HISTORY OF OROMO WRITING and the Contribution of Dr. Mohammed Reshad
By Dr. Abdulsemed Mohammed
Language is a means of communication and a symbol of national identity. As a means of communication a language serves as a bridge to bring two sides together. As such, it can be used in at least two different ways namely, verbal and written communications. Verbal communication involves using spoken words, while written communication requires symbols representing the words. There is no doubt that every human language can serve its people in both these two ways. Unfortunately, not all languages in the world are written languages; there are many languages that still remain being a spoken language. Among those that remained as spoken language for many years, one was the Oromo Language. Despite rigorous efforts made to transform the Oromo language into a written language, evidences indicate that it was about 250 years ago when some among the Oromo started writing in Oromo language. The objective of this paper is to present a brief history of writing in Afaan Oromoo.
A written language uses symbols that are systematically put in order to produce a message that can be understood. The symbols used to write with in a language are called the ALPHABETH. The alphabet of any language must have symbols representing all the sounds of that language. The symbols that make up an alphabet are expected to perfectly fit for the sounds they represent and must be easy to use.
Before going to the core of the article it is fair to present the efforts of many scholars to transform Afaan Oromoo from spoken language to a written language. Evidences we have indicate that the first fruitful effort was done by Raayyaa Oromo during the time of the dominant clerics, Anniyyi and Daanniyyi. These clerics wrote the first books that go into the first line of Oromo literary works. The books contained poems, hymn and Islamic religious songs generally referred to as Menzumah. The authors used the Arabic alphabet with some symbols modified represent Oromo phonemes not present in Arabic language. They include sounds represented by the following symbols in the standard Oromo alphabet: (C, CH, DH, G, NY, PH). Copies were written by scribes (writers) by hand on animal skin and hide using locally made pen and ink. The pen is a sharp handy splinters made from a bamboo tree. Ink was prepared from a mixture of water, soot, natural gum, and other ingredients. Arabic Alphabet has another advantage for Afaan Oromoo. It has symbols and a writing system to represent short and long vowels as well as stressed and non-stressed consonants. For those already literate in Arabic learning to read and write in Afaan Oromoo became very easy. Oromo phonemes represented today by these two symbols X” and “Q” are basically different from the Arabic (ﻄ and ﻕ). Most Oromos pronounce those two Arabic phonemes: / ﻄ / as “X” and / ﻕ / as “Q”. Therefore, both were accepted not as similar sounds but as quasi close to each other.
Until the use of the standard Oromo alphabet was declared by law all Oromo clerics wrote Afaan Oromoo using the Arabic alphabet. All books were written by hand because there were no typewriters and printing press available for Afaan Oromoo. In reality, it was absolutely impossible for several reasons, as there were no skilled manpower, no finance, and government to support the cause. Until recently, writing in Afaan Oromoo was illegal in Ethiopia and all efforts of Oromo clerics did not produce results.
Towards the end of the 19th century, European protestant Christians got interested in Afaan Oromoo and they wanted to have the Bible translated into Afaan Oromoo. Onesimus Neseeb (Abbaa Gammachiis), an Oromo scholar of the bible from Western part of Oromo Land and who got converted to protestant around that time started translating the bible from Amharic to Afaan Oromoo. Haile Fida, in his book Hirmaata Dubbii Afaan Oromoo, says that Onesimus translated from a European language into Afaan Oromo but did not specify the source language. The writer of this article disagrees. He says there are enough reasons to believe that Amharic was the source language. Onesimus had mastered the Amharic alphabet before he began the translation. The translated book itself is a sufficient witness to that effect.
