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 Mesaj Başlığı: For Somalia, Chaos Breeds Religious War / NY Times
MesajGönderilme zamanı: 03.08.09, 11:17 #mesajın linki (?)

Kayıt: 17.01.09, 16:49
Mesajlar: 62
For Somalia, Chaos Breeds Religious War

May 23, 2009

DUSA MARREB, Somalia — From men of peace, the Sufi clerics suddenly became men of war.

Their shrines were being destroyed. Their imams were being murdered. Their tolerant beliefs were under withering attack.

So the moderate Sufi scholars recently did what so many other men have chosen to do in anarchic Somalia: they picked up guns and entered the killing business, in this case to fight back against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.

“Clan wars, political wars, we were always careful to stay out of those,” said Sheik Omar Mohamed Farah, a Sufi leader. “But this time, it was religious.”

In the past few months, a new axis of conflict has opened up in Somalia, an essentially governmentless nation ripped apart by rival clans since 1991. Now, in a definitive shift, fighters from different clans are forming alliances and battling one another along religious lines, with deeply devout men on both sides charging into firefights with checkered head scarves, assault rifles and dusty Korans.

It is an Islamist versus Islamist war, and the Sufi scholars are part of a broader moderate Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia’s increasingly powerful extremists. Whether Somalia becomes a terrorist incubator and a genuine regional threat — which is already beginning to happen, with hundreds of heavily armed foreign jihadists flocking here to fight for the Shabab — or whether this country finally steadies itself and ends the years of hunger, misery and bloodshed may hinge on who wins these battles in the next few months.

“We’re on terra incognito,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit group that tries to prevent deadly conflicts. “Before, everything was clan. Now we are beginning to see the contours of an ideological, sectarian war in Somalia for the first time, and that scares me.”

For two years, Islamist insurgents waged a fierce war against Somalia’s transitional government and the thousands of Ethiopian troops protecting it. In January, the insurgents seemed to get what they wanted: the Ethiopians pulled out; an unpopular president walked away; and moderate Islamists took the helm of the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia, raising hopes for peace.

But since then, the verdict on the moderates has been mixed. In the past two weeks, the Shabab have routed government forces in Mogadishu, the capital. The tiny bit of the city the government controls is shrinking, block by block, and Ethiopian troops have once again crossed the border and are standing by. As many as 150 people have been killed, and the relentless mortar fire has spawned streams of shellshocked civilians trudging into the arid countryside, where they face the worst drought in a decade.

If Mogadishu falls, Somalia will be dragged deeper into the violent morass that the United Nations, the United States and other Western countries have tried hard to stanch, and the country will fragment even further into warring factions, with radical Islamists probably on top.

But out here, on the wind-whipped plains of Somalia’s central region, it is a different story. The moderates are holding their own, and the newly minted Sufi militia is about the only local group to go toe-to-toe with the Shabab and win.

The several-hundred-square-mile patch of central Somalia that the Sufis control is not nearly as strategic as Mogadishu. But the Sufis have achieved what the transitional government has not: grass-roots support, which explains how they were able to move so quickly from a bunch of men who had never squeezed a trigger before — a rarity in Somalia — into a cohesive fighting force backed by local clans.

Many Somalis say that the Sufi version of Islam, which stresses tolerance, mysticism and a personal relationship with God, is more congruent with their traditions than the Wahhabi Islam espoused by the Shabab, which calls for strict separation of the sexes and harsh punishments like amputations and stonings.

“We see the Sufis as part of us,” said Elmi Hersi Arab, an elder in the battered central Somalia town of Dusa Marreb. “They grew up here.”

The Sufis also tapped into an anti-Shabab backlash. The Shabab, who recruit from all clans, and, according to American officials, are linked to Al Qaeda, controlled Dusa Marreb for the better part of last year. Residents described that period as a reign of terror, with the Shabab assassinating more than a dozen village elders and even beheading two women selling tea.

“We respected the Shabab for helping drive out the Ethiopians,” said one woman in Dusa Marreb who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “But when the Ethiopians left and the Shabab kept the war going, that to us didn’t make sense.”

