Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn

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Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn
Born Zeila in the 12th century
Religion Islam
Ethnicity Somali [1]
Era12th century
Jurisprudence Shafi'i
Main interest(s) Islamic literature, Islamic philosophy

Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn (Arabic : يوسف بن أحمد الكونين) (b. 12th century), [2] [3] popularly known as Aw Barkhadle ("Blessed Father"), [4] Yusuf Al Kownayn, Yusuf Al Bagdhadi, [5] and Shaykh Abu Barakat al Barbari ("Blessed Father of Somalia), [6] [7] was a Somali Muslim scholar and traveler. Based on reference to Yusuf Al Kawneyn in the Harar manuscripts, Dr. Enrico Cerulli has suggested that Al-Kawneyn was the founder and ancestor of the Walashma dynasty that governed both Sultanate of Ifat and Adal Sultanate during the middle ages. [8] [9] Another genealogical tradition according to C.J Cruttenden is that Aw Barkhadle was a descendant of Ismail Sheikh Isaaq ibn Ahmed. [10] However, many accounts indicate Shaykh Yusuf al Kownayn and Shaykh Isaaq were known to be contemporaries and in contact at the same time (and not related). [11] [12] [13]



Sheikh Yusuf Al-Kawneyn was a native Somali scholar [14] who studied in his city Zeila and later in Iraq. As a result of his studies in Iraq, he was given the title of "Al Baghdadi" as well. [5] He is also noted for having devised a Somali nomenclature for the Arabic vowels, [15] this would eventually evolve into Wadaad's writing.

Described by some as a Sharif, [4] [16] he has been described as "the most outstanding saint in northern Somalia". [17]

The Sheikh is also known for spreading the Islamic faith, to the Maldives islands and Southeast Asia, after traveling there from Zeila, and was called by the residents there "Al Barakat Al Barbari". [18] [19] He is also known as being a member of the Somali 'Diwan al-awliya' (Famous Saints of Somali Origin). [20]


Sheikh Yusuf Al Kawneyn is also associated with the Walashma dynasty of Ifat and Adal, which was a medieval Muslim dynasty of the Horn of Africa. [21] It governed the Ifat and Adal Sultanates in what are present-day northern Somalia, Djibouti and eastern Ethiopia. Sheikh Yusuf is described by historians as being the founder and ancestor of this royal family. [8] [9] [22] He is also known as representing the spiritual legacy of the Ifat and Adal Sultanates. [23]


The Shaykh has shrines dedicated to him, in the Maldives, [24] in Sri Lanka, [25] in the town of Aw Barkhadle in Somaliland, [26] and in a site called Qoranyale, near the town of Borama. [5]

According to C.J Cruttenden, the tomb of saint Aw Barkhadle, which is located to the southwest of Berbera, was used by the Isaaq clans to settle disputes and to swear oaths of alliances under a holy relic attributed to Bilal Ibn Rabah. The Eidagale historically acted as mediators.

Aw Barkhadle's tomb, which is under the protection of the Eidagale clan The-Shrine-of-Saint-Aw-Barkhadle-near-Hargeisa-Somaliland-September-2007-Photo-by.png
Aw Barkhadle's tomb, which is under the protection of the Eidagale clan

When any grave question arises affecting the interests of the Isaakh tribe in general. On a paper yet carefully preserved in the tomb, and bearing the sign-manual of Belat [Bilal], the slave of one the early khaleefehs, fresh oaths of lasting friendship and lasting alliances are made...In the season of 1846 this relic was brought to Berbera in charge of the Haber Gerhajis, and on it the rival tribes of Aial Ahmed and Aial Yunus swore to bury all animosity and live as brethren. [27]

Aw Barkhadle

Before Al-Kowneyn's arrival into this town (now named after him) was called Dogor. [26] The residents were not Muslim, but rather pagan, believing and taking part of a pre-Islamic Somalia religion called Wagar. The Wagar itself is thought to be an anthropomorphic representation of a sacred feature or figure, indicating an indigenous non-Islamic religious fertility practice in Aw Barkhaadle. [26] The word "wagar"/"Waĝa" (or "Waaq") denotes the Sky-God adhered to by many Cushitic people (including the Konso) in the Horn of Africa including the Somali in pre-Islamic times [28] both before and during the practice of Christianity and Islam. [26]