He did that in Asmara (Eritrea) where he was living. Upon completion the bible was printed as the first Oromo version in 1899. The book was published under the title “Macaafa Qulqulluu” meaning “Holy Book” The name of the translator was included and written as “Onesimus Neseeb, Nama Biyya Oromoo” (Onesimus Neseeb, a man from Oromo Land). Onesimus used the Sabean Alphabet to write in Afaan Oromoo. The alphabet is used to write Amharic, and Tigrigna. There was no evidence that shows its use for Afaan Oromoo before Onesimus Neseeb. The Sabean Alphabet has major shortcomings to use for Afaan Oromoo. First it does not have a system of differentiating long vowels from the short ones. It has seven vowels whereas Afaan Oromoo has ten (five shorts, and five long) vowels. Moreover, two of the seven vowels do not represent any of the ten vowels. One is referred to as the “Gi’iz” and the other one “Sadis” i.e. the 1st and the 6th vowel respectively. The Sabean Alphabet in its Original form contained no vowel marks, and was only consonants in the Gi’iz form. The six vowels (i.e. kaa’ib, saalis, raabi’, haamis, saadis, and saabi’) and it means “the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th”. All are latter additions or modificatios intended to indicate the seven vowel sounds of the Amharic language. Before that, it was written without vowel marks like its sister alphabets, Arabic and Hebrew. The other problem of the Sabean Alphabet is it does not differentiate between stressed and non-stressed sounds.
The effort to make Afaan Oromoo a written language continued with new and fresh ideas. European travellers, Christian missionaries, and others used the Latin alphabet to write Afaan Oromoo and we can conveniently call it as the era of Latin alphabet for Afaan Oromoo. The era can be divided into two periods: one before the Second World War, and the other during and after the Second World War.
The period before the Second World War is basically the effort of European Christian missionaries from Germany, Italy, France, and others. The objective of the missionaries was not to develop Afaan Oromoo but to propagate Christianity. Small size booklets with basic Christian teachings, only one Gospel according to Matthew or John, etc. were printed and distributed. There were also larger books written on vocabularies, proverbs, rhymes and favelas. The writers used the Latin Alphabet exactly as they were used to write their own language. Symbols were named as assumed by individual writers. No two writers used similar symbols and writing systems. Books, booklets, and writings written in that way cannot and did not produce the intended result. The authors did not study the language and therefore, did not pay attention to the differences in meaning resulting from vowel length (short and long vowels) as well as stressed and –non-stressed sounds in Afaan Oromoo.
During the Second World War, powerful Italy with the grudge it had previously, raided and occupied Ethiopia. (Here I am not discussing about the war and its immediate as well as its late consequences, It is not the objective of the paper.) When Italy occupied Ethiopia, it did not bring in armed forces and soldiers only. It also brought professionals that were well trained and experienced in every field of knowledge. One of those professionals brought into the country was a person named Martin Moreno. Moreno was a great scholar and a renowned linguist. Moreno was assigned to study the major languages of the newly conquered territories of the Italian Empire. He started his work by studying Afaan Oromoo and other related languages. He learned the language including the various dialects in a short period of time. His main informant spoke the Tulema dialect but he also had informants speaking the other dialects. He studied the phonology, morphology, and syntax of the language and compiled the result of his study into a book which was published in 1939. Moreno clearly stated that both the Sabean and the Arabic alphabet are not suitable for Oromo language. He developed Latin based Oromo Alphabet which is shown below. During the period from 1935-1939 he presented a number of research papers on Oromo language at the conferences of Italian Linguists.
Moreno was the first person that understood the linguistic properties of Afaan Oromoo. In 1939 he published his monumental work “Gramatica della Lingua Galla” (Grammar of the Galla Language) in which he has explained the phonology, morphology and syntax of the language. Moreno used the word Galla not because it was his choice, but it was used to refer to the people by new rulers, the Italians. In that same book, Moreno mentioned, “The Galla call themselves OROMO. Regarding the Oromo language Moreno wrote the following beautiful words. “Mi auguro che questo lavoro sia di qualche beneficio la piu importante e piu dolce dell’empero” When translated into English it reads: “I feel proud that if this work is of any benefit for the most important and the sweetest of the languages of the empire”. Mo The Oromo people will always remember Martin Moreno as one of his own heroes and would not hesitate to call him “ilma Keenya” (meaning our son).
Moreno’s Alphabet: for Afaan Oromoo
’ A B C Č D Ḑ E F G H I J K L M N Ñ O p Q R S Ṧ T Ṭ U W Y Z
He is the first to understand and include the glottal stop (laagee or hudhaa). He developed symbols indicating long vowels and represented stressed sounds by doubling the consonants. I take the liberty to name Martin Moreno “the father of linguistics of Afaan Oromo, for his immense contributions towards the Oromo Alphabet writing and Oromo grammar.
