28, Nov. 2003
THE ATTEMPT TO INTRODUCE SHARE'A LAW IN NORTH MOGADISHU-1993/94,
AND WHY IT FAILED DISASTROUSLY
M. M. Afrah
the United Nations pulled out of Somalia, north Mogadishu
was run by an uneasy alliance between Ali Mahdi Mohamed and
Sheikh Ali Dheere, one of Somalia's leading clerics. The Sheikh
and a group of clerics declared the introduction of Share'a
courts to try offenders according to Islamic law and subject
them to its punishment.
are, by Western standard, ferocious and inhuman. 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 under oath
at the hearing. But most of these usually turned out to be
what many Somalis call Shahaado-suur (hired witnesses) and
are automatically disqualified by the clerics-with a stern
warning, and sometimes rigorous prison terms.
came to a head when the Council of Clerics suddenly announced
that journalists publishing or putting on air "unholy
propaganda or falsehoods" would be executed or have their
hands cut off. Soon after the announcement on handbills and
posters, the daily newspaper Qaran (Nation) was banned by
an Islamic court for publishing an editorial suggesting that
the courts condemn only poor defendants and that the bigwigs
get away with heinous crimes with the blessings of the clerics.
slim tabloid-sized newsletter, Qaran determined to bring
behind-the-scene news stories to a war-weary population
and captured the bitter row between the clerics and
Ali Mahdi in a front-page banner that equaled the clerics
to medieval Europe where the church hierarchy ruled
with iron fist.
analogy angered Sheikh Ali Dheere and decided that enough
is enough. He immediately issued a Fatwa (an edict)
against the editor over the head of Ali Mahdi.
like secularism, freedom of the press and democracy are out
of bound in the true Islamic World," the Sheikh announced.
democracy 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 50 centigrade. Of course at that time no one knew
how much staying power the Sheikh is going to have. The bet
among qat and cigarette importers was on.
the spectacle of hands being cut or adulterer stoned to death
for some people is ugly, degrading and inhuman. Yet this ferocious
exemplary justice has restored peace and harmony to the streets
of north Mogadishu. The markets were bustling with economic
life, and you rarely see guns beyond the Bakaaraha arms bazaar.
There were even a few unarmed policemen around, directing
traffic and keeping law and order, spotting their old uniforms
and the familiar sky blue berets. At night the streets were
properly lit-a rare sight in the besieged capital.
of generators can be heard across Ali Mahdi's enclave, and
women were for the first time going out with their jewelries
prominently displayed around their necks. It was like the
good old days when the inhabitants could walk the streets
without fear of being mugged by armed bandits in the payroll
of the warlords.
BBC Television in London 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.
was done fast but casually with unsterilzed knife, and no
anesthetic was used in the process.
when the picture was specially screened for seasoned war correspondents
who were made of sterner stuff, it was decided not to put
on air. "Deeply disturbing. A huge step back to medieval
barbarism," was the general consensus. "It would
offend the sensibilities of the audience," they said.
north Mogadishu the vast majority of the war-weary 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.
definition of law and order is an eye for an eye and no provision
for a defense lawyer, appeal or juries. The Share'a Law, the
Islamic code of justice has found you guilty, period. The
popular slogan in the north of the city was "Love it
or Leave it."
Ali Dheere had easily become the most popular man in Mogadishu.
He used to walk the streets without the usual cadres of armed
teenagers. He always spurned the prefix warlord and identified
himself with the underdog. But like every man made famous
by the clan warfare, the thirsty for political power soon
gripped him, pitting his fellow clerics against his erstwhile
associate, Ali Mahdi, the man who appointed him to the post.
Friday sermon the Sheikh, flanked by his entourage, castigated
what he called feeble-minded petty politicians who were reluctant
to embrace the Share'a law, "because they chew qat, smoke
cigarettes, commit adultery and destroy innocent lives,"
the Sheikh's campaign received wide support from the general
population in the north of the city, it met with stiff resistance
from vocal minorities, including the modern elite, the qat
importers, the Afminsharis (the power brokers) and the merchants
of death (the arms traffickers), because he preached strict
Islamic code of conduct and dress. No chewing of the stimulant
leaf qat, no cigarettes, no adultery, no display of weapons
in public, and strict observation of Ramadhan. All eating-houses
must remain closed during the month of Ramadhan from sunrise
to sunset. He generally denounced excessive indulgence and
luxuries, calling on the warlords to return to the strict
path of Muslim Puritanism.
women to wear the veil, covering from head-to-toe. His powerful
enemies were up in arms with the blessing of the warlords.
Obviously the Big Brother act did not augur well with the
merchants of death and the secularists. They had one thing
in common: to dislodge the Sheikh and ditch the Share'a law
once and for all.
are fighting against powerful infidels," he said in his
last Friday sermon as Chief of the Clerics. He was bereft.
He had to come to terms with his failed High Noon act in a
country where shifting clan loyalties created more hardship
and agony. One secularist in the pay roll of the arms traffickers
and qat importers publicly denounced the Sheikh "as another
self-serving dictator masquerading as a God fearing Mullah".
neophytes poorly equipped and malnourished "New Islamic
Soldiers" were no match to the numerical strength and
superior firepower of the warlords and the merchants of death.
Sheikh Ali hastily closed the Islamic Courts in the north
of the divided city, leaving tens of thousands of his supporters
to fend for themselves, under the mercy of the brutal warlords
and their financiers.
later Qaran news bulletin came out of the Fatwa limbo with
this Editorial: "Sheikh Ali had unenviable task.
He tried to succeed where others failed. But his biggest mistake
was to force hungry and skeleton-looking mothers and grandmothers
to cover themselves with the expensive veil-a veil that costs
more than 40 American dollars apiece. There was a rush among
the merchants and war profiteers to import the black garment
from India and Japan where the women in those countries by
no means wear this veil (sic). Now the people call these merchants
"religious profiteers." His second mistake was to
treat journalists like common criminals and issuing a Fatwa
against them." (Edited for brevity.)
the Mooryaan or the freelance death squads and robbers,
who until now cleverly avoided crossing the notorious
Green Line that divides the city into north and south,
made their presence felt as soon as the Sheikh and his
fellow clerics moved elsewhere under cover of darkness.
with a warehouse of a memory said that since 90 per cent of
the inhabitants wholeheartedly supported the clerics and the
Share'a law, Sheikh Ali should have prevailed against his
enemies by mobilizing the masses.
"Of course there would have been a bloodshed, but the
benefit would have outweighed it," he said.
By M. M. Afrah©2003,