I do agree with St Augustine when he said; “Never judge a philosophy by its abuse” It a clear warning for us not to judge Islam on the grounds of the recent attacks by the Al-shabaab.
Even so there is a question that lingers on the minds, lips and hearts of many Kenyans and the world: why did al-Shabaab unleash terror of this scale in the name of Islam? The attack without doubt is branding Islam as violent, despite the protestation of Muslim leaders in this country in denouncing these terror activities.
Despite the clear testimony of harmonious existence and prevailing peace across religious divide in this country, which we must maintain by all means, we are puzzled at the unfolding events that are shaping our perception of our Muslim neighbours.
We have through these events seen a new face of Islam that petrifies as much as it confuses us. How do we reconcile the contradiction of a peaceful Islam we have known and the violent Islam we have just seen?
It has been a welcome thought to see Muslim leaders strongly condemning the terror attack by the Al-Shabaab, branding them barbaric terrorists who do not represent the religion or its faithful.
The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Adan Wachu, said the wanton and indiscriminate killing of innocent men, women and children goes against all Islamic teachings and tenets.
Everyone would agree with Al Amin Kimathi, convenor of the National Muslim Human Rights Forum, who invited the government to pursue the terrorists robustly, terming their actions indefensible and reprehensible.
Obviously, there was broad condemnation of this heinous attack that seems to have targeted non-Muslims for harm. Among others Ustadh Juma Ngao, of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council, National Muslim Leaders’ Forum Vice Chair Yusuf Murigu, Fazul Mahamed of the Association of Muslim Organisations of Kenya, Sheikh Khalfan Khamis of Majlis Ulamaa Kenya and Abdul Bary Hamid, Jamia Mosque’s Secretary General.
It will be difficult though, to shake off the fact that the Al-shabaab, Islamic militia from Somalia launched the attack against an apostate state and infidels. During the attacks the Al shabaab reportedly, freed Muslims and singled out non-Muslims for slaughter. This has been roundly dismissed by leaders of major Muslim organisations in Kenya who, said the Somali-based militia, were trying to spark sectarian conflict between Kenyans of different faiths by claiming they are acting on behalf of Muslims and Islam.
This denial contradicts the view of Al Jazeera’s Hamza Mohamed, who interviewed al-Shabab’s spokesman for military operations, Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab:
“Al Jazeera: Al-Shabab claims to work to protect Muslims and Somalis in particular. Some of the people killed in this attack suggests otherwise.
Sheikh Abdulaziz: History supports our claim. We are the only ones protecting Somalis and Somalia. We are the only group fighting Somalia’s historic enemies. We are the only one who can say ‘no’ to Somalis’ enemies.
On the loss of lives, there were Kenyan soldiers firing back at our fighters. There was an exchange of gunfire. There is no evidence it was our bullets that killed them. We released all Muslims when we took control of the mall. Witnesses have backed us on this….”
Sheikh Abdulaziz’s comment is confirmed by the testimony of those who emerged from the ordeal. One such was Fiona Herbert a 34-year-old Briton, who lives in Kenya, who described chaotic scenes as she grabbed her baby son and darted out of the ground-floor cafe.
Hiding in an unlit cupboard, Herbert and others softly keyed text messages to their loved ones. Amid reports that gunmen were singling out non-Muslims, some even tried to memorise Quranic prayers in order to pass themselves off as adherents.
“There was no way I could learn an Arabic phrase and get away with being Muslim,” said Herbert, a child psychologist. “I’m ginger-haired and I’ve got a ginger baby. If they’d got into the shop then we were both dead.”
“What they are doing is preposterous and pure terrorism,” she said. “They were asking questions about the Quran. Even if people were Muslim, they could still get the wrong answer and be killed. Saying you were Muslim was not foolproof, it was just desperate people, grasping at straws.”
