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An extract from a new book by M.M. Afrah to be published in Canada in the winter of 2002.


In less than half an hour of bone-jarring speed they were now in the heart of an area controlled by the Islamic Share'a Courts and the stronghold of Ali Mahdi. The Moryaan or the freelance robbers could not operate in the area, but the inhabitants faced dangers from rival clans in the south of the city and ground offensive by retreating militia. The Quran's definition of law and order is an eye for an eye and no provision for a defence lawyer or appeal, no last rites, graves, and no headstones.

The Share'a law, the Islamic code of justice found you guilty, period. So gunmen loyal to south Mogadishu warlords cleverly avoided crossing the notorious Green Line that divides the capital into south and north. The late military dictator's judicial systems included secular courts and courts under Islamic law mainly for civil litigation presided by corrupt Kadhis. But the people were disillusioned with these corrupt judges and Kadhis, often hand picked from the president's own minority clan. Now this part of the city is run by an uneasy alliance between Ali Mahdi and the leading Islamic cleric in Somalia, Sheikh Ali Dheere.

Two years ago Sheikh Ali Dheere forced through the introduction of Share'a to try offenders according to Islamic law and subject them to its punishment. These are, by Western standards, ferocious and inhumane. The theft of goods worth more than 25 dollars means the loss of the right hand. If a gun is used in the crime, the left foot is cut as well. Legal representation is denied, but in some cases, such as adultery, witnesses are called to testify at the hearing. But most of these usually turn out to be what the Somalis bitterly call "Shahaada Suur" (hired witnesses) and are automatically disqualified by the clerics - with a stern warning. Matters came to a head when the Council of Clerics suddenly announced that journalists publishing or putting on air "unholy propaganda and falsehoods" would be executed of have their hands cut off. Soon after the announcement on handbills and posters, the daily HILIN was banned by an Islamic Court for publishing an editorial suggesting that fasting during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadhan should be shelved temporarily due to the prevailing famine compounded with the brutal civil war. It said the majority of the people have nothing to look forward to breaking the fast at sundown after a grueling 12 hours of fasting.

A slim tabloid-sized newsletter, HILIN was determined to bring behind-the-scenes news stories to a war-weary population and captured the bitter row between the clerics and Ali Mahdi in a front-page banner and equaled the clerics with medieval Europe where the church hierarchy ruled with an iron fist. The analogy angered Sheikh Ali Dheere and his followers and decided that enough was enough. He immediately issued a Fatwa (an edict) against the editor over the head of Ali Mahdi. "Questions like secularism, freedom of the press and democracy are not compatible with the Share'a law," the Sheikh announced. "They do not work in Somalia," he told a huge gathering of enthusiasts at the old Banadir Stadium, who braved the hottest day in living memory. The temperature hovered around a muggy 100 Fahrenheit.

The editor and his staff of reporters fled the enclave under cover of darkness, leaving everything behind.Their printing press was subsequently put to the torch. Foreign reporters continued to work from their bureaus in neighbouring Kenya, citing obvious and insurmountable dangers. Of course, at the time no one knew how much staying power the Sheikh is going to have. The bet among the journalists was on. "Everybody, except the merchants of death and importers of Khat, was happy," Tiffow said. But the introduction of the Share'a law in the north of the city also prompted the wrath of the international media.

The BBC, the Voice of America and the CNN, quoting a Reuters news dispatch from Mogadishu, described the announcement as "barbaric and inhuman." "The issue is closed," the Sheikh snapped at a Reuters reporter who pressed him to comment on the foreign radio broadcasts. "We will implement the Share'a law whether the BBC and their American friends like it or not," he added. "Although the reporter could not know it, he himself was on the hit list the clerics were about to issue that afternoon. Also what he didn't know was the cloak of secrecy the Mullahs threw about the hit list before the operation is done with," the driver whispered. "How did you know all this?" Keynaan asked him. "I happened to be the only taxi driver who could criss-cross the Green Line at the time.

And after picking him up, the reporter explained what happened." "How did he know that his name was on the hit list?" "He said that despite the secrecy, a member of the Council of the Clerics, a close relative of his, tipped him at the eleventh hour." Tiffow said, still whispering lest a supporter of the Sheikh heard him. "What else did he say about the Islamic Courts," Keynaan asked him skillfully. "He said he avoided watching serious cases, but he said he came across a severed hand and foot lying abandoned in the dust. Obviously someone had just suffered the penalty for armed robbery." Watching the spectacle of hands being cut or adulterer stoned to death for some people is ugly, degrading and inhuman. Yet this exemplary justice has quietened the streets of north Mogadishu. The markets were bustling with economic life, and you rarely see guns beyond Bakaaraha arms bazaar. There were even a few policemen around.

At night, the streets were properly lit - a rare sight in the besieged capital. The reverberations of generators can be heard across Ali Mahdi's stronghold, the old driver concluded his narration, no longer whispering for obvious reason. After long silence followed by reading verses from the Holy Quran, Tiffow said: "Last week I watched a woman being stoned to death for committing adultery.

But it later transpired that the woman, a mother of five, was set up by her husband by hiring four respectable looking Shahaada Suur according to the Share'a law. But it was too late for the poor woman." He lamented. "What happened to the husband and why he framed his wife with false charges.

He could keep his younger wife and remain married to the mother of his children at the same time?" Keynaan said, holding his breath. "He was a wealthy old man who decided to get rid of his nagging wife in order to marry a beautiful young flame twice his age," Tiffow said with a smile, showing Qat and tobacco-stained teeth. "You said "he was", what happened to the old man and his hired witnesses?" "They were publicly executed by a firing squad by the "New Islamic Soldiers" in front of the Lido Beach," Tiffow snapped.

When the BBC obtained a tape filmed with a small video camera of a man having his hand and foot amputated, it was so revolting that the picture editor had to leave the studio in a lightning speed to throw up. The amputation was done fast but casually, and there is no anaesthetic. Later, when the picture was specially screened for seasoned war correspondents who were made of sterner stuff, it was decided not to put it on air. "Deeply disturbing.

A huge step to medieval barbarism," was the general consensus. It would offend the sensibilities of the audience, they said. But in north Mogadishu the vast majority of the inhabitants overwhelmingly welcomed the Share'a law and even participated at colourful ceremonies where hands are amputated or adulterer stoned to death, shouting Allahu Akbar (God is Great). Ali Mahdi refused to attend these ceremonies, saying he was very busy, trying to subdue his arch rival, General Aideed.

To be continued.
By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved

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