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Hardline Rule Changes Spirit Of Ramadan In Somalia
Mogadishu, Oct 5, 2006- Bakar Ahmed is walking down the mostly-empty streets of the Somali capital Mogadishu, with his three children in tow. He's searching for gifts for Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan which celebrates the struggle for spiritual transcendence endured throughout the month-long fasting holiday.
And while the streets and pathways of the city are as calm as they would be during the holiday, and the mosques just as busy, there is tension in the air.
As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan this month, many Somalis are for the first time in 15 years faced with a semblance of government, in the form of strict Islamic rule that is changing the meaning of the holiday.
And Ahmed, a practicing Muslim, is upset.
'Islam as a religion doesn't force people to do things, but the Islamists are interpreting the laws differently. They want to force people to become religious,' said Ahmed, a 29-year-old shopkeeper.
Indeed, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), who took control of the capital earlier this year and now hold a significant part of the country, has imposed strict rules on the once-lawless state during the holy month. They seek to rule with Islamic Sharia laws and this first Ramadan under their control is a true test of their authority.
Since they began amassing towns and cities, the Islamists' drive to push religious law on Somalis has often turned violent. Earlier this year, Islamists raided a cinema screening a World Cup game, killing two people.
But during Ramadan, the Islamists are further tightening their hold on the towns they control. In Mogadishu as elsewhere, restaurants have been forced to close during the day time. In years past, they would remain open, to the owners' discretion.
'Any adult Muslim who doesn't fast doesn't obey the order of God and he who doesn't obey the order of God should be punished,' Sheikh Abdulrahem Ahmed Mudey, information secretary of the UIC, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
And the punishment is harsh - forty flogs for anyone who might break the Islamists' hard-line rules.
Aside from discouraging access to food during the daytime, the Islamists have banned cinemas as well as the selling of the popular stimulant khat and, in some places, even playing football.
In Islam, fasting goes beyond staving off food. During the daytime hours of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to refrain from doing anything that might limit their closeness to God - like having sex, smoking or cursing.
However, in past years during Ramadan, Somalis were free to follow the holiday without the eyes of the Islamists peering over them. And since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohammed Siyad Barre by U.S.-backed warlords, Somalis had hardly any laws to follow at all.
While the Islamists are credited with bringing some sense of security to the regions they rule, especially compared to their weaker, secular counterparts in the internationally-supported transitional government, some Somalis say their grip is too strong.
'The banning of cinemas, restaurants and khat are not problems,' Ahmed, the shopkeeper, said. 'The problem is that we are losing our freedom. We want to be free.'
Support for the Islamists, which often depends on what clan a Somali is from, is split. Some have welcomed them into their cities and towns, while others feel they are losing any freedom they had under anarchy.
And while the Koran, Islam's holy book, prescribes fasting during the month of Ramadan on punishment of extending the fast, forcing Muslims to do so defeats the purpose of the ritual.
'We don't fast because someone has told us to. We fast because God has told us to,' said Kenyan-based Abukar Kabogi, a religious advisor to the World Conference on Religions for Peace, an inter-faith dialogue group.
'If you force them, the law will be meaningless.'
Source: DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agentur