The Sufis, a loosely organized, religious brotherhood, also drawing from many different clans, had studiously avoided getting gummed up in Somalia’s back-and-forth clan battles, often no more than thin cover for power struggles between businessmen and warlords. But in November, Sheik Omar said, the Shabab shot dead several Sufi students. The next month, the Shabab tore apart Sufi shrines.

A spike of panic shot through the Sufi schools, where young men like Siyad Mohammed Ali were studying Islamic philosophy. “We had never told the Shabab how to worship,” he said. “But now we were under attack.”

Men like Mr. Siyad became the backbone of the new Sufi militia, which got a crate of AK-47s from one set of clan elders or a sputtering armored truck from another. In December, the Sufis, whose organization is called Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, which roughly translates as the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, drove the Shabab out of Dusa Marreb. Since then, the Sufis have defended their territory several times against Shabab incursions.

Hassan Sheik Mohamud, the dean of a college in Mogadishu, said the rise of the Sufis was “absolutely, totally new historically.”

“They had a reputation for being peaceful,” he said.

The Sufis are loosely allied to the transitional government, which has promised to rule Somalia with some form of Islamic law. The president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is a bit of an enigma, coming from a long line of Sufi clerics, yet rising to power in 2006 as part of an Islamist alliance with a decidedly Wahhabi bent. He has said that he wants women to play an important role in government, but several prominent Somali women said that during a recent meeting, he would not look them in the eye.

Many Somalis say that Sheik Sharif is making the same mistake his predecessors made, spending more time riding around foreign capitals in a Mercedes than working Mogadishu’s streets to cultivate local allies.

Out here, the Sufis are moving ahead with their own small administration, meeting with United Nations officials and running patrols. At night, in a circle under a tree, they rest their AK-47s on their Korans, drop their foreheads to the earth and pray.

“We have jihad, too,” said Sheik Omar, a tall man with a long beard and warm eyes. “But it’s inner jihad, a struggle to be pure.”


Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Sufis are part of a moderate Islamist movement that Western nations are counting on to repel Somalia’s increasingly powerful Islamist extremists.

Members of a Sufi militia in Dusa Merrab, Somalia, have taken up arms to fight against the Shabab, one of the most fearsome extremist Muslim groups in Africa.

Sheik Omar Mohamed Farah, center, a Sufi leader in Dusa Marreb, joined other militia members in a class on the Koran.

More Photos »


Somalia's Sufis Fight the Shabab

Somalia has been plagued by civil war between rival clans for almost 20 years. Now, religious groups are killing each other over competing visions of Islam.

En son green_valley tarafından 03.08.09, 11:37 tarihinde düzenlendi, toplamda 2 kere düzenlendi.

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 Mesaj Başlığı: Grave desecration
MesajGönderilme zamanı: 03.08.09, 11:31 #mesajın linki (?)

Kayıt: 17.01.09, 16:49
Mesajlar: 62
Somali rage at grave desecration

The contents of the Sufi graves have been left in the open

By Mohamed Mohamed
BBC Somali Service

Since they began to capture large swathes of southern Somalia, radical Islamists have been undertaking a programme of destroying mosques and the graves of revered religious leaders from the Sufi branch of Islam.

The destruction of non-approved religious sites started last year when they began to knock down an old colonial era church in the town of Kismayo.
Most Somalis are Sufi Muslims, who do not share the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahhabi interpretation of Islam with the hardline al-Shabab group.

They embrace music, dancing and meditation and are appalled at the desecration of the graves.
But al-Shabab sees things differently.
The group's spokesman in the town of Kismayo, Sheikh Hassan Yaquub, told the BBC Somali Service that his movement considered that the memorials were being worshipped and that this was idolatry - banned by Islam.
"The destruction of graves is not something new: we target graves that are overdecorated and ones used for misleading people.
"We are not aiming at the sheikhs [religious leaders] and their standing in the society, but it is forbidden to make graves into shrines," Mr Yaquub said.
Mosques closed
Grave are being desecrated wherever al-Shabab is in control.
The town of Brave is home to a number of minority groups.

