The Nation (Nairobi)

30 December 2009

Somalia: Al-Shabaab Orders on Radio and Beard Cause Confusion

In Kismayu town, 500 kilometres south of Mogadishu, the authority of al-Shabaab, the strongest Islamist movement opposing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), issued orders to be observed by the people.

Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan, the Public Awareness Officer of the Authority, announced through a local Radio, Al-Andalus that male inhabitants in Juba regions including Kismayu must grow beards, shave moustaches and shorten their trousers to above the ankles.

Sheikh Ibrahim stated that all adult men in the area ought to comply with the directives within three days, effective December 19. Any opposition to the orders would bring punishment.

Although al-Shabaab (youth in Arabic) rules many parts of southern and central regions of Somalia, the Juba regions with a long border with Kenya appear to have attracted the full authority of the movement.

On December 10, the administration recently appointed by al-Shabaab at Dhobley border town, next to Liboi in Kenya's North Eastern Province introduced restrictions on a number of social aspects. All businesses are to close during the prayer times that are observed by Muslim faithful.

Da'ud Hassan Ali, the new administration's Defence Officer, had announced that anybody found running a business as the muezzin calls for prayers would be penalised.

"When the muezzin calls the worshippers to prayers, not even a single person is allowed to wander in the streets," said Mr Ali. The next target had been the female lot. Women had been ordered to cover their bodies from head to toe with extra heavy clothing.

"This is the notation of Islam on women," said Ali. "They should not fail to observe the dress code," he added.The Al-Shabaab officer indicated that his administration had allocated a place for smokers and Khat (miraa) chewers to buy and consume the commodity. "No one is allowed to sell or consume the stuff in public," remarked Ali.

In October 2008, the Islamist authority in Kismayu banned khat flights to Kismayu. The mind-stimulating commodity used to come from Kenya and its chewing is very popular, especially among male Somali adults.

The latest orders involving beards, moustaches and trousers as imposed on men generated heated reactions.

Opponents insist that only a nationwide, stable Islamic rule can issue such directives. Their view is that al-Shabaab or any other authority in Somalia is not very permanent. Hence, could not introduce decisions with lasting effects.

"Some of the instructions given by al-Shabaab are so personal that even an Islamic State could not introduce," commented Mr Aw Ali Husein Garweyne, a moderate Islamist in Mogadishu.

"Our Prophet Mohammed gave us the faculty to use some of his examples like beard and moustache, but never made it mandatory," he added.

According to Aw Ali, some of the directives being enforced by al-Shabaab cannot be justified by the Islamic books of reference. He cited the Jihad, suicide missions or single dress rule as example.

Even President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of the TFG recently labelled un-Islamic the strict dress code enforced by al-Shabaab. He noted that Islam only tells women to cover themselves properly, locally known as asturaad, without dictating specific type of clothes and design.

Addressing the city council in Mogadishu, President Ahmed joked that the Islamist militants even want to know the underwear of women to note whether they match their standard. "It is neither religious nor cultural to ask about underwear," said the president.

Meanwhile, tittle-tattle has recently been circulating that a woman was killed at Yakhshid district in North Mogadishu by al-Shabaab. The owner of a teashop at a mechanical garage, her crime was to have had a radio and listening to Radio Mogadishu, a government controlled broadcaster.

"Only in service since October this year, Radio Mogadishu is indeed fast becoming popular.

On Sunday December 27, Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Raghe alias Sheikh Ali Dhere, the Spokesman of Al-Shabaab held a press conference in Mogadishu.

He stated that listening to Radio Mogadishu amounted to a crime and anybody found tuning to the station would be treated like being a government partisan.

"Radio Mogadishu has an un-Islamic agenda," said Sheikh Raghe. "Listening to it is like directly helping the enemy of Islam," he said. Al-Shabaab's statement looks to have had an immediate negative impact because more people are now curious to listen to the radio.

To make matters worse, the government decided to expand Radio Mogadishu's coverage area by broadcasting through a satellite, reaching listeners in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Continuing his argument, Aw Ali says that neither growing beard nor trimming the moustaches is mandatory. "They are the best way to appear, but not necessarily compulsory," remarked Aw Ali. "I believe these people are working for gaalo (non-Muslims) to spoil our religion," said the manager of a teashop in South Mogadishu. According to other sceptics, al-Shabaab is imposing orders and restrictions in order to show their power to command.

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