When the war ended with the victory of the Allied Forces, Italy was kicked out from Ethiopia, the old status quo was reinstalled, and the exiled king returned to the country and his rule was reestablished. As a result all voices dealing with reading and writing Afaan Oromoo were silenced, possession of Oromo books became illegal. The relative light the Oromo saw during the war vanished, the hope to write and read in Afaan Oromoo disappeared, and Oromo Land was once again engulfed by darkness.
After the war young people started to go abroad for further studies. Depending on the mode of travel two groups emerged. One group includes all that travelled abroad legally because of a scholarship grant from another country, international organization or a non-governmental agency. This included, all that travelled for BA/BSc, MA/MSc, or Ph.D. degrees. All of them knew where they go, which University they attend, what they learn, the duration of time their study lasts, the amount of pocket money or living expense they receive monthly, etc. , Their destination is usually Europe and North America. Most belonged to the Amhara ethnic group and some were from other ethnic groups. Not all that travelled abroad in this way focused only on studying; some showed political interest as well. They embraced politics with a tendency towards the left and became leftists. They accepted Marxist – Leninist philosophy. They established Union of Ethiopian Students in Europe, and in North America. Among those in Europe there were Oromos like Haile Fida, and Abdullahi Yousuf. They were notable because they put significant effort to make Afaan Oromoo a written language. The work of Martin Moreno was easily accessible and they used it. They did slight modification to it and came up with their version of Oromo Alphabet. In 1973 two books were written in Afaan Oromoo and both were published. The titles of these books were “HIRMAATA DUBBII AFAAN OROMOO” and “BARA BIRRAAN BARIHE. The first book is “Parts of Speech in Afaan Oromoo” It is a basic grammar book The second one is a drama on life under the Feudal system The main characters were Grazmatch Tonkolu the Feudal Lord and Iddosaa the son of a peasant farmer. It is believed that Dr. Haile Fida did the major parts of these books, and Abdullahi Yousuf was a contributor as the dialects of the book indicated.
The Alphabet Haile Fida and his collègues used.
A B C č D E F G H I J K L M N Ñ O H P Q R S ṧ T Ṭ U W Y Z
Both are the first books written and published by Oromo national, and were the first books showing short and long vowels as well as stressed and non-stressed sounds. Following the fall of the monarch, this group returned to Ethiopia as a political party under the name ‘MEISON’ (All Éthiopien Socialist Movement). They gave critical support to the military and which later consumed them.
Hayle Fida’s Alphabet, although borrowed from Moreno it had two problems. One is a linguistic mistake. The glottal stop was not included in the alphabet. He probably forgot it or did not know that it is consonant. The second was related to the politics of the time, and did not consider the lack of typewriters with appropriate symbols for writing and printing in the Oromo language. Moreover, there was no goverment to fund and impliment his wishful plan.
By then, the Oromo Liberation struggle has began, and the army is required to study politics, and all other subjects in Afaan Oromoo. Haile Fida’s alphabet was adopted with some modifications. Instead of the accent marks like the inverted, chapeus were replaced by a short line segments over the letter. The rest was not changed. With new modification it seemed easy to use the typewriter that required moving the cu8rsor up down to type the added symbols.
The result was time consuming work. To type the added marks the cursor must be moved down or up to place the mark over or under the letters respectively. Letters could not be alligned on a straight line and the papers looked untidy.
The Alphabet initialy used by the OLF :
A B CH C D D E F G H I J K L M N Ñ O P Q R S SH T Ṭ U W Y Z
NB: T with a dot underneath is X.
Sheik Mohammed Rashad
News about the book « FURA AFAAN OROMOO » started to arrive. It is the book on Qubee Afaan Oromoo prepared by Shek Mohammed Reshad. The author was a very prominent scholar celebrity among the Oromo people. The alphabet he prepared developed from the Latin and is easier to use. One particular advantage his alphabet has, it can be typed using English typewriter.
