by Guled Ismail
Sunday, September 23, 2007
An obscure little news item hidden away in a Somaliland website caught my eye. It was titled “The Somaliland Police Pursue Those Who Cook the Forbidden”. The Orwellian headline lead to something far more mundane. It was about a raid by the Police in Hargeisa’s Iftin District on people selling cooked meals during daytime fasting of Ramadan. The piece went on to explain that a Police District Commander accompanied by a bunch of local bigwigs and self-appointed Ramadan vigilantes raided temporary restaurants set up under trees and huts along the banks of Hargeisa’s dry river. The raiders destroyed the temporary restaurants and confiscated food.
Raids of this kind are by no means a rarity. In fact they take place all the time not only in Somaliland but in all major towns and cities in Somalia. Even the most lawless centres of Southern Somalia have roaming vigilante bands who harass and attack anyone suspected of serving food during the holy month of Ramadan.
Most of the victims of this brutality are women often from the poorest districts of this poor country. They cannot compete with restaurants for the rest of the year so they try to make a meagre living during Ramadan when the established outlets close during the day. These poorest members of society often borrow money to buy the pots and pans and utensils they need and make as little as $2 per day from their six hour work. This is enough to buy some powdered milk for their malnourished children, and sometimes may even help them afford a portion of the food they cooked!
What angered and disturbed me was the image of armed police in pick up trucks accompanied by bearded grown men supposedly full of piety raiding and attacking malnourished women and children desperately trying to make a living from the most marginal of businesses. The sight of these raiders smashing pots and pans and no doubt even kicking the odd semi-starving woman and her listless orphans enrages me as it should enrage every human being who is bothered by brutality and injustice. How dare they? And what law Divine or man-made gives them the right to judge and attack people who harmed no one whatsoever?
These self-righteous bullies then no doubt go home and stuff their faces with spicy Sambuuses and juicy dates washed down with fresh camels’ milk. The feast is followed by more feasting and often topped with a spot of indulgence in drug abuse in the form of chewing khat.
There is not a single centre or organisation that feed the destitute during Ramadan so by contrast the kids of the victims go home hungry and sleep cuddled up beside the boney frames of their hungry mothers.
Have people lost the essence of what Ramadan is all about? Surely Ramadan was supposed to fill our hearts with forgiveness and tolerance and sympathy for the poor, the disposessed and the hungry? How can we justify kicking women and children so poor that their temples and eye sockets are hollowed out by acute hunger and malnourishment endured since their birth into this benighted land?
Since when did we give ourselves the right to play an intermediary between God and his Slaves?
It was not always like this. I remember when Ramadan meant what is meant to be. People treated each other with kindness and generosity and forgiveness. Police did not chase those who did not commit any crimes. Men never looked at women with ill will let alone attacking or harassing them. Chivalry and nobility were rightly considered to be in the protection of the weak and standing up for justice for the benighted and the powerless in society. Any restaurants who wanted to remain open during Ramadan were allowed to do unmolested. If you wanted not to fast it was between you and your God not between you and the State or between you and the self-appointed thugs who now roam our towns and villages and impose their brand of non-Ramadanic values on our people.
And how can anyone justify the complete shutting down of all food serving in a big city when Allah himself in his wisdom and justice and mercy exempted so many people from fasting at all? Who is supposed to feed the weary traveller, the suckling mother, the fragile and ill and the under 15 who are not supposed to fast?
This unholy bullying by these unholy men of these the poorest members of our society must stop and must stop now. It is not Islamic or Somali or godly or just.
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