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Somalia’s Islamic Courts: Crusaders Without Conscience

By Abdiweli M. Ali, Ph.D.


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Once again Somalia became a political hotspot in America’s war on terrorism, however, a fatal mistake and a single political error allegedly by the CIA has irrevocably altered that country’s political trajectory, and may be for the better. A radical Islamic group with alleged ties to Al-Qaida routed quite easily the much-loathed warlords that held the Somali capital hostage for the past 16 years. As rumor has it, the warlords were paid by the CIA to capture AlQaida operatives in Mogadishu who were behind the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Daraselam in 1998. Employing the rubble-rousing rhetoric of poets like Abshir Ba’adle and seductively and selectively religious trickery, the courts mobilized the masses and cleaned Mogadishu from the warlords in a span of less than 15 days. However, the success of the Islamic courts was seen as a setback to the US policy in the horn, and some political pundits suggested that the plunder of supporting the warlords was a hefty price to pay for some election-year grandstanding.


With this unexpected quick victory over the warlords and with the armada captured from them, the courts started an unnecessary expansionary campaign that many think became the Achilles heel of the courts and has undone all the goodwill they received from the war-weary population of Mogadishu and its environs. They also introduced a bizarre brand of Islam that is strange and foreign to most Somalis. They banned all kinds of entertainment and flogged women for allegedly selling Qat, a stimulant herb Somalis used for centuries. Somalis practice moderate and tolerant Islam and this extremism that had once been at the fringe of the Somali society, found itself in vogue with modern day international jihadism. This strict and draconian interpretation of Islam raised the memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban. It is a brand of Islam that is blatantly imperious, completely undemocratic, and conspicuously authoritarian. To them, the Somali people became objects to be quietly and coolly manipulated for their own benefit.


They also increased the specter of violence by sending their militia to stable and peaceful areas such as Puntland, Jubaland, Hiiraan, and Baidoa-the seat of the Somali transitional federal government.  Furthermore, they invited all kinds of rogue elements to Somalia from all the corners of the world. All these actions were unnecessary and quite counterproductive. Nevertheless, the Islamic courts were unfazed by these criticisms and were hell-bent on bringing all Somalis under their control including Ogaden, NFD, and may be even Djibouti.


Although many commentators alluded to the fact that the ICU was not a monolithic group, all the signs indicated that they were enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, and particularly antiwomen. To them gender equality was anachronistic and anti-Islam, a sucker word in which only fools and infidels believe. They were also highly prejudiced of anything modern. They were mean-spirited and power hungry Machiavellians. Moreover, most of their upper echelons were themselves brutal former warlords, such as Indha’adde. They promised justice for all, but Indha’adde is to justice and equality what Ayaan Hersi is to faith and Islam. This cold-blooded callous warlord all of a sudden became a religious crusader. No one in Merka would have believed the empty rhetoric of the Islamic courts as long as they were under the brutal occupation of this monster. As long as Indha’adde and his cronies were at the helm of the courts union, these brutalized and abused populace refused to accept a word from their blood-soaked mouths until the roosters quit crowing and the sun stayed down. To call Indha’adde, the brutal warlord of Lower Shabelle, a “Shiekh” or a learned man borders on the absurd. In reality what they brought to Somalia was nothing more than clanism marinated with pseudo-nationalism and spiced with religious extremism. Their strident and intolerant ideology mixed with clan loyalty led them to their ultimate demise.


A former president of the Somali academy of science that I recently met proffered that the union of Islamic courts were so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. Thus, trying to convince them to negotiate was a futile and not particularly useful exercise. John Adams, the second president of the USA is quoted to have once said “extreme ideology is the science of idiocy. And very profound, abstruse, and mysterious science taught in the school of the folly.”


To discredit the TFG, the legitimate and the internationally recognized government of Somalia, Ethiopia became a convenient scapegoat they love to attack. Using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong, they invoke the traditional enmity of Ethiopia and Ethiopia all over sudden became their raison d’etre. They miscalculated that once they instill alarm and trepidation in the hearts of the unsuspecting Somalis, then the fear of Ethiopia will drive out all reason and will lead to their ultimate victory. 


The courts also developed a symbiotic relationship with all the rogue elements in the parliament including the blowhard speaker of the parliament who most often exaggerates his own importance. Jini Boqor who specialized in bare-knuckle attacks on his political opponents particularly the president became their spokesman. Jini’s propensity to attack by any means fair and foul is quite astounding. Furthermore, the union of Islamic courts sullied all the rules that are not only Islamic but are also universally accepted principles of protecting innocent civilians. It was shocking to all Somalis when they brutally executed prisoners dragged from their hospital beds in Bu’ale. No wonder that they are now testing a big dose of their own bitter medicine.



Abdiweli M. Ali, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Economics

College of Business Administration

Niagara University, NY 14109

[email protected]

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