While completing his studies in Zayla, Al Kowneyn was told of a town in Somalia called Dogor, with an oppressive king called Bu‘ur Ba‘ayr. According to the legend, Bu‘ur Ba‘ayr married couples by sleeping with the bride during the first six nights of the marriage and engaged in acts of paganism and magic. [6] Local people at Aw-Barkhadle attribute the conversion of Somalis to Islam, to the defeat by duel of the previous religious leader, Bu‘ur Ba‘ayr, by the Muslim newcomer Aw-Barkhadle, who heard of the oppressive nature of the king and wanted to stop him. The Saint showed the religious superiority of his beliefs in contrast to the local beliefs of Bu‘ur Ba‘ayr's followers, whom the former won over in great number.

Furthermore, the Aw-Barkhadle site is also important burial site of the Muslim rulers of Awdal, Al-Kowneyn himself of the Walashma dynasty of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD is buried in this town. [29]


In the Maldives, he is called Saint Abu Barakat al Barbari ("Blessed father of Somalia") and whose religious name was Shaykh Yusuf al Kawneyn. [7] He is also credited with spreading Islam in the islands, establishing the Hukuru Miskiiy Mosque, and converting the Maldivian population into Islam. [30] Ibn Batuta states the Madliveian king was converted by Abu Al Barakat Al Berber ("blessed father"). [24] The Shaykh reportedly converted the islands into Islam by convincing the local King, Sultan Mohammed Al Adil, after having subdued Ranna Maari, a demon coming from the sea. [31]

Sri Lankan Muslim settlement

Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn is also credited with starting the first Sri Lankan Muslim settlement. It is located in western Sri Lanka and is named Berbereen (Beruwala) in honour and respect of the Shaykh. [32]

