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Exclusive Interview- Sheikh Sherif Welcomes Dialogue With Washington
MOGADISHU, June 9, 2006--Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed, Chairman of the Somali Islamic Courts Union, today welcomed a dialogue with the United States, describing the Bush Administration's willingness to talk to them as Washington's "first step towards the right direction."
"We know that a lot of wrong information has been given to the U.S. They have been fed with lies and Somalia has been portrayed to them as a threat, which is baseless," he said.
In an exclusive telephone interview with Bashir Goth of Awdalnews Network on 9th June 2006, Sheikh Sherif also explained that what happened in Mogadishu was a popular uprising and not an Islamic Courts' conquest of the capital, noting that all fighters on the Islamic Courts side were natives of Mogadishu and there were rarely any other Somalis among their ranks let alone foreign elements.
He denied having called for the establishment of an Islamic State in Somalia and said that the Islamic Courts had no intention of forcing women to adhere to strict Islamic dress code.
"People are Muslims but no one forces them to do anything. It is a personal obligation and the person has to adhere to it by his own," he said.
He expressed his delight at the achievements of the people of Somaliland, saying that their secession was due to mistakes committed against them in the past.
"I congratulate the Somaliland people, they have worked hard. They are people we love; they are Somali people. Somaliland's secession was due to mistakes that happened in the past. For our part, we would like these mistakes to be addressed. We believe they are the first people concerned with this issue because their property, their wealth and their blood are in the soil.," Sheikh Sherif said.
He expressed the Islamic courts willingness to hold talks with Abdillahi Yusuf on interests and principles or both.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Awdalnews Network (ANN)- A Somali anecdote says that a Somali countryside man has entered a mosque while worshipers were praying. He thought the Imam was Sheikh Hassan Nuriye, a famous religious scholar at the time in the region of Awdal and the Somali region of Ethiopia. When the prayer was over and the Imam turned his face towards the worshippers, the man realized that the Imam was not Sheikh Hassan Nuriye as he thought. He then regrettably said:" Poor me! Who is he that I thought was Sheikh Hassan Nuriye and had wasted my prayers?" Hence, Somali people have now received your arrival with jubilation, but do you think that you may reveal another face tomorrow other than that of Sheikh Hassan Nuriye?
Sheikh Sherif Sh. Ahmed (Sh.Sherif) - [a laud laughter]. Let me also joke with you. The issue is not as you think it is and not even as people say it is. What happened is a public uprising. It belongs to the people. We are ready to handover the issue to the people as soon as they are ready. There is no problem at the present time.
ANN- how much land is now in your hands? Are you planning to reach the whole country and bring the whole nation under your control?
Sh. Sherif- Land is not our priority. Our priority is the people's peace, dignity and that they could live in liberty, that they could decide their own fate. That is our priority. Our priority is not land; the people are important to us.
ANN- Are your fighters all Somalis? Some reports say that they include some foreign elements. And if they are all Somalis do they all belong to Mogadishu or do they include Somalis hailing from Somaliland, Puntland, Ethiopia and Kenya?
Sh. Sherif - All our fighters are Somalis. There may be people who arrived here during the battles and joined the fighting. I am not sure of that because all the fighters are volunteers. There may also include people who are residents of Mogadishu but originally came from the other regions, but the fighters who are officially enlisted for us are all from Mogadishu. They are all natives of the city; they are known people and they are the people who established the Islamic courts.
ANN- Some reports from the west say that your courts comprise people from various Islamic schools of thought such as Al Ittihad Al Islami, Al Takfiir Wal Hijra, Al Islah and Al Tabliq and that they are all against the moderate sunni, shafi'i and sufi schools of Islam. If this is true don't you think this could lead to a clash between them?
Sh. Sherif- There is no truth in this. The people are ordinary people who organized themselves. Each one of them has been selected on individual basis to lead a court. They could be from sufi orders or Al Ittihad or others. But as you know Al Ittihad doesn't exist anymore. It has ceased to exist a long time ago.
ANN- Where do you get support in terms of arms and finance?
Sh. Sherif- The support comes from the people who have established these courts.
ANN- You told a crowd of people recently that you are going to establish a state based on Islamic Sharia? Does that mean that you will not allow democratic systems such as that existing in Somaliland?
