Jaama’a Bilaal – Father of the Modern Somali Education System

Born and raised in Yemen, Ma’alim Jaama’a Bilaal ( along with Haji Dirie Hersi) is credited for laying the foundation for the modern Somali education system. In Aden, he was educated in Arabic and English and became a teacher at a renowned school.

In the 1920s, Bilaal returned to Somalia to work as the secretary for Boqor Osman of the Migiurtinia Sultanate. He was based in Hafun where he wrote up treaties between the Boqor and the Italians until 1927, when the Italians bombarded the region and imprisoned Jaama’a Bilaal alongside Boqor Osman. He was then taken to Mogadishu, the capital of Italian Somaliland, for close observation by the Italians.

In 1932, with the help and financial backing of Haji Dirie Hersi, Bilaal returned to his first passion – teaching. The first school was in a modest building in the Iskuraran district of Mogadishu. Assuming his role as director, Ma’alim Jaama’a Bilaal differentiated the school from the typical traditional Koranic teaching school by introducing a modern type of teaching and a set curriculum. The curriculum was that of Aden, based on five books, including Hidayat al-Islam and a book for arithmetic. Students were also taught to read and write in Arabic and the native Osmaniya script. Open-minded Somalis sent their children to the school for modern education.

In 1941, the British occupiers of the country nationalized the school and moved it to Hamar Weyne, near the De Martino Hospital. When it became too small for the many students, they transferred it to Hamar Jajab. Senior Civil Affairs Officer Duncun, the official in charge of education, praised Jaama’a Bilaal and Haji Dirie Hersi for providing the foundation of modern education in the country. After the school was nationalized, the curriculum was extended to include English.

In 1950, when the Italians came back and began to prepare the country for independence, they took over the school and extended its curriculum for secondary schools. Many graduates of the Ma’alim Jaama’a Bilaal’s school went on to hold significant positions in post-Independence Somali governments. Bilaal revolutionized the Somali education system and by 1950, there were 29 similar schools in Mogadishu.

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