Sunday, July 11, 2010

Somali Clerics Campaign Against Jihad

NAIROBI, July 9: Somali clerics who are worried that their country could become a launching pad for global jihad are stepping up efforts around the world to stop young men from joining an Al Qaeda-linked group.

The clerics are spreading their message in Somalia and to diaspora communities of Somalis in Kenya, Europe and the United States.

“As Islamic scholars, we should warn people, especially the youth, against Al Shabab’s destructive ideology,” said Sheik Abdi Mahad, a cleric who preaches in Somali mosques in Nairobi. “What we are telling our people is Al Shabab is wrong and its members are extremists who don’t represent the peaceful nature of the Islamic religion.”

Clerics are airing anti-Shabab lectures on the Somali government’s radio station in Mogadishu. They’re also holding meetings for those who oppose the militant group, although such gatherings can only be held in areas outside Al Shabab’s control. The militants’ reach extends across much of Mogadishu, and Somalia’s central and southern regions.

Al Shabab seeks to topple Somalia’s weak, UN-backed administration and install a system based on their version of Islam.

US officials say veteran insurgents of the Afghan and Pakistan conflict have joined Al Shabab, infusing the group with bomb-making expertise and global links. The group metes out harsh punishments, not unlike the Taliban when they controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Western intelligence officials say the group is also recruiting foreign fighters from the Somali diaspora in the United States and Europe.

In Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali community in the US, clerics at the Quba Mosque held weeklong lectures shaming Al Shabab in May, said Sheik Osman Ahmed Sheik, the mosque’s assistant director.

“Now parents are more enlightened about Al Shabab’s danger to their children,” he said.

Mohamed Idris, a Saudi-based Somali cleric, was among several scholars who took part in a series of recent lectures in Sweden. “We have urged the youth to focus on education and their life in their adopted countries and not get involved in the violence in Somalia.”

In April, Mr Idris was part of a dozen clerics who met in the Somali city of Garowe. The group issued a statement in which they said militant activity in Somalia is not jihad.“The best way to deal with the extremists is dialogue,” said Abdel Moati Bayoumi, a scholar at Al Azhar University in Cairo.—AP

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