Abdurrahman Warsameh/AP
Somali President Sheikh Sharif
Sheikh Ahmed

Somali President Agrees to Sharia Law, But Rebels Reject Truce

March 03, 2009 12:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed agreed to institute a lenient form of sharia law in response to rebel demands. However, rebels vowed to continue fighting.

Sharia Law Implemented in Somalia as Part of Truce

At a news conference Saturday, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said that he is conceding to a key rebel demand: the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in Somalia.
CNN reports that Ahmed announced he would not implement an austere version of sharia in the country. Sharia law generally demands the separation of unrelated men and women, bans music, requires women to envelop themselves in public and for men to wear beards.

"I met with religious leaders and elders and accepted their demand for a ceasefire and reconciliation with the opposition members, and I call on all opposition parties to halt the unnecessary violence," Ahmed was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

According to statements Ahmed made at his conference, representatives from Islamic militant groups operating in the country came to the president to say they were willing to agree to a two-year truce. The president also requested that peacekeeping forces installed by the African Union begin to bow out.

However, hardliner group Hizb al-Islamiya (Islamic Party), who claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in capital city Mogadishu last week, said that they had never had any intention of participating in a ceasefire.

"The information regarding a ceasefire plan between our group and the government is baseless. We will attack the enemy and their stooges anytime we want," group spokesperson Muse Abdi Arale told AFP.

Background: Crisis in Somalia

Somalia has been without a stable government since the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

Burdened by a dismal international image—thanks to a spike in piracy off its shores over the past year—Somalia has struggled to retain some semblance of order.

But as members of Al-Shabab, a militant Islamic group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization in early 2008, make their way closer to the capital and complete control, tensions have reached a fever pitch.

Although they have lacked an operating government for several years, national forces were able to keep Al-Shabab away from the capital with the aid of Ethiopian troops.

The soldiers were deployed from Somalia’s neighbor in 2006 after members of the Union of Islamic Courts, an influential political party that took power that year, began proposing the creation of a Greater Somali, which would include parts of Ethiopia and Kenya.

Though the party was virtually erased from Somali politics, its armed wing flourished, taking on the name of “The Youth,” or Al-Shabab.

After three years of setbacks and losses, Ethiopia announced its withdrawal late last year, leaving behind military outposts that were almost immediately occupied by members of Al-Shabab.

The well-funded and well-organized group has since continued to extend its reach across the Horn of Africa, consolidating power in regions long fought over by an array of warlords.

Members of a 3,400-strong African Union force remain in the country to help combat the spread of Al-Shabab, but they recently suffered a drop in support after being accused of opening fire on civilians following a bomb attack on one of their convoys.

Representatives of the AU force deny any involvement in the attack, which resulted in the deaths of 31 people in the capital of Mogadishu.

Reference: What is sharia law?

Sharia, which can be translated as “the way” in Arabic, is the Islamic legal system delineated in the Islamic holy texts, including the Quran and the hadith.

Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God, while the Hadith, the ways of the prophet, provides the finer details of much of Islamic law, and is used by Muslims to interpret the Quran. It consists of thousands of descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s daily life. As is common among religious texts, both texts have been subjected to varying levels of interpretation; this is reflected in how sharia is applied in Muslim countries.

Related Topic: Pakistani cleric threatens more protests if government delays on sharia courts

On Sunday, Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad, the head of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi group, argued that the Pakistan government was "procrastinating" over the installation of sharia courts in the Swat Valley, a chaotic region in the northwest of the country.

In mid-February, Pakistan had agreed to halt its military offensives and permit the installation of sharia, or Islamic law, in the area. The agreement was intended to end violence between the government and the Taliban. At the time of the agreement, a U.S. defense official condemned the deal as “a negative development” and a human rights activist called it “a great surrender” to the insurgents, according to the Associated Press, cited by findingDulcinea. Critics argued that militants might attempt to spread Islamic law to other regions of Pakistan as a result of the deal.

Pakistani officials said that the new system of Islamic rule would be completely different from the laws governing Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 under the control of the Taliban, “during which thieves’ hands were amputated and adulterers were stoned to death,” according to The Washington Post. Instead, the new system in the Malakand district would have an appeals process, unlike the Afghan Taliban form of justice.

It appears that little progress has been made to establish the courts in the weeks since the agreement, however. Al-Jazeera reported that Muhammad said at a Sunday news conference, "We also asked the government to implement [Islamic jurisprudence] by March 15 after which we will launch a protest."

In addition, the cleric set a March 10 deadline for the mutual release of prisoners held by the Islamist militants and the Pakistani government.

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