Nairobi, November 7, 2009 – On
Thursday Somalia's main Sufi movement, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, wrapped up
an unprecedented conference in Nairobi to strategize its response to the
rise and radicalization of the Shabaab group.
Dozens of the usually quiet religious movement's leaders have in recent
days converged on Nairobi from Somalia and from Western exile to close
ranks against what they see as an existential threat.
"The Shabaab are misguided people who have misunderstood the true values
of Islam," overall chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Muhieddin told AFP
before leaving Kenya Thursday.
Sufism is dominant in clannish Somalia, where Muslim saints are often
also clan founders, but its leading clerics have voiced concern that
hardline Islamist groups such as the Al Qaeda-inspired Shabaab were
slowly eradicating it.
It emphasizes the mystical dimension of Islam and includes practices
considered as idolatry by the followers of the Wahhabi sect adopted by
A year ago, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa ('The Companions of the Prophet') took
up arms after the Shabaab started hunting down Sufi faithful and
desecrating their holy sites, notably in and around the southern Somali
city of Kismayo.
"The Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa fighters are not a regular army who long for
power, they are defending themselves and the lives of other Somalis
whose way of life is threatened by the Shabaab's madness," Sheikh Sharif
The Ahlu Sunna leader, the son of respected Somali cleric Sheikh
Muhieddin Eli, explained the current conflict as a continuation of old
religious feuds between Muslims that were touched off by the death of
"A group of people who were known as the Khawarij (or Kharijite) came to
kill other Muslims who did not share their views. Now the Shabaab are
killing Somalis because they are not with them," he said.
As Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa gathered in Nairobi for its inaugural "war
council", a man sometimes described as the movement's political face was
also in the Kenyan capital to seek support.
Recently appointed president of the semi-autonomous central state of
Galmudug with Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa's blessing, Mohamed Ahmed Alin argued
that his administration can help achieve what the central government in
Mogadishu and its Western backers have failed to do.
"With some cooperation, I believe the Shabaab could be eliminated from
most of the country," he told AFP. "We need infrastructure support,
military support, training of our troops but so far, just words and no
While the organization’s military strength remains unclear, its
grassroots nature gives it a popular legitimacy and territorial reach
that no other movement can boast in fractious Somalia.
"In my region for example, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa never used to be a
political affiliation. Everybody is Ahlu Sunna, that's all," said Alin.
And despite the religious movement taking on a new and more political
dimension as it seeks to beef up against the Islamist threat, its top
leaders are quick to emphasize they have no further ambitions.
"We are not after power, what we are fighting for is a peaceful Somalia
governed by its elected leaders," said Abdulkadir Mohamed Somow, a
senior Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa leader from Mogadishu.
"Our movement is fighting the Shabaab forces of anarchy but we will lay
down our weapons as soon as they have been eliminated," he said.
Another senior Ahlu Sunna figure based in Garowe, the administrative
capital of the northern semi-autonomous state of Puntland, was more
"If it is God's will we may one day have a role to play in running the
country, but it is too early to say more, there are consultations going
on in Nairobi and elsewhere," Abdillahi Mohamoud Hassan said.
Source: The Telegraph, November 5, 2009