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Maandeeq is the story of Somalia set in Mogadishu six years before the outbreak of the civil war written by Faisal Ahmed Hassan.

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Maandeeq book related Article

What the writers Said about this book?

By Ali Sharrif

One day, not long ago, a tall man in casual summer wear drove his beat up 1992 white Plymouth Sundance up to the parking lot of a coffee shop popular with Somalis in Etobicoke and walked in.

It was late evening and a little warm outside.

Carrying a bunch of books under his arm, the driver of the Plymouth walked over to a group of men who sat at a table talking and drinking coffee. He handed one of the books to an occupant of the table and in exchange received cash for his delivery.

But a curious thing happened. The man who bought the book stood up, walked over to a garbage can and, dangling the book between forefinger and thumb, dropped it into the trashcan. He did this with his eyes locked onto the stranger.

“This is what I think of your writings, rubbish!” said the man before walking back to the table and sitting down. His point was made.

This was the introduction of Faisal Hassan, the driver of the Plymouth, to his newly found fame in the 70,000-strong Toronto Somali community as a writer in Somali language. Hassan, a first time novelist, is the author of Maandeeq, a slim volume in Somali language that’s making waves in the Somali community.

Maandeeq outraged many in the city’s Somali community because Hassan takes on subjects that always rub a raw nerve. The novel deals with the Somali civil war and the inability of Somalis to make peace with each other, a problem that has prolonged the strife in the old country. And when the author of Maandeeq moves on to the taboo topic of prostitution in some Somali cities, an issue that no one in the Muslim community likes to discuss, the anger in Little Somalia hits the roof.

The Somali language novelist has faced the heat from his book in front of restaurants, in coffee shops and even at his work place. Charges of “defaming the community and the Somali culture” have dogged him. One evening, the controversy spilled outside a Somali restaurant in Etobicoke where Hassan found himself surrounded by a small group of critics. The crowd had a major demand. They wanted Hassan to halt the distribution of his novel to the small corner stores where it was being sold. A tall man sporting a short, closely cropped beard and eyeglasses appeared to be the spokesperson of the group that surrounded Hassan.

“The man offered me a lump sum of money if I agreed to stop distributing my book,” Hassan says in interview. “It was astonishing. He said he was offering a large amount of money collected from religious leaders who objected to my book because it made the community to look bad.”

Things got so hot that irate readers were even calling his employer, a community organization where the author of Maandeeq works as a housing counselor. Some wanted him fired.

“But my boss paid them no attention, telling the callers what I did outside my work hours was my own business,” Hassan says. “That stopped the calls and I am happy my manager supported me in this way.”

Even some religious leaders got into the act, going from store to store to buy up all of the available copies of the book. But they soon gave up as Hassan replenished supplies every time the book was sold out. At one store, the pressure from local religious leaders forced the store manager to refuse stocking the book.

“The manager phoned me to say that my book will not continue to be sold at his store,” says Hassan. “Even though I was sometimes frightened and discouraged by the uproar, a debate soon started and I got a lot of support from young people and my co-workers.”

The store owner, who doesn’t want to give his name, says that the book was popular with Somali language readers. He says he sold more than 300 copies. One day, he adds, he was visited by a man who said he was a religious leader in the Somali community.

“He asked to see the book, looked at it, flipped through the pages and then he told me the book was against Somalis and many people were angry with the author,” says the business man who runs his ethnic-oriented corner store in the Rexdale-Kipling area. “He asked me to help the Somali community by refusing to sell the book and then he left. I felt really uncomfortable with the whole thing and I didn’t want trouble so I asked the author to take his books back.”

The book sparked a debate in the community on the question of who takes responsibility for the civil war that destroyed the old country. The blame has always been placed exclusively at the feet of the ruthless warlords who manipulate the anarchy in Somalia and finance their hold on power through illegal trade in drugs and weapons, trade that has spawned tentacles in neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, threatening regional stability.

