This year, the annual holy month of Ramadan started in Somalia on August 11 with mixed feelings, especially among the residents of Mogadishu, the capital city.
by Abdulkadir Khalif
Monday, September 06, 2010
Some city residents suspected the month of Ramadan would be even bloodier, while others hoped that it would offer time for the two antagonistic groups to do some self-searching.
While one group belongs to the fanatical Islamists, the other comprises moderate Muslims, mainly Sufis from various sub-sects. They view Ramadan as a deeply religious moment — fasting from dawn to dusk and spending a lot of time in prayers to Allah.
By far, the bulk of the Somali people are moderates, who prefer to combine traditional norms with religious principles. They are the ones who hoped that Ramadan would offer quieter moments.
But not so the Takthir and Wahabia sects that uphold a stricter version of Islamic interpretations, according to Qalli Hassan, a moderate Muslim in Mogadishu.
“For us, the Sufis, Ramadan is an opportunity to wear special dress in the evenings after day-long fasting,” he said. “We look forward to spending many hours in mosques or in our own houses, deep in meditation,” he said, counting his prayer beads.
Organised movements in Somalia that differ from the moderate Sufis have very strong, armed organisations like Al Shabaab and Hizbu Islam.
The two groups and their unarmed allies like the Camalka Islaamka (Islamic Manners) aggressively enforce their interpretation of Islam.They are feared by the moderates, who prefer peaceful methods to lure people to their side.
Nowadays, however, even the moderates have armed themselves under Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea, a group mostly allied with the Transitional Federal Government. They are on the defensive against Al Shabaab and Hizbu Islam in many fronts, especially in the central regions and in Mogadishu.
Though the largely independent media in Mogadishu is mostly based in areas controlled by Al Shabaab and Hizbu Islam, moderate Islamists express their ways as much as possible.
They urge families to unite, eat meals and pray together during Ramadan, asking for mercy, forgiveness and salvation.
“By the end of Ramadhan, everybody looks forward to Idd-ul-Fitr,” said Hassan. He added that although the soldiers serving the African Union Mission in Somalia, Amisom, are on duty during Ramadan, some peacekeepers are occasionally seen strolling in their camps, wearing white gowns and fez caps, indicating they are Muslims.
Many traditional elders, moderate religious leaders and even officials of the government led by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed pleaded for cessation of hostilities, at least during the holy month.
Indeed, Ramadan started well on August 11, with relatively less violence.
But on the 12th day of Ramadan (August 23), Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Raghe, alias Sheikh Ali Dhere, declared a jihad (holy war), which he termed Nihayatu al-Murtadeen (end of the trespassers).
All out war
The movement did not disguise its intention to crush the government and chase out the Amisom peacekeepers.
An all-out war started at around 3pm on August 23. Pro-government forces and Ugandan and Burundian soldiers serving Amisom peacekeepers came under heavy gunfire.
As expected, there were counterattacks. But since the clashes occurred in residential areas, many unarmed civilians were killed or injured. Over 30 people died in just one afternoon, according to various sources, including ambulance servicemen in the city.
The next day, August 24 had even more casulaties, as suicide bombers attacked Muna Hotel, one of the lodging facilities in Mogadishu often used by government officials and their families.
Two Al Shabaab men wearing uniform similar to that of government army officers breached the hotel perimeter, asked the guards to salute back, and promptly shot them in the head and chest as they did so.
Reports from government security agents say the operatives went into the hotel and shot at anybody in sight — in the corridors, various rooms and even in the toilets.
City residents were shocked that some radio stations in Mogadishu controlled by Al Shabaab broadcast the deadly mission live.
A city resident said the radio broadcast was akin to a sports programme, with descriptions on who was doing what.
The two mission executers then herded the remaining hotel residents into a corner and blew themselves up.
Since the Muna Hotel attack, the jihad took a new direction. Lodges, residences and even prayer houses were no longer safe.
Al Shabaab attacks on positions held by government forces continued, as well as on Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea combatants and Amisom peacekeepers. Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Dhere said the aim was to bring the city’s six districts under TFG control.
“The people of this country will soon have an Islamic state,” he declared. “All that is needed is popular support to crush the enemy of Allah (a reference to the government and the peacekeepers),” urged Sheikh Ali Dhere on August 23.
Mogadishu residents follow keenly the broadcasts by the dozen or so radio stations. It is not surprising to hear a commentator saying the final jihad is in its ninth day and that the casualty stands at 185 deaths and over 300 wounded, mostly civilians.
The war preparations had also been deadly for Al Shabaab militants.
A man attempting to plant a bomb in Mogadishu blew himself up inadvertently at 3:00am on August 22 in Anzilotti, South Mogadishu. On the same night, residents of Bakara, the largest market in the city, reported that a vehicle being prepared for a suicide mission had exploded.
According to a government report, foreigners were among a number of people who died in the Bakara blast.
Last week, a government allied civil society group presented to the media a young man whose tongue had been slashed off, allegedly by Al Shabaab militants. The movement neither denied nor admitted the brutal act.
Source: East African