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Toronto (Canada)

28, Nov. 2003


M. M. Afrah


Soon after 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.

These 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.

Matters 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.

A 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.

The 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.

"Questions like secularism, freedom of the press and democracy are out of bound in the true Islamic World," the Sheikh announced.

"Western-style 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.


Watching 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.

The reverberation 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.

When the 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.

The amputation was done fast but casually with unsterilzed knife, and no anesthetic was used in the process.

Later 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.

But in 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.

The Qura'an's 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."

Sheikh 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.

In his 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," he charged.

Although 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.

He ordered 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.

"We 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".

The Sheikh's 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.

No wonder 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.

A week 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.)

But 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.

A man 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,


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