But Hassan does a neat trick to bypass the warlords and aim his pen at the clans themselves, many of whom are represented in the neighborhoods of Etobicoke and Scarborough. He argues that clan politics and traditional enmity between nomadic clans who fought each other for dominance bred the conditions for the rise of the warlords who now stand in the way of reconciliation and stability in Somalia.

The warlords are currently involved in peace talks in Kenya . Fourteen previous attempts at talking peace failed to bring the anarchy under control. Warlords overran Somalia ever since the fall of the military Junta of General Mohammed Siad Barre who ruled the arid east African country with an iron fist since 1969.

“This book, even though written by an unknown writer in the community, is a gripping account of the carnage in the Horn of Africa,” says Farah Abdillahi Farah, a former professor of politics and economics at the now-defunct Somali National University in Mogadishu. “Once you start talking about who takes responsibility for the bloodshed, people don’t want to talk about it because this is an emotional issue and no one wants the blame. However the topic of responsibility is crucial to peace because then healing and forgiveness can follow, but first comes responsibility before closure in Somalia.”

The book opens with an ugly scene where men with guns are butchering women, the elderly and the infirm who cannot defend themselves against their assailants. The screaming gunmen yell “they are the Faqash, kill them” as they unleash a bloodbath. The horrible slur of “Faqash” shocked and offended many of the readers of Maandeeq right away, giving the novel an explosive opening.

“The reason why I started with this dramatic scene that involves killings is to remind readers that the warlords are only a tiny part of the problem,” Hassan says in an interview. “One of the things that I wanted to do is to remind readers again that the warlords couldn’t do what they have done with impunity in Somalia without the overwhelming support of their clans and this is crucial for Somalis to acknowledge if they want peace to return to Somalia. The word Fakash is a derogatory term employed to dehumanize the victims of the violence before the slaughter.”

Hassan skillfully uses the book’s main character, Matashiishe, a former government employee, to explore the country after its devastation by war and examine taboo issues. It is 1991 and Somalia is in the grip of anarchy. Warlords have begun curving the East African country into personal fiefdoms. Matashiishe takes the reader to Fucking Street in a northern city’s local red light district.

The local prostitutes don’t prowl the streets like they do in cities in the West. Instead, the women rent apartments on Fucking Street where the Johns go for the thrill of illicit sex while maintaining their anonymity. The dialogue between Matashiishe and the prostitutes of Fucking Street ignited part of the furor in Toronto, offending Somali-Canadians from northern Somalia who regard themselves with the pride characteristic of the people of this region.

After the controversy ebbed, Hassan tried to get his novel translated into English for a wider audience but has not been successful. That’s because he doesn’t have the money to do it and when he turned to mainstream cultural organizations, he ran into a brick wall. First, he went to the Canadian Council for the Arts but he was turned down politely. While the council says on its website that it supports “the creation, translation, publication and promotion of Canadian literature,” Hassan’s appeal for funding fell on deaf ears. The rules excluded him, he was told.

“I was told that only well-known writers published by well-known publishers qualify for the council’s grants programs,” says Hassan. “But I am just a first time novelist therefore I didn’t meet their standards.”

Hassan went next to the Ontario Arts Council, but here again he had no luck.

“They advised me to contact the Canadian Council for the Arts and after this merry go round, I gave up,” laments Hassan.

Canada, it seems, has not discovered yet the rich Canadian émigré literature that’s beginning to take shape in humble ways in the ethnic enclaves of Toronto. Maandeeq has made many readers in the Somali community uncomfortable with its stark portrayal of the seamy side of the Muslim nation. However the novel speaks to Somalis in a language they understand.

My Bio

Ali Sharrif is currently the Publisher and Chief Editor of, a Toronto online magazine.

• Worked for NOW Magazine for 7 years until 1999 both as an in-house writer and Multicultural Editor.
• Worked at The Star from 2000-2001 on contract.
• Wrote freelance articles published in The Globe and Mail and national Post.

You can reach Ali Sharrif

By Ali Sharrif