opinionBy Jemal Oumar
Nouakchott — Muslim leaders from across Africa are speaking out against the misunderstanding of Islamic law by Mali extremists.
Ulema from across the African continent are questioning the legitimacy of acts committed in the name of Sharia by Islamists and terrorists in northern Mali.
"Abuses and atrocities that have been and continue to be committed under the pretext of the application of Sharia law are absolutely not founded," Malian religious leaders said Friday (February 8th) in Bamako.
Their joint statement followed a 14-point declaration issued in late January by the African Union of Ulema and directed at Mali's warring sides.
The union called on countries in the region to establish a common defence force to maintain security and to find solutions to their problems.
The body also condemned "all acts contrary to the principles of Islam, including the wartime attack on the civilian population or places of worship, hostage-taking - regardless of nationality or religion - and attacks on innocent victims".
The same week as the ulema released their statement, religious leaders, scholars and government officials from 15 African countries met in Mauritania to discuss the war in neighbouring Mali.
The 25th International Islamic Scientific Symposium in Nouakchott called on ulema to play a more dynamic role as peacemakers working to counter extremism and the radicalisation of young people's minds.
The January 20th - 23rd summit focused on the theme of activating "ulema to stop the shedding of blood and to promote the values of peace".
The event also addressed the war in northern Mali and the spread of extremist ideology.
"The risk of deviation of youth heading towards extremism and fanaticism is what made us focus in this seminar on guiding young people," said Sheikh Mohammed Hafiz al-Nahwi, who organized the event.
He said that new programmes directed at secondary school students would focus on moderation, centrism and rejection of extremism and violence.
"We support the efforts of the Islamic Council of Mali for dialogue; we sought this even before the war surprised us," said Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Ould Daddou, head of the Centre for the Training of Ulema.
Mahmoud Dicko, president of Mali's High Islamic Council, also spoke out in support of the Mali military action.
"The intervention of French troops in support of the army in its fight against armed Islamic groups is not an attack on Islam," he said.