Sh. Sherif- That report is not true. I have never made such a statement at all.
ANN- Somaliland has a well-established government that has seceded from the rest of the country with the people's support. How do you see it? Do you think that you will spread the Sharia to it as well?
Sh. Sherif- I congratulate the Somaliland people, they have worked hard. They are people we love; they are Somali people. Somaliland's secession was due to mistakes that happened in the past. For our part, we would like these mistakes to be addressed. We believe they are the first people concerned because their property, their wealth and their blood are in the soil.
ANN- Some reports claim that you are Wahhabists and that you are trying to impose Wahhabsim on the Somali people who had no experience of Wahhabism. What will you say about it?
Sh. Sherif- I myself I don't know Wahhabism at all. I am from a family that followed a sufi order. I have no idea about Wahhabiya, I only heard about the name.
ANN- It happened sometime in the past that the Italian cemetery was dug up and the remains of dead people exhumed. There is a suspicion that Adan Hashi Ayro was behind this. We know Ayro is now a commander of the Ifka Halane Court. What does Sheikh Sherif has to say about this to the Italian people?
Sh. Sherif- A lot of things have taken place in the country. A lot of mistakes have taken place. Many Somali cemeteries have been dug up and the remains of dead people thrown in the bushes. Houses have been built on others. People have been killed, some have been raped, and others have been taken hostage and sold. So this [Italian cemetery] is just one of the many mistakes that happened in the country. There was great misery in the country. The life of the whole Somali people have been completely destroyed. Millions have left the country, millions have become handicapped and other millions are suffering inside it. Therefore, I think the answer is obvious.
ANN- Some of Ayro associates have been convicted in Hargeisa for the murder of foreign aid workers. What is your stand on this issue?
Sh. Sherif- Brother, I have no idea about it. I have no information on this matter, I cannot, therefore, comment on it.
ANN- The U.S. government expressed its willingness to talk to you but has also shown its worries about Somalia becoming a safe haven for terrorists. Are you ready to have a dialogue with Washington?
Sh. Sherif- Absolutely, absolutely. We welcome this development. We need to have a dialogue with them. We know that a lot of wrong information has been given to the U.S. They have been fed with lies and Somalia has been portrayed to them as a threat, which is baseless.
ANN- There are people suspected by the U.S. government of having links with international terrorism, particularly Al Qaeda. One of them is Sheikh Dahir Hassan Aweys, a former head of Al Ittihad, who is on the American black list. What will you do if the U.S. government requests you to arrest him?
Sh. Sherif- I don't think anybody will ask us to do that. We are not assigned to arrest people for them, as you know.
ANN- If the U.S. government includes this issue in the agenda of its talks with you what you will do?
Sh. Sherif- They have no right to do that. As you know, we don't work for the Americans.
ANN- How does your Islamic Courts in Mogadishu view the Sept. 11 attacks on America and similar attacks on other places in the world?
Sh. Sherif- There are different reports emerging on that issue. Some say that Al Qaeda was behind it, some say that the Jews were behind it and some say that Americans themselves were behind it. Therefore, it is not right for us to talk about it when real facts are not available.
ANN- There are Muslim people who commit suicide bombings for their own reasons whatever they could be. How do you see these people? Do you see them as martyrs or criminals? Do you think if you find yourself in a critical position that you can resort to such action?
Sh. Sherif- I would rather not answer this.
ANN- Recently a Mogadishu court has allowed a 16 year old teenage boy to kill the murderer of his father. The convict was tied to a tree and the boy was allowed to hack him to death. It is also reported that some courts have banned cinemas and theatres. This reminds the world of the Taliban regime. Have the courts really sanctioned such actions?
Sh. Sherif- Regarding the boy's issue, the court that passed the order is not under my authority. It is not one of the courts that fall under my authority. It said it belonged to the Alliance [The Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Anti-Terrorism]. The Alliance also stated that the court belonged to them. We have suspicions that the objective of Alliance by carrying out this action was politically motivated and that they have sent a request to America as a result of this. Therefore, this court claimed it belonged to the Alliance and the Alliance confirmed that it belonged to them. They have to answer for it.
ANN- Will you compel women to wear Sharia sanctioned clothes or will the Somali woman be free to wear whatever she likes such as our traditional Guntino and Diric and go to the market as normal?
