement of the intellect. Furthermore, crucial than sheer diversity is the cultivation of supreme ethical behavior “… We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is he who is most righteous.” (49:13).

III. Concluding Thoughts

Through tribal affiliation, sheer fabrications of superior and inferior tribes, with the former able to claim purity in blood and origin had been invented. This manifests in its most vicious play in times of civil conflagrations, where a mixture of bitter resentment and crude pride morph into bestial revenge. Its ugliest form can be described as a self-destructive act of someone waging war in the name of defending the honor and sanctity of a certain tribe or a group with common distant male ancestor against one’s own immediate matrilineal relatives. Horrific crimes are conducted against others simply because they belong to an imagined different paternal line, whereas empirical fact shows that, in most cases, both sides of the conflict are genetically so interconnected and geographically so inseparable. The accidental birth (beyond individual’s choice) of a person into certain assumed lineage gives one the wrong idea that one has the right to scorn others and label them as enemies. Tribalism, as in the case of racism, is not only against humanity, it is against justice, truth, freedom and even intelligent commonsense. In tribal sentiment, the yardstick for evaluating the individual is based, not on ideas or actions but on a preconceived one-dimensional identity. Long ago, the Prophet warned against this vice: “Leave it; it is rotten.”

This concise three-letter word, tol, gives profound insights to the nature of social cohesion and managerial organizations. It does not simply mean kinship in its superficial rendition. Rather, it constitutes a revolutionary departure point for any serious search for leadership in contemporary social context. As the Somali adage says “Haani gun bey ka tolantaa”, the literal meaning of tol contains a myriad of activities necessary for crafting effective and legitimate leadership that is sustained by competent organizations. This new understanding of tol, one that promotes, among others attributes, amicability and meritoriousness, deserves to be explored, comprehended and disseminated widely in response to the prevailing violent anarchy and abject failure of leadership of Somali communities. Tolnimo concept can serve as a most effective tool of excising tribalism/qabyaalad — a deadly brew, so beloved by the enemies of the Somali people and their acolytes, that at once ignores, and often degrades, the indispensable role of women and constantly re-invents venomous hate and mutual humiliation.

[1] The Mission of the Education, Culture, and Training sub-committee is to design, implement, and evaluate the research and dissemination activities of the Tol Leadership Committee (TLC) on all issues that pertain to its mission.
[2] The Mission of the Education, Culture, and Training sub-committee is to design, implement, and evaluate the research and dissemination activities of the Tol Leadership Committee (TLC) on all issues that pertain to its mission.
[3] The Education, Culture, and Training Sub-committee consists of: Mr. Abulqadir Ismail Jama (USA), Mr. Hassan Abdi Aden (Canada), Ms Halima Jama Hadi (USA), Dr. Elmi Nur (Sweden), Ms Safia Abdillahi Ismail (USA), Ms Loula Ahmed Osman (Canada), Prof Hussein Ahmed Warsame (Canada). The committee thanks Prof Ahmed Ismail Samatar (USA) for valuable editing and suggestions. The committee also thanks Bashir Goth for constructive comments and suggestions.

References [i]


1. Nobel Holy Qur’an
2. Sayings (ahadith) of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) Reported by Muslim and Bukhari
3. Selznick, Philip. The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of

Community. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1992

1. Selznick, Philip. Civilizing Society. In “The many faces of individualism” by Anton van Harskamp, A. W. Musschenga (editors). Library of Congress. 2001.
2. Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. (Trans. Franz Rosenthal).

Princeton University Press. 1967

1. Samatar, Ahmed 1. (ed.) The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal.

Boulder: Lynn Reinner Publishers. 1994.