The second group of students who travelled abroad for studying include all youth who by their own free will decided to travel. They were not sponsored by any government or non governmental organization. They had no scholarship grant. They did not know where to go, what to study, for how long, and what the expense was. The only thing they had was the desire to learn. They travelled on foot; crossed borders and reached a neighbouring country. From there, only a few got the oppertunity to reach a destination in the Middle East. A number of those who travelled on foot did not even cross the border. Death was their fate, because of hunger, disease, or attack from wild animals. Most who traveled in this way were Muslims and among them who successfully completed his studies and contributed a lot to his people was Dr. Shek Mohammed Rashaad.
Sheik Mohammed Reshad was born at Laga Arbaa, Carcar district, West Hararge zone in East Oromia. At school age he started learning Islamic education from his father who was his teacher. Rashad was a fast learner who completed basic and intermediate education in a short period of time. He was a nationalist who rejected the suffering of the Oromo under the repressive Neftenya regime. When he grew to be a teen ager, his father allowed him to travel to learn and seek knowledge. One day, he decided to travel with his friend. They started their journey on foot from Laga Arbaa. Along their way they have travelled through many villages and towns, but he mentions only two i.e. Chiro and Harar. When asked why he mentioned only the two his answer was as follows. “When I reached the town of Chiro I saw Abyssinian soldiers performing their routine parade. I saw a similar thing in Harar too. At that time, I thought the enemy soldiers subjugating the Oromo were encamped only at those two places and one needs to get rid of those soldiers to free the Oromo people. Therefore, I decided that I and my friend should travel abroad, meet with Muslims, explain the situation of our people, ask for arms, get armed with fire arms and hand grenades, return back home, one of us to Harar and the other to Chiro, set an agreed upon date and time, launch a pre-emptive attack, finish the enemy army and liberate our people. That was what I thought to accomplish at that young age. This makes his purpose of travel abroad a dual one: education and politics. First he crossed the border and entered Djibouti on foot. From there he crossed the Red sea by boat and reached Yemen. From Yemen he travelled through the Arabian Desert and finally made it the city of Medinah in Saudi Arabia where he settled for some time. During this long travel, he faced many difficulties and obstacles some of which were undoubtedly fatal. Had it not been for the help of Allah he would have not reached his adult hood to tell the story. Following a brief period of stay in Saudi Arabia, he travelled to Syria where he started his studies. Upon completion of his studies he was congratulated but was seen off without a diploma or a certificate. Because of this and the counseling he received from his friends he travelled to Egypt where he got registered at Al Azaar University. He continued his studies and graduated with BA and then MA degrees. His major was religion but he has taken several courses in sociology, psychology and counseling, logic and linguistics.
Dr. Rashad was not only a scholar who proved himself with his knowledge, but a nationalist who showed himself with what he did for the nation. At the University of Al Azaar there was a department where foreign languages were taught. Among the courses one was the Amharic language. He could not believe his ears when he heard it first until he confirmed that it was true. At that time, he prepared an official request and presented it to the department to include Oromo language in their courses. His request was denied and he asked why it was denied. The answer given to him through an indirect body was “Because the Oromo language has no alphabet.” He got the answer from an indirect source. It won’t be difficult to guess what this has triggered in him. He felt very bad and decided that all his efforts so far were for himself the rest should be for his people. He believed that the Oromo language should have an alphabet and must be a written language. He took this responsibility upon himself and began his work towards the goal. First he studied the efforts of Aanniyyi and Danniyyi and the work of Bekri Saphalo. He analyzed both and tried to understand the pros and cons of both alphabets if used for Oromo language. Finally he set three fundamental criteria to fulfill before any alphabet can be chosen. The three criteria are:
1) The alphabet should completely represent the Oromo phonemes
2) The people who can teach it should be available easily and everywhere
3) Typewriters and printing press must be readily available
Both alphabets were found not to fulfill the criteria. The Arabic alphabet could not fulfill all the three. Its symbols do not represent the entire phonemes because it is short by eight symbols. It means it does not have symbols representing eight sounds which are currently represented by: “ /C/, /CH/, /DH/, /G/, /NY/, /PH/, /X/ and /Q/. Because of the Oromo accent and the presence of sounds loosely close to them we can disregard the last two i.e. /X/ and /Q/ To explain the six sounds for which the Arabic alphabet has no symbols nothing is better than the example produced by Dr. Rashad himself. It goes, ask any Arab to pronounce the following sentence: “Dhagaa caphsii cirracha nyaadhu” and see for yourself that he/she cannot. Similarly you cannot write that sentence using the Arabic alphabet. Symbols can be modified to represent those sounds but no typewriters or printing presses are readily available for use. Because of this reason the Arabic alphabet as it is cannot be chosen for Afaan Oromoo.