Al Ashabaab is recruiting Kenyans
Al-Shabaab is drawing recruits throughout the country beyond the traditionally expected Somali community. In the Majengo slums, we have seen small mosques popping up between corrugated shacks which form the main cells for recruitment. In a place where most people don’t have work, local mosques often ease financial hardship, subsidizing weddings and offering free burials for the dead, said Robert Ochona, a local radio journalist.
Those converting to Islam through these cells will surely embrace the radical, extremist Islam as taught by al Shabaab. Collins Andago, a 25-year-old car washer in Majengo, narrates how his brother, Musa Andago 19, in 2011 became a convert to Islam and then suddenly disappeared. Collins reported his brother to Kenya’s counter-terrorism police, who tracked him to Mombasa, where he and another friend were trying to get to Somalia. The friend made it to Somalia, but Musa returned.
Collins Andago estimates that more than 100 young men from Majengo have headed to Somalia over the past couple of years. “They think if you fight Jihad you will go to heaven,” he says. “They go and don’t come back.”
Peter Wonacott a reporter with The Wall Street Journal narrated the sad story of how Islamic militants came for Qassim Mohamed. “The Somali self-defense coach couldn’t defend himself. The men from al-Shabaab, beat the karate instructor as they tried to recruit him. They slammed rifle butts into his chest and threatened to kill his family. Mr. Mohamed didn’t dare raise a fist. Instead, family members paid bribes for his release and he fled the capital Mogadishu to Kenya in 2009.”
Mr. Mohamed still lives under the haunting shadow of the al-Shabaab.
“Group members have dropped by the family home in Mogadishu to ask where he is. His father would profess not to know. In April, a group of three men shot and killed his father as he walked home from the mosque,” Mr. Mohamed said.
“If you try to defend yourself, you will die,” said Mr. Mohamed, who counsels other Somalis against extremism as part of a new youth mentor program in Eastleigh, outside Nairobi. “I escaped, started a new life, but al-Shabaab will always be behind me.” The choice for al-Shabaab is simple, he says. “To be with them. Or to die.”
It has been reported that five Kenyan youths from Mombasa were arrested on their way to join the al Shabaab in Somalia on 21 September 2013. Multiple police sources said the five, who come from Kisauni and Majengo, were arrested in Kismayu by Somalia authorities and handed over to Kenya security agencies in Garissa town.
A family member of one of the suspects said he disappeared two weeks ago after he was ‘brainwashed’ and recruited into al Shabaab. He is said to have started attending prayers at the Masjid Musa mosque in Majengo two months ago with his colleagues. The mosque is linked with slain Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo.
Rogo had used the mosque as a venue to spread extremist messages that were in line with al Shabaab doctrines and ideology. He is said to have had ties with the militia group and gave them financial, material, logistical and technical support.
Reports indicate the family had informed a human rights group in Mombasa about the disappearance but were directed to report to security agencies.
They however did not make reports for fear of victimisation.
How do we face this challenge?
At this point it is vital that religious leaders work together to avoid religious violence on the account of this attack. Adan Wachu is right when he said; “We, the religious leaders, are engaged in robust dialogue to ensure that these relations are not just maintained but also made stronger. We are convinced beyond doubt that the attempt to sow seeds of discord between Muslims and Christians will fail miserably and that we shall remain united.”
There no suggestion, however, that the genesis of this crisis has any inter-religious ascent. The problem is entirely within Islam and its interpretation and practice of religion.
I would propose that there should be more dialogue within the Muslim community over these issues in this country. Moreover there must be greater interrogation of claims by al-Shabaab of Islamic doctrine, human relations, usage of terms related to Islam and violence in the name of religion.
Should the Muslim in community here borrow a leaf from Somalia religious authorities?
On 11 September 2013 a group of 165 Somali religious leaders issued a fatwa condemning al-Shabaab. They had met at a National Conference on Extremism held in Somalia. The Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud opened this government-organised conference that drew Somali scholars, elders and imams from both within the country and abroad. At the end of the four-day conference a seven-point religious edict were read out by the Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdirizak Ahmed Mohamud. It declares:
• “Al-Shabab has strayed from the correct path of Islam, leading the Somali people onto the wrong path. The ideology they are spreading is a danger to the Islamic religion and the existence of the Somali society.