Sh. Sherif- People are Muslims but no one forces them now to do anything. It is a personal obligation and the person has to adhere to it by his own.
ANN- Recently Sheikh Hassan Al Turabi of Sudan said that he had no objection to a woman or Christian being president in Sudan. What is your position on this issue? Could a woman or a Somali Christian be a president for the country?
Sh. Sherif- You mean hypothetically if such a situation arises what would you have done? In fact the religious scholars say that it is not a preferable option. Therefore, I don't want to go into that now. I don't like to answer hypothetical questions. I will give an answer when the situation comes.
ANN- Are there women members in the Islamic Courts?
Sh. Sherif- What do you mean?
ANN- I mean, are there women in the staff of the courts such as judges?
Sh. Sherif- Even the men are struggling to do it. It is a difficult job, indeed.
ANN- How about freedom of expression. As long as Mogadishu is in your hands now, do you think that you will allow freedom of press and personal rights?
Sh. Sherif- It is one of the things that we highly value. As you know Mogadishu press and the world press write a lot of lies about us, however, we don't contest it and we don't make fuss about it. This shows that there is a lot of freedom of expression. Since the inception of the Islamic Courts, no one was detained on the basis of what they said or what they believe.
ANN- Will you support organizations that share similar principles with you and want to enforce Islamic Sharia in neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti?
Sh. Sherif- We are not an organization. We are a popular uprising. Therefore, we are different from them.
ANN- So does that mean that the fear of these countries about you is unfounded?
Sh. Sherif- We want to respect our neighboring countries and the entire world and we believe that no one should make an aggression on others. This is our belief.
ANN- Are you ready to form a government with Abdillahi Yusuf. Do you have any conditions to do this?
Sh. Sherif- We agree to have talks with Abdillahi Yusuf on interests or principles or both.
ANN- Have you started any talks with them as yet?
Sh. Sherif- [unfortunately the recorded answer was inaudible]
ANN- Do the Islamic Courts intend to form a government or do you want to transfer the issue to the Somali people and that you will remain as a judiciary authority only?
Sh. Sherif- We want to return the decision to the Somali people. We don't want to keep any authority with us.
ANN- There are people in Mogadishu who have taken the properties and possessions of other Somali people. How do the courts see this?
Sh. Sherif- This is one of the most important things that we want to address. Our first priority is to see that properties and farms that have been looted should be returned to their rightful owners.
ANN- Do you have any fears from the U.S. government?
Sh. Sherif- We have no fears. We know that the Americans have a lot of wrong information about us; we believe that a lot of misconceptions have been fed to them, but as long as they have now expressed their willingness to talk to us, we see this as the first step towards the right direction.
ANN- How do you respond to the question: Who is Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed? Where was he born? Where did he study? And what are his ambitions?
Sh. Sherif- I would rather not answer this.
ANN- Is there anything you want to add?
Sh. Sherif- Yes; we would like to tell the world that we are a popular uprising. We were serving the people under very difficult circumstances. The people have started to get a semblance of peace. In fact we have come through a challenging situation. The men who have destroyed the Somali nation, caused mass migrations, and looted people's properties and dignity have been armed due to wrong information they provided to the U.S. government. These were the causes of the fighting. Therefore, we appeal to the world to save Somalia from an imminent danger.
Likewise, I urge all Somali people, particularly those in the diaspora to send assistance to the people suffering in Mogadishu and other parts of the country; to work towards the peace and beauty of the city; to remove the garbage, to open hospitals and to build roads.
I want to tell you also that the people of the Islamic Courts are nothing to be afraid of. They are normal persons who couldn't tolerate the daily and endless suffering of the people. They are the poorest and weakest people of the community. Some of them cannot even find the daily subsistence of their families and yet they don't like to use public funds. You have to know that so many sons have died, so many sons have been injured, and so many sons have lost their properties. In fact, it is an enormous task and to have brought it to a Somali level is itself a great achievement.
We hope to have a lot of consultations with our people in the diaspora, with the educated and the wise people and to hold many consultations with Somalis inside the country. We believe that the Somali people can reach a solution if they work together in a concerted way. Therefore, the only opportunity we offer to the people is to come together and work towards a common decision on an equal basis and without any discrimination of anyone.
Source: Awdalnews Network