Shek Bekri Sephalo
Among the Oromo scholars who worked to create an alphabet for Oromo language the first and the biggest name that comes forth is Sheek Bakri Saphalo. Saphalo was a renowned scholar on Islam and Arabic. No doubt that he tried the Arabic alphabet first. And it was he who invented the sentence “Gaccaphii nyadhachoo” to show the deficiency of the Arabic Alphabet. The Saphalo alphabet is not borrowed, but invented in Oromiyaa by an Oromo. It is a symbol of pride that made the Oromo a nation that owns home made alphabet. As such all of us should be proud of it. It strengthens the psychology of Oromummaa and must be kept, honored and developed for it is a national treasure. Finally, I would like to say loudly and confidently that it is the only alphabet born in Africa. The Sabean alphabet was invented in Asia and not in Africa. It was brought to Africa by the people who migrated from Yemen. More evidences can be presented to expose the lie about Sabean alphabet. For the moment I’ll stick to the aim of the article and will return to the issue when it is required.
The two alphabets (Arabic and Saphalo’s) are compared using the last two of the three criteria mentioned above the former was found in a better position than the later. Therefore, during his stay in Egypt Dr. Rashad chose to use the Arabic alphabet temporarily. He made some modifications to make it usable to write in Afaan Oromoo. Basically, he used similar methods used by Anniyyi and Daanniyyi with some additions. Even then one can use it to write with only by hand. Dr. Rashad was doing that for a purpose. He wanted to go back to the department of foreign languages by making a new claim. “The Oromo language has an alphabet; here is it.. Please allow that it can be taught in this University” His request was again denied. Lack of success in Egypt did not stop him from furthering his efforts to find an appropriate alphabet for Afaan Oromoo.
THE MOVE TO SOMALIA
News coming from home removes the entire desire to return back. Those who left the country in their own way and studied in foreign countries and returned back home were not received well. Some were prisoned; others were stopped and arrested and nobody knows their where about. Because these reasons returning back was understood as committing suicide. The only option remained was to move to neighboring countries and settle close to home. At that time Somalia was found to be better and moving to Somalia became mandatory.
NB: The alphabet the OLF used was borrowed from Hayle Fida,. But the letters (C, D, NY, SH, and PH) were modified to have a short line segment on top of them instead of the inverted accent chapeaux.
Dr. Mohammed Rashad too used the symbol “TH” for what is today known as “X” until he met with some leaders of the OLF in Somalia. They liked the simplicity of using Dr. Rashid’s symbols which accepted. Finally after discussion on the matter both parties agreed to name the symbol “X” to represent the sound it represents today.
The effort to find an appropriate alphabet for the Oromo language was as strong inside the country as it was outside the country. This was at full strength following the fall of the monarch. The military junta that seized power decided to use the Sabean alphabet for Afaan Oromoo. Bariisaa, the only independent Oromo newspaper was nationalized and made to continue to write using the Sabean alphabet. Bariisaa, since its inception was written in Sabean alphabet. But it used to publish pages written in Latin alphabet clearly showing the difference between the two to the general public. Writing Afaan Oromoo using the Latin alphabet was a crime under the Dergue. Doing that knowing its consequences, I should say, was a heroic action. It could possibly be the triggering factor for the action the government took against the newspaper.
Similarly, the famous artist, activist and nationalist Dr. Ali Birra released his music on literacy in Afaan Oromoo. The relics were clearly calling for Latin based Oromo alphabet. An extract from the relic of that song reads as follows:
A, B……. jennee-k-kaana; We shall stand by enchating A, B,..
Kanumaan jalqabna; We shall begin just with this
Afaanuma keenyaan katabnee dubbifna. We shall write and read in our language
The message of this song reached all corners of the Oromo nation and qubee began to be taught clandestinely .