Among them are the Sufi Bravenese, a Bantu group who speak a language unique to their town called Chimbalazi, similar to Swahili.
Many of the graves of their religious leaders have been attacked.
Graveyard caretakers have been arrested and told not to go back to work.
The disappointment and sadness of this community has reached beyond Somalia.
"The people of Brave feel the desecrations of graves are actions against humanity," said Mohamed Sheikh, a Bravenese community leader in Manchester in the north-west of England.
"The Islamists closed the mosques and said no-one could pray at the ones near graveyards - arguing that the prayers performed there could not be proper prayers and would amount to worshiping the graves themselves.
"These people [he avoids mentioning al-Shabab by name] cannot teach us about Islam. Islam reached Brave and all the coastal areas when the religion arrived in East Africa 1,250 to 1,300 years ago.
"The living person can at least defend himself, but the dead cannot. The spirits of the dead deserve respect. Even when we walk near graves we walk slowly, because while the bodies are dead, the spirit is not. Destroying graves is despicable."
Fighting back
There is evidence that the anger is stirring the usually peaceful Sufis to take up arms and fight back against al-Shabab.

Has al-Shabab made a strategic error in antagonising the Sufis?
The umbrella group Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama (Sufi Sects in Somalia) has condemned the actions of what they call the ideology of modern Wahhabism and the desecrations of graves.
They see Wahhabism as foreign and ultimately un-Islamic.
Wahhabism is a branch of Sunni Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia.
It preaches a more literal interpretation of Islam and condemns innovations in Islam and rituals.
It is at the opposite end of the spectrum of Islam to Sufism.
"These radical groups shed Muslim blood every day and they dig out and desecrate our graves. They are funded from outside and their Wahhabi ideology is foreign and must be dealt with," says the group's spokesman Abdirasak Mohamed Al Ash'ari.
The group has now joined forces with the embattled government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, against al-Shabab.
Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama now controls much of the Galgadud Region in Central Somalia after they defeated al-Shabab in a number of battles.
In one of their battles they managed to kill a senior al-Shabab leader.
By antagonising the Sufi groups, al-Shabab may have gone too far.

The living person can at least defend himself, but the dead cannot... destroying graves is despicable
Mohamed Sheikh


Grave desecration

Some reports suggest he may have been killed by members of Mr Aweys' militia, angered at the report that their leader had been killed - or injured.
The latest spate of fighting began after the Sufi Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama sect pledged to defend President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed at a meeting of moderate Islamic leaders.

A hardline Islamist alliance controls much of southern and central Somalia.
Correspondents say the Sufi sect has been angered recently by the desecration of the graves of revered Sufi leaders by the al-Shabab group which follows the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahabi branch of Islam.
A spokesman for al-Shabab, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, said its forces were in control of Webho - but this was denied by Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama.
The town has changed hands several times in recent weeks.
President Ahmed is a moderate Islamist, who was installed in January after a UN-brokered peace deal.


Somali fighters destroying shrines - 20 Dec 2008

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 Mesaj Başlığı: Re: For Somalia, Chaos Breeds Religious War / NY Times
MesajGönderilme zamanı: 19.08.09, 20:19 #mesajın linki (?)

Kayıt: 09.02.09, 14:18
Mesajlar: 96
Al-Shabab Militants Enforce Laws Alien to Somali Culture
By Alisha Ryu
13 August 2009

In Somalia, militant Islamists have begun enforcing new laws in the areas they control that are challenging the views of many traditionally moderate Muslims in the country.

The leader of al-Shabab militants in Somalia's Banadir region, which includes the capital Mogadishu, says all women living in towns and districts under al-Shabab control must now cover themselves completely or face severe punishment.

Ali Mohamud Hussein says al-Shabab will not tolerate anyone who disobeys the order.

Hussein says in the Koran, Allah orders all women to be covered from head-to-toe and that is why the law is being strictly enforced.

Traditional Somali clothing for women consist of light, colorful fabrics that cover the head and are wrapped loosely around the body. But al-Shabab says the only acceptable clothing now is the black Islamic dresses known as abayas worn by women in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Al-Shabab is an al-Qaida-linked group that has been leading a bloody insurgency against Somalia's U.N.-backed government for more than two years. The group is a U.S. designated terrorist organization.

Al-Shabab militants control vast areas of southern Somalia, including several major districts in the capital Mogadishu, and have imposed laws based on the ultra-conservative Wahabist version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Al-Shabab has stoned women accused of adultery and amputated limbs of suspected thieves.