• “The Somali government is an Islamic administration; it is forbidden to fight against it or regard its members as infidels.
• “Al-Shabab, an extremist group, must atone to God and must cease its erroneous ideology and criminal actions.
• “It is forbidden to join, sympathise or give any kind of support to al-Shabab.
• “It is a religious duty to refuse shelter to al-Shabab members, who must be handed over to Somali institutions responsible for security.
• “It is a taboo to negotiate on behalf of al-Shabab members in custody or release them from jail.
• “Somali officials have a religious duty to protect the Somali people from the atrocities of al-Shabab. The Somali public also has an obligation to assist the government in its security operations against al-Shabab.” (These details were first reported by the BBC).
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, who gave the closing remarks at the conference, said the Somali federal government would take resolutions from the conference under consideration in its efforts to fight extremism, the UN-funded Radio Bar-Kulan reported.
Religious leaders, scholars, elders and intellectuals from across the country and the diaspora met to devise solutions to increase security and stability in Somalia.
Sheila Musaji editor/blogger of The American Muslim, supporting the Fatwa said: “As an American Muslim I believe that the fatwa issued by the scholars in Somalia applies everywhere. It is wrong to sympathize with or give any kind of support to al-Shabab or any other extremist groups.”
She further says, “It is a religious duty to refuse shelter to known members of such terrorist groups, and if any are known in our communities they should be reported to law enforcement.”
One cannot miss the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars and ordinary Muslims reject extremism and terrorism and have condemned each and every act carried out by criminal terrorists.
The haunting challenge remains groups like al-Shabab, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, who care little of what Muslim scholars or the majority of ordinary Muslims have to say. They continue to attempt to justify or cloak their criminal activities by claiming an Islamic justification. For this reason, they are as likely to kill Muslims as non-Muslims because their fanatical views see everyone who doesn’t share their views as the enemy.
Mohamed Abdullahi, a Nairobi-based Somali analyst told the BBC’s Newsday programme: “The fatwa issued by so many prominent scholars, is likely to sway opinions on the ground, but is unlikely to change the path of those in the group’s top leadership.”
Mohamed’s profound advice was: “The fatwa includes a security element of community policing against al-Shabab. It should be coupled with other efforts to win the hearts and minds of people on the ground.” He insisted, for obvious reasons that, “there should be parallel programme to ensure that those young men who joined al- shabaab for economic reasons, for instance, are provided with employment or opportunities as well as convincing those who are really not extremist in ideology.”
It is not enough to condemn the extremists in the press; we need to go into our communities, madarasas and mosques. More needs to be done and everyone needs to come on board to challenge this ideology if we are to remain one society.
Shahed Amanullah, another blogger, reports on (23 September) of Somali youth leaders like Mohamed Ali busy mobilizing Somalis to push back. A few weeks ago he launched a Generation Change chapter in Mogadishu (Generation Change Mogadishu) and it has inspired 50 of his peers to work on projects that rebuild the country and take it back from the extremists.
The Generation Change Kenya chapter in Nairobi is likewise doing great work in this area. Please give them your encouragement, your advice, and your support so that they can show the extremists that these youth won’t be manipulated anymore for evil ends.
Muslim communities need to ponder where this strain of extremism is coming from, who is promoting it, and why are so many being radicalized in spite of the clear teachings of Islam? They need to ask who is teaching this perversion of Islam and why are young people listening to them instead of the overwhelming majority of traditional scholars?
It is in answering these questions that we will begin to understand the changes in the last few decades and begin to explore how ordinary Muslims can counter this perversion of Islam in a meaningful way.
Canon Francis Omondi
Anglican Church Of Kenya
All Saints Cathedral Diocese