At that time the military government ruling the country launched a literacy campaign, known as “Development through cooperation”. High schools and colleges were closed and the students were sent to rural Ethiopia to teach basic literacy. Basically in Amharic and nominally in other languages including Afaan Oromoo. The Dergue chose and forced the Sabean alphabet for all the languages. However, concerned Oromo nationalists and scholars continued to tell the truth regarding choice of alphabet for Afaan Oromoo.
Dr. Mohammed Rashad had the desire to share his knowledge with his people, and wanted to go back home, an action which was tantamount to committing suicide and could not be his choice. Instead, he decided to travel to a neighboring country Somalia, which at that time was relatively convenient to settle and help his people across the border. At that time Somalia just had a new government, led by an army general, by the name of Gen. Ziyad Barre, who seized power by overthrowing President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke. Ziyad Barre was a left wing politician and chose to led Somalia on the path of socialism. The new government decided to make the Somali language a written language and to be a medium in schools and a working language in government offices. The Latin alphabet was chosen and a committee guiding and implementing the policy was established. Some say that Shek Mohammed Reshad was a member of that committee, but so far I did not come across any document proving the truth of that statement.
Upon reaching Somalia the first thing to do was to find a permanent place for settlement and to get used to the new country i.e. the people and the weather. Soon after that he got engaged to do things that he believed was good for his people. Dr. Rashad always wanted that his people should learn, know, understand and attain political consciousness. And he said that the path taking us there has to pass through a gate, and that gate is learning. To teach a people you need to reach that people. The Oromo people were living far away from where he was; but he always believed that it was possible to reach there by using the media. Therefore, it is absolutely important to develop the Oromo language into a media language. This means using the printing distributing newspapers, brochures, books,..etc. and reaching the people by radio and TV. Electronic media is especially suited to reach unlettered or illiterate audience such as the Oromo society that cannot read and write. We know we have to start with what we have, what we can, and with what we know. The first thing to do was to get air time for Oromo language. Shek Rashad said “I have some knowledge, no radio station and no money. I believe in my God I trust in Him; I have no doubt that, he helps me always. With that belief and trust in Allah, I went to meet the authorities of Radio Mogadishu. I requested them to give air time for Oromo language. They denied my request based on series of political and diplomatic reasons. They said it will create trouble with Ethiopia. It violates the rules and regulations of peaceful co-existence of neighboring countries. I did not accept their decision; giving up was not an option. I continued to return to them again and again engaged them by using different methods and reasons until finally I got what I wanted. I got air time for Oromo language in Radio Mogadishu. But, they did not allow that the word “Oromo” be used. Because of that we could not say “the following program is in Afaan Oromoo” Instead we were told to use the phrase “Afaan Qottuu”. To remember, here is how we said “This is Radio Mogadishu the voice of the Republic of Somalia; It is now time for Programs in Afaan Qottu”. We were broadcasting for one hour every day. In our program, we had “News, Health education, Religion, short dramas, music, comments, questions of listeners”. After some years it was changed from “afaan Qottu” to Afaan Galla” and when the regime started war against Ethiopia it was changed to “Afaan Somaali Abbo”. That radio program entertained and educated the Oromo people; it awakened them, made them conscious and to stand for their right. In general, it created a force ready for the subsequent struggles. The scholar who struggled and succeeded in making Afaan Oromoo a broadcasted language was Dr. Mahammed Rashad Abdullee.
The efforts he did while he was in Somalia were a continuation of the effort he started in Egypt. The first step was to choose the right alphabet, that became the alphabet of the Oromo language. Before 1974, writing Afaan Oromoo using any alphabet was illegal. During the Dengue’s regime writing afaan Oromo in any alphabet except the Sabean continued to be illegal. Following the fall of the military junta in 1991, things started becoming favorable. Newspapers, magazines, and books were written, published and distributed. Soon, a meeting of Oromo scholars, elders and community representatives was called to discuss and decide on Oromo alphabet. Accordingly, Latin based alphabet was accepted unanimously, and the first congress of Caffee Oromiyaa put it into a law. Since then Afaan Oromoo has been a written language, a school language, and a working language.