See also


  1. Somalia in Transition Since 2006.
  2. Sada Mire (2016) "'The child that tiire doesn't give you, God won't give you either.' The role of Rotheca myricoides in Somali fertility practices", Anthropology & Medicine, 23:3, 311–331, DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2016.1209636
  3. Mohamed-Abdi, Mohamed (2003-01-01). "Retour vers les dugsi, écoles coraniques en Somalie". Cahiers d'études africaines. 43 (169–170): 351–369. doi:10.4000/etudesafricaines.204. ISSN   0008-0055.
  4. 1 2 Abdullahi, p.13
  5. 1 2 3 Lewis, I.M. (1998). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. p. 97.
  6. 1 2 Altenmüller, H., Hunwick, J. O., O'Fahey, R. S., & Spuler, B. (2003). The writings of the Muslim peoples of northeastern Africa, Part 1, Volume 13. Leiden [u.a.] : Brill. p. 174.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. 1 2 "Richard Bulliet – History of the World to 1500 CE (Session 22) – Tropical Africa and Asia". Youtube.com. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  8. 1 2 Lewis, I. M (1998). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. p. 89.
  9. 1 2 Nehemia Levtzion; Randall Pouwels (Mar 31, 2000). The History of Islam in Africa. Ohio University Press. p. 242. Aw Barkhadle, is the founder and ancestor of the Walashma dynasty
  10. Britain), Royal Geographical Society (Great (1849). "The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society Volume 19 p.61".
  11. Lewis, I. M. (1998). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. ISBN   9781569021033.
  12. Andrzejewski, B. W. (1983-01-01). Islamic Literature of Somalia. African Studies Program, Indiana University. ISBN   9780941934473. Shaykh Aw Barkhadle and Shaykh Isaaq belonged to the same time period.
  13. Bader, Christian (2000). Mythes et légendes de la Corne de l'Afrique (in French). Karthala. p. 90. ISBN   9782845860698. Translated from French to English: Then, at the age of 68 (Shaykh Isaaq), he took his pilgrim's staff and went to Harar, where the Sheikh 'Aw Barkhadle was then teaching.
  14. Somalia; Wasaaradda Warfaafinta iyo Hanuuninta Dadweynaha (1972). The Writing of the Somali Language: A Great Landmark in Our Revolutionary History. Ministry of Information and National Guidance. p. 10. Aw Barkhadle, he was a native, who lived in about 1,000 years ago and is buried now in a ruined town named after him, Aw Barkhadle, which is a few miles away from Hargeisa.
  15. Laitin, p.85
  16. Lewis, I. M. (1998). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. ISBN   9781569021033.
  17. Lewis (1998), p.102
  18. Galaal, Musa (1980). "Les liens historiques entre la corne de l'Afrique et les îles du golfe Persique et de l'océan Indien par les voies de l'Islam". Relations historiques à travers l'océan Indien. Belgique: l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture. p. 28. ISBN   978-92-3-201740-6. Translated from French to English: Now this holy man - this is the new point (Al Kownayn) – seems to be the same as that which the people of the Maldive Islands, near India, called Barakath Al-Barbari who spread Islam in this region as he did in the Horn of Africa. We only know in which of these two regions he lived first and this prompted him to change sectors of business.The tomb of Sheik Barkhadle (Yusuf Al Kownayn) is in a ruined city called Dhogor, near Hargeisa, in the north of the Democratic Republic of Somalia.
  19. Honchell, Stephanie (2018), Sufis, Sea Monsters, and Miraculous Circumcisions: Comparative Conversion Narratives and Popular Memories of Islamization, Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of Cape Town, p. 5, In reference to Ibn Batuta's Moroccan theory of this figure, citation 8 of this text mentions, that other accounts identify Yusuf Al Barbari as East African or Persian. But as a fellow Maghribi, Ibn Battuta likely felt partial to the Moroccan version.
  20. Reese, Scott S. (2000). "Review of Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-Based Society". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 63 (2): 324–325. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00007606. ISSN   0041-977X. JSTOR   1559579.
  21. Cerulli, Enrico (1926). Le popolazioni della Somalia nella tradizione storica locale. L'Accademia. Cerulli suggests that the Saint "Aw Barkhdale" (Yusuf Al Kownayn) can be associated with "Yusuf Barkatla", ancestor of Umar' Walashma, founder of the Ifat dynasty
  22. Bader, Christian (2000). Les Yibro: Mages somali. Les juifs oubliés de la corne de l'Afrique? (in French). Harmattan. ISBN   9782738488152. Translated from French to English: The Aw Barkhadle figure, it should be noted, is among the ancestors of the rulers of the Walashma dynasty, who reigned over the Muslim state of Ifat.
  23. Levtzion, Nehemia; Pouwels, Randall (2000-03-31). The History of Islam in Africa. Ohio University Press. p. 242. ISBN   9780821444610. Aw Barkhadle, the ancestor of the founder of the Walashma dynasty, represents the "spiritual legacy" of the Islamic state of Yifat/Adal.
  24. 1 2 Ibn Batuta (1968). Monteil, Vincent (ed.). Voyages d'Ibn Batuta:Textes et documents retrouves (in Arabic). Anthropos. p. 127.
  25. Jaleel, Talib (8 July 2015). Notes on Entering Deen Completely:Islam as its followers know it. EDC Foundation. p. 1106.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Mire, Sada (22 March 2015). Wagar, Fertility and Phallic Stelae: Cushitic Sky-God Belief and the Site of Saint Aw-Barkhadle, Somaliland.
  27. "The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society Volume 19 p.61-62". 1849.
  28. Hallpike, C.R. (1972). The Konso of Ethiopia: A study of the values of a Cushitic people . Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  29. Paulitschke, P (1888). Beiträge zur ethnographie und anthropologie der Somali, Galla und Harari. Leipzig.
  30. Mackintosh-Smith, Tim (2010). Landfalls: On the Edge of Islam from Zanzibar to the Alhambra. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 384.
  31. Ibn Batuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325–1354, tr. and ed. H. A. R. Gibb (London: Broadway House, 1929)
  32. Jaleel, Talib (8 July 2015). Notes on Entering Deen Completely: Islam as its followers know it. EDC Foundation. p. 1106.

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