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Somalia's peaceful clerics take arms, defeat Alshabaab

Thursday June 10, 2010 - 20:00:22 in Latest News by Super Admin
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    Somalia's peaceful clerics take arms, defeat Alshabaab


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By Abdinasir Mohamed Guled


DHUSAMAREB (Sunatmes) - Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca is an old, well-known Sufi Islamist group. It is one of the new groups to have joined the two decades long fighting in Somalia. But what is surprising is that their moderation and peaceable views traditionally stood in contrast to the violence of Al-Shabab's strict ideologies.

Now their clerics are taking up arms - life is not worth living without a gun, they say.

In the past, the clan and the shared group ideology was the channel by which the first preachers spread Islam throughout Somalia. The graves of past Sheikhs still play an important role in the Sufi clan communities, being the focus of visitations, tributes and prayer.

After Al-Shabab militants began calling for these beliefs to be eliminated and were linked to the killings of several sheikhs as well as desecrating past sheikhs' graves, moderate Sufis began taking up arms, in a declaration of war against Al-Shabab.

In December 2008 violent clashes erupted proper. Sufis experienced early success as Al-Shabab was driven out of several towns in the central region of Galgadud, but the cost of taking up arms is greater than some might have expected.

Standing in an arid courtyard it's exercise time as Sheikh Mahamud Sheikh Hassan, chairman of Ahlu Sunna, is encouraging his fighters to stand firm against Al-Shabab.

"We have to be ready to fight those distorting our religion,'' he says raising his arms, an AK47 rifle in one and the Holy Qur'an in the other.

"We have never liked to fight but this is a time to do so. Our people and our sheikhs are being killed, our sheikhs' graves are being desecrated,'' he furiously shouts.

Creeping along their chests and elbows in the pre-dawn exercise, the fighters are chanting religious words in Arabic at the top of their voices, praising the prophet Mohamed.

But there are different men of different ages in the group, and they are attracting more moderate volunteers.

Abdullahi Huriye, a thin, tall fighter, was a high school student learning in Mogadishu but returned to the central region of Galgadud to defend his beliefs against what he termed "crazy men''.

"I'm ready to die for my faith and Sufism,'' he told The Media Line, taking up his gun.

There are now fears that the motives that forced people to fight are expanding to such an extent that there may be no end in sight.

"We shall never put down our guns unless there is peace and there is no longer any Shabab or Islamists who misinterpret Islam- Islam is peace," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu-Yusuf, the spokesman of Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca told The Media Line.

"Islam says all religions should live peacefully and become neighbors," he stoutly said riding on an armored vehicle with his fighters on their way to the frontline.

The reputation of Sufis as being peaceful clerics is the main reason more Somalis are taking up arms for the group, which he termed the "followers of the prophet Mohamed".

Since Al-Shabab was ousted from the area, there is at least some semblance of peace. Foreigners can walk on the streets albeit with guns and guards, in the town of Dhusomareb, once a stronghold of Al-Shabab where U.S warplanes killed Al-Shabab leader Aden Hashi Eyrow in 2007.

But this veneer of peace is fading as the group readies itself to extend its fighting further afield.

"Our Jihad is for the freedom of our religion and of Muslims' property which Al-Shabab describes legal for them to loot,'' Abu-Yusuf snappily said after taking a phone call from Mogadishu telling him that Al-Shabab executed two men for espionage.

"They kill anyone who does not want their crazy ideologies and fake justifications,'' he adds.

Though daytime is a busy time for the Sufis, they are protected in their bunkers at night by some vigilant eyes.

"I'm wide awake to look out for Al-Shabab movements and to shoot if needs be,'' Nor Ahlusunna told The Media Line in his foxhole on the frontline.

Nor is one of the first fighters to have joined the group, and is now part of its backbone, he quickly gained recognition during the fighting which saw off Al-Shabab from important towns in the region.

In contrast to Al-Shabab, there are no strict religious punishments in the group's strongholds such as, whipping, executions and amputations, rather people are being peacefully preached to practice the religion well.

"The Sufis will forever be our religion's clerics. They were the first ones to spread Islam in our country,'' Somali educator Abdulle Nur told The Media Line by phone from Nairobi, Kenya.

The central region of Galgadud is the only place in which Sufism was threatened as Al-Shabab forbade the performances of spiritual ceremonies in the region while it was under their control. But now the Sufis are in charge, and this time in Galgadud, Sufis are enforcing the law, patrolling the streets and implementing justice.

Increasing numbers of sheikhs are chanting the religious eulogy throughout the night, going into raptures over the prophet Mohamed and their late sheikhs.

In front of large crowds in Guriel town, Ahlu Sunna Sheikh is telling people to hand over any information regarding anyone linked to Al-Shabab.

According to Abu-yusuf, trial and imprisonment has replaced the previously commonplace practice under Al-Shabab of execution. It is a marked contrast from the Al-Shabab's strongholds in which anyone who cooperates with the Somali government or with foreign troops counts as a traitor and an infidel, and mostly killed under ad-hoc courts' verdicts.

"We will never shed any humans' blood meaninglessly like Al-Shabab,'' said Sheikh Ali, a Sufi cleric.

The Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca clerics are known for their frequent, ritual ceremonies and feasts to which residents are invited.

"I like the Sufis for their openness and free food and meat,'' resident Abbas Abdi Mahi told The Media Line.

Indeed the hopes of the Sufi revolutionary advances are high after the lucrative capture of towns from the Al-Shabab militants and after seeing the residents praise them with good etiquettes.

"We've experienced the control of Al-Shabab and Ahlusunna, Ahlusunna are not coercing people like Al-Shabab. When there is a wedding party, people play music and dance, they [Ahlusunna] never arrest them but they preach for women and men no to dance with reference to Islam. The Al-Shabab stop these things,'' Galgadud resident Mohamed Haji told The Media Line.

Driving along a street in Guriel town, the group's stronghold, songs are being played on radios and TVs without fear.

"The leaders of this group are not wanted by western countries as terrorists, nor are they violent like Al-Shabab because their ideology is moderate," said Bashir Hassan, a Somali teacher in Galgadud.

"Their people support them so they will never be detested" he added.

SOURCE: Themedialine

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