Al-Shabab & ASWJ: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
I have no doubt that the absolute majority of Somalis will agree with me that both Alshabab and the so-called Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) have ruined the image of Islam in Somalia and beyond. Somalis have been Muslims since the time when the Islamic faith was first introduced into Somalia in the first century of the Islamic calendar. And since then, Islam became a unifying force among Somalis, not only in religious matters, but in all other aspects of life including political matters.
But nowadays, it is difficult to understand the killing of a Somali by another Somali in the name of Islam in a country where the entire population are Muslims. In Somali history, the causes of armed conflicts among Somalis had always been over land ownership, livestock, farming land, and most of the time over scarce resources such as drinking water and grazing land. Such conflicts have never had a religious dimension. It has always been “clan A” versus “clan B” as long as anyone can remember. But after the fall of the central government in Somalia in 1991, various armed groups have emerged, using religion as a source of inspiration for murder and destruction.
There is a saying in Somalia that goes something like this: “Qaylo ayaa soo yeertay, ee xagga Masjidka ha loo ordo”, which means: “If there is insecurity, take refuge in mosques”. This saying shows that Islam has a revered place in the hearts and minds of the Somali people. But sadly, Somali radical groups have damaged this religious aspect as mosques became a place where the deviated groups hunt down their victims who are mainly the most prominent figures in the society such as religious scholars, doctors, lawyers, professionals, journalist, politicians, military officers, and social activists. A case in point is Dr. Ahmed Haji Abdirahman, a well-known religious scholar and a university lecturer who was gunned down by masked men reportedly to be members of Amniyaat, Alshabab’s intelligence unit. Dr. Ahmed was killed in Bosaso in Dec 2011 as he was coming out from a mosque after performing his morning prayer.
Recently I was reading the 2011 failed states index published by the U.S. based Foreign Policy magazine to see Somalia’s position. As I was expecting, Somalia once again topped the list as the world’s most failed state. But even without this report, Somalis themselves are the first to accept that their country is No.1 failed state in the world.
So who to blame for this chaos, and who has thrown Somalia – the once most peaceful country in Africa – into this turmoil? In the context of the current conflict in Somalia, all Somalis should be blamed, but let me first throw my harsh words on those who use religion as a source of inspiration for murder and destruction.
Alshabab – Radicalism and Ignorance can be a deadly combination:
The crimes committed by Alshabab in Somalia are unprecedented and beyond imagination. They killed and continue to kill innocent people – Somalis and non-Somalis, Muslims and non-Muslims, young and old, combatants and non-combatants. Even those who died centuries ago did not escape from Alshabab’s atrocities. This radical group has destroyed a large number of Sufi shrines in southern Somalia. Somali people were also shocked by Alshabab’s cruel act of cutting off the heads of civilians and then hanging the corpses from the trees in order to instill fear in the hearts of the public. This cruel act of mutilating human bodies was practised in the war-torn Arabia before the birth of Islam, but Islam has categorically prohibited its followers from disgracing or mutilating human bodies including the corpses of their enemies at the battlefield, let alone innocent lives.
Alshabab’s atrocities did not stop there. In 2011 when the worst drought in 60 years hit Somalia, Alshabab suspended all relief agents to have access to famine-stricken areas under their control. They stopped aid workers to feed the starving people and foreign journalists to cover the famine. As a result, many people lost their lives.
Suicide Attacks are Un-Islamic, Un-Somali:
Committing suicide is prohibited in Islam. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And do not kill yourselves” (Surah al-Nisa, Verse 29). Committing suicide is also forbidden in the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet said: “whoever shall kill himself shall suffer in the fire of hell.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.13, p387).
Suicide acts have no place in Somali culture. The term of “Somali suicide bomber” is a new vocabulary that was invented by Alshabab and just entered into our dictionary in recent years. Alshabab’s brutalities against the innocent civilians are countless. On October 4, 2011, Alshabab carried out one of the deadliest suicide bombing in Somali history when a massive blast ripped through the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu, killing at least 100 people most of them young students and their parents. The victims had gathered at the ministry to find out about the scholarships offered by the Turkish government. For those young innocent students, this scholarship meant everything to them. It was not just studying abroad, but also a way out of their war-torn country.
Alshabab leaders do not have full understanding of the teachings of Islamic Shariah law and there is no prominent Islamic scholar among them. Some of them could be having Shariah knowledge to certain extent, but they put that aside in order to fulfill personal interests and political ambitions. They carry out public executions and cutting off limbs without a proper Islamic legal procedure and without giving the suspect the right to appeal the judgment against him/her. Their courts act outside the Islamic law as the implementation of the capital punishment (Qisas) in Islam is the right of an elected legitimate Islamic state, and not the right of a non-state actor like Alshabab. It is sad that Alshabab is committing all its brutality in the name of Islam, and that is why radicalism and ignorance can be a deadly combination.
Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWJ):
This group is less harmful than Alshabab, but in the context of the current turmoil in Somalia, this group is part of the Somali problem, not the solution. And when I see this beautiful religious name “Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah” and I compare it with the characters and the actions of its members, I only wonder how attractive religious names can be misleading. This group claims to be belonging to the Sufi order which is the Islamic mystical movement of Sufism, but their actions reveal the opposite. They chew khat or Qat, which is a certain type of green leaves that is considered to be a stimulant drug. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Khat as a drug. Majority of Muslim jurists condemn Khat on religious grounds.
Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a has many dark sides. These include the killing of many young people in central Somalia and Gedo region accusing them to be Alshabab sympathizers. And because of this group’s close relationship with Ethiopia, they also handed over a number of innocent people to Ethiopia, accusing them to be members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) that are fighting against Addis Ababa regime. They did all these atrocities without trail.
Shaaficiyah.com is a website run by Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a, and I was online the other day reading a report about a fierce battle between Alshabab and Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a in Dhusamareb in March 2012. I was shocked to see ASWJ’s fighters dragging many corpses of Alshabab fighters in the dusty streets of Dhusamareb. These corpses were left at the city centre to rot. This faction claims to be a religious group but they have violated all the rules of war in Islam. The rules of war in Islam include the protection of the wounded, sanctity of property, sanctity of dead bodies, and return of corpses of the enemy. What happened in Dhusamareb is another atrocity committed by Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a. They do not observe neither the Islamic ethics of war nor any other convention such as Geneva Convention of Warfare.
If truth be told, the only moment that Somalis had a support for Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a was the time when they took up arms against Alshabab after this fanatical group began demolishing the graves and shrines of Somalia’s Sufi saints. But to many Somalis, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a is not a pure religious group that is fighting for the sake of Islam, but it has its own agendas including political one. They signed a deal with Somalia’s Transitional Government that they will fight against Alshabab if they’re given certain ministerial posts in the cabinet and a number of MPs in the federal parliament.
Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a mainly operates in Galgaduud and Gedo regions and this put many Somalis to assume that this group has clan ambitions and only using religion as a smokescreen. This assumption received strong backing when Somalis found out that Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a has a close cooperation with a number of Somali warlords who hail from these two regions such as Barre Hiiraale, Goobaale, Seeraar, to name few.
Through murder and destruction, Alshabab and ASWJ want to make sure their position in Somali politics to be recognized. They are using Islam as a bargaining chip in the contest among other rival groups for power in Somalia. Neither the Qur’an nor the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) justify their cruel crimes. Not only that, but what these two groups stand for is even against the secondary sources of Islamic law such as:
- Consensus (Ijma)
- Analogical Deduction (Qiyas)
- Preference (al-Istihsan)
- Public Interest (al-Maslaha al-Mursalah)
- Reasoning or Rational Efforts (al-Ijtihad)
- Common Practice (al-Urf)
Peace and stability will never prevail in Somalia if Somalis do not claim back their culturally known tolerant attitude which has been hijacked by a small number of fanatics. It is a fact that if tolerance is absent in any society, peace will be non-existent. This is what Islam, the religion of peace, teaches us.
In his Neustadt Prize acceptance speech for literature at the University of Oklahoma in 1998, the internationally-known Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah has talked about the religious tolerance in Somalia in his younger days. He underlined that Somalis have always been so proud for their Islamic faith, without being extremists. I quote his words here as I see it relevant:
“As Somalis, we all had an extremely robust confidence in our faith then, and were convinced that we were equal to any challenges posed by other religions. We had no qualms in quoting to the missionaries the verse from the Koran, “To each his religion, you [keep to] yours and we to our own!” Our society was so self-confidently tolerant in those days, so accepting of the differences in character and mental acumen between ourselves and the Christian missionaries, whom we accused of taking advantage of those with no means to fight them off.
Ours was a tolerant Islam. You lived your life as you saw fit, not according to self-appointed Mullahs threatening you with fire and brimstone if, in their opinion, you strayed from the righteousness of the faith, as they decreed it. We were who we were, self-confidently proud of who we perceived ourselves to be. With our minds open, our hearts likewise, we received the world, and along with it the knowledge that made the world larger and more varied too”.
It is apparent that what Alshabab and Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a are committing is contradictory to Islamic teachings. But what is shocking is why the Council of Somali Religious Scholars and other Somali intellectuals are not speaking out against those deviated radical groups? The Council of Somali Religious Scholars headed by Sheikh Bashir Salad should have issued a fatwa long time ago, warning the mainstream of Somali people not to associate with all radical and deviated groups.
But even if there is no fatwa against these deviated groups, I am convinced that Alshabab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a are both on the wrong side of the road, and therefore, it is obvious that two wrongs will never make a right.
Dr. Mohamed Abbas