The effort carried out in diaspora too was not free from obstacles. Forces that opposed the decision of Somali government for choosing Latin alphabet for the Somali language started opposing the Oromo effort for choosing the Latin alphabet. They want the Arabic alphabet be used for Oromo language. The reason they provide is based on a wrong understanding of the Arabic alphabet which they believe to be an Islamic alphabet. No doubt that the Qur’an and all the other original Islamic teachings were written in Arabic using the Arabic alphabet. Arabic alphabet, however, existed and was in use prior to the advent of the religion. Similarly not everything written in Arabic alphabet was Islamic even today. Some of them used the corrupted meaning of the word “LATIN” in Arabic as “LA DEEN” which means “NO RELIGION”. Because of the love they have for Islam they believed that the Arabic alphabet serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of the religion. They failed to remember that Islam reached all corners of the world without using Arabic alphabet as a vehicle for its dissemination.
The work of Dr. Shek Mohammed Reshad that helped to overcome the resistance against the use of Latin alphabet in diaspora is history we will never forget. He attended meetings and presented papers with sufficient explanations and reasons in favor of Latin alphabet. One scholar who attended those meetings was Mr. Taha Abdi, one of the founding member of the OLF, and a member of the leadership. When asked to comment on the contribution of Dr. Rashad, Mr. Abdi said the following: The pressure against Latin alphabet was mounting and reached its peak and everyone was frustrated. At that time Dr. Rashad came to me and said, “No one else has better experience in trying to write afaan Oromo using the Arabic alphabet. I know all the pros and cons of Arabic alphabet if used for Oromo language. At this time by comparing all parameters there is no alphabet which is better suited than the Latin Alphabet for Afaan Oromo. In this regard I will confront, debate and win all against Latin alphabet. Don’t worry !!!” “On hearing those words” Mr. Taha Abdi concludes “all of my frustrations and anger were totally removed. And he said, he won the debate and had the opposition openly accept Latin alphabet for Afaan Oromoo.
The first book authored by Shek Rashad was “FURA AFAAN OROMOO”. It is a textbook on Oromoo Alphabet. It teaches how to read and write in Afaan Oromoo. It was written by hand in 1969, and printed two years later in Mogadishu. The book, however, was considered as an act of crime against the territorial policy of the government of Ziyad Barre, the policy of annexing the land of Ogaden, Eastern and Southern Oromia, and the NFD of Kenya to create Great Somalia. Because of that the book FURA AFAAN OROMOO which carries the name Oromo they decided that the book be removed from market and the author be arrested. Dr. Rashad chose to stay hiding for some time and avoided the arrest. Finally, some elders intervened and a negotiated settlement was reached. The Somali government wanted the title of the book be changed to Fura Afaan Abboo and was printed and distributed under the new title.
Dr. MOHAMMED Reshad, authored many books. He was the first author to write children’s book in Afaan Oromoo. He was the first to translate the meaning of the Noble Qur’an into Afaan Oromoo available in both audio and text forms. Here is the list of some of his books: Hadiisa Afurtamman Nawawii, Seeraafi Naamusa Hajjii, Gadaa Islaamaa (Hundeelee Amantii Islaamaa), Tajwiida Qur’aanaa (Akkaataa Qur’aanni itti qara’amu), Manxiq (Logic), kkf. He also wrote many books on oral tradition, poems, and others. Because of all these it won’t be an exaggeration to call this man “the father of Oromo writings”.
Shek Mohammed Rashad sacrificed all of his life for Oromo and Oromummaa. He suffered a stroke while he was in Saudi Arabia and was under treatment for many years. Finally, he went back home and lived in the cities of Adama and Dirre Dhawaa. Finally the divine call came and he passed away on April 25, 2013. May he attain the mercy of Allah and reside in the garden of bliss.
Dr. Shek Mahammad Rashad is not a scholar who left his people empty handed. He put all his works on the Internet at his website he called “Bakka Rashad”. This too makes him the first scholar to build a web-site www.Reshad.org and left all his works for generations to come.
You can find the Afaan Oromo version of this article here
SAPHALO’S OROMO ORTHOGRAPHY