Sharia Alert from Somalia. From the TimesOnline, with thanks to Sr. Soph:
Sheikh Ahmed used to be a teacher until a gang kidnapped one of his students. He began campaigning for Islamic courts, with strict laws and punishments, to counter the chaos of a city run by warlords since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991. Today his Union of Islamic Courts runs Mogadishu, its militias having expelled the warlords last week, and Sheikh Ahmed is causing consternation in the West.
Washington is widely believed to have been backing the warlords to check the spread of the Sharia courts and the alleged influence of al-Qaeda.
In an interview with The Times Sheikh Ahmed insists the courts have no interest in turning Somalia into an Islamic state or governing like the Taleban in Afghanistan. He claims to have no agenda beyond keeping the warlords from the city.
“We don’t do anything. We will make facilities for the community “” whether politicians or intellectuals, women or youths “” we make facilities for people to choose what they want,” he says. “We just want to defend our people.”
He denies any links to al-Qaeda even though his movement includes jihadists such as Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of Al-Ittihad, who has admitted meeting al-Qaeda leaders and is wanted by the US.
“The USA has to bring evidence of whether he is a criminal. After that we will have a discussion,” he says. The West has got it all wrong. “We ourselves have a question. The Westerners are against our religion, but we don’t know why,” he says before a muezzin’s call to prayer abruptly ends the interview.
Outside Sheikh Ahmed’s ramshackle headquarters lies a city in ruins. Minarets and mobile phone masts are the only structures that stand more than two storeys high. Donkey carts carrying water barrels traverse sludge-filled tracks that may once have been paved roads. Mango trees and acacia bushes have spread through the rubble as the African scrub reclaims parts of Mogadishu. Sheikh Ahmed’s network of Sharia courts began life in the mid- 1990s, set up by businessmen sick of seeing their profits skimmed by the warlords….
But the restoration of some semblance of order has come at a price. The courts have closed cinemas accused of showing immoral films and made celebrating New Year a capital offence. A boy was recently allowed to stab his father’s killer to death in front of a cheering crowd.
At Mogadishu’s Peace Hotel weddings used to finish with hundreds of people dancing in the car park, but no longer. “The Islamic courts have told us there can be no pop music,” says a waiter. “It’s very sad. We all hope that things are not going to be like Afghanistan.”…
It has opened talks with the Sharia courts to see whether they might be able to work together. Mohamed Abdi Hayir, Somalia’s Information Minister, said: “Like any organisation there are extremists and moderates within the courts. We will see if we can work with the moderates so that the extremists do not have any power.”
But Sheikh Ahmed’s allies include many who believe that the Sharia courts” triumph in Mogadishu should be replicated nationwide, turning Somalia into an Islamic state.