But Somalis say the militants have begun interpreting Islamic laws to levels that even many Saudis may consider harsh.

Somali women in Mogadishu say al-Shabab has warned them that they would face punishment if they wore bras under their abayas because the group considers bras to be Western garments and un-Islamic. And in the port town of Marka, just south of Mogadishu, young al-Shabab fighters are reportedly rounding up men and women who have silver or gold teeth.

According to residents there, the people are taken to a man, who uses his bare hands or pliers to rip the metal teeth out of their mouths. The residents say the militants have told them that they consider such fancy dental implants to be against Islamic laws that call for Muslims to practice humility.

During the six-month rule of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, al-Shabab and other Islamists gained popular support for imposing law and order in a country that had seen nothing but clan-based fighting and chaos since the fall of the country's last functioning government in 1991.

The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December, 2006 drove al-Shabab underground and since then it has returned as a fearsome, far-more-radical guerrilla force. In recent months, al-Shabab has invited hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia to help train new recruits and to topple the seven-month old government of President Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

President Sharif is a former Islamist opposition leader, who was elected president in January under a U.N.-sponsored deal that was condemned by al-Shabab and other Islamist groups.

But some Somali and Western analysts say al-Shabab's ties to foreign groups such as al-Qaida and its strict interpretations of Islam have begun alienating many ordinary Somalis. This, they say, may create an opportunity for President Sharif to implement much-needed reforms and build credibility with Somalis, who have questioned the legitimacy of the shaky government and his ability to lead it.


WFP Compound in Somalia Attacked by 'Rogue al-Shabab'

By Alisha Ryu

17 August 2009

The United Nation's World Food Program says rogue members of Somalia's extremist al-Shabab group attempted to raid its compound late Sunday in the Somali town of Wajid, about 300 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.

World Food Program spokesman, Peter Smerdon, tells VOA that as many as 10 heavily-armed gunmen approached the WFP compound in Wajid shortly before midnight Sunday.

Smerdon says they ordered the security guards to open the gate. When the guards refused, the gunmen opened fire.

"In the ensuing gun battle, which lasted about 15 minutes, three of the gunmen were killed and one was seriously wounded. One guard was slightly wounded. The attackers were rogue elements of al-Shabab from outside Wajid and they subsequently left Wajid after the assault on the compound," he said.

Smerdon says it is likely the gunmen had intended to kidnap foreign aid workers staying at the compound. Wajid, in Somalia's northwestern Bakool region, is in an area controlled by al-Shabab, but Smerdon says there is no evidence to suggest that al-Shabab authorities had ordered the attack.

Nine international U.N. staff, seven from WFP and two from other U.N. agencies, have been temporarily evacuated to Nairobi. WFP says it will continue its supplementary feeding programs in the region through local non-governmental organization partners.

Aid workers have been frequent targets of kidnappings and assassinations during a two-year, al-Shabab-led insurgency against the country's U.N.-backed transitional government in Mogadishu. Eight aid workers have been killed in Somalia this year and 13 remain in captivity.

Meanwhile, south of Wajid in the Gedo region, forces loyal to the armed Sufi Muslim group, Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a say they captured the town of Bulo Hawa from al-Shabab militants early Monday.

Bulo Hawo is near the border from the Kenyan town of Mandera, and like much of southern Somalia, it had been under the control of al-Shabab, an extremist group with ties to al-Qaida and designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

A spokesman for Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a, Yusuf al-Ashari, described the takeover of Bulo Hawa as a victory for all Somalis, who reject al-Shabab's extremism.

The Sufi cleric says Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a will continue its holy war against al-Shabab until all innocent Muslims are free from what he termed "the evil group."

Al-Shabab leaders in the southern city of Kismayo immediately called on al-Shabab fighters to mobilize in Gedo and defend the towns from Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a attacks. Al-Shabab has repeatedly accused Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a of being militarily backed by neighboring Ethiopia, a charge the Sufi group denies.

Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a took up arms last December after al-Shabab members declared Sufism to be a heretical version of Islam and desecrated the graves of Sufi clerics in southern Somalia. Since then, al-Shabab has suffered several military setbacks at the hands of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a in central and south-central Somalia.

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