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Islam and the rise of fundamentalism in Africa

 

By Chippla Vandu

 

If Sub-Saharan African nations have problems, then the Republic of Somalia is just about as bad as it ever gets.

 

Without a central government for over 15 years, this land consisting of two entities (relatively peaceful and self-declared Republic of Somaliland to the north and lawless Somalia to the south) has defied all attempts at bringing sanity to what was once an aspiring and modern African republic.

Last month, Islamists took over the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and in line with their tenets, imposed Islamic Sharia law. While they promised to protect all people in the city, it wasn't too long before the madness of fundamentalism and fanaticism began rearing its ugly head.

Reports from CNN tell of two people who were shot dead at a place that was showing the 2006 Football World Cup matches. While those responsible for the killings have been put on trial, one sees signs of Taliban era Afghanistan in present-day Mogadishu.

 

The screenings of World Cup matches, as well as other forms of television entertainment were banned in Mogadishu, thanks to strict interpretation of Sharia. Furthermore, when one reads of Islamic militia men breaking up a wedding in Mogadishu because a "band was playing and men and women were socializing together", one cannot but weep for the fact that Somalia's future, if it has got any, just got bleaker.

From Northern Nigeria to Somalia, the craze by the ruling class to see that people abide by Arabic cultural values as promulgated by their interpretation of the Islamic religion is baffling. Why should 21st century African societies be subject to 7th century Arabic laws? Furthermore, even in the Arab nations of North Africa, Sharia law holds less sway than it does in say Northern Nigeria and of recent, in Somalia.

While I search for some logical explanations as to why boys and girls should not sit in the same classrooms, why men and women must not congregate together or socialize in public, why women get stoned for the crimes of fornication, adultery or giving birth to a child out of wedlock, why women must adhere to a dress code imposed by the ruling theocratic class and why one needs a morality police to ensure that citizens abide by divine norms,

 

   Talk Mogadishu

Talking politics and peace in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia: Women have been excluded from most of the conversation

 

I remain deeply uneasy with any African society that has chosen to subject itself to Sharia law as interpreted by its often corrupt ruling class.

Four years ago, there were riots by Islamic fanatics over the hosting of the 2002 Miss World competition in Nigeria. Hundreds of non-Muslims were killed and a fatwa issued against a journalist for statements she made about the Prophet of Islam.

 

The Danish cartoons incident also comes to mind. A Copenhagen-based newspaper caricatures the Prophet of Islam and 7000 kilometers away in Northern Nigeria, Muslim fanatics vent their anger on their fellow country men and women who happen not to share their faith.

 

A few weeks back, a girl went around distributing leaflets in Niger State [Nigeria], which criticized both Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed—some minutes later, she is attacked by an Islamic mob and lynched to death.

My question is this: what room does Sharia law give for the creation of a pluralistic society? Or, how does Sharia law accommodate the existence of pluralism?

 

As with most things with Islam as practiced in Northern Nigeria, asking too many questions could be dangerous--only a thin line exists between what is considered a genuine question and an open attack on Islam. Until the day comes when Islam can be openly and frankly discussed on the streets of Northern Nigeria without the fear of a mob attack, enlightenment of the individual mind in that part of the world would remain an illusion.

 

As for Somalia, it needs one of two things to set it on the right path—a miracle, or foreign intervention. The last thing any African nation needs today is Taliban-style madness, which is precisely what one sees in Mogadishu.

 

Chippla Vandu is a Nigerian academic and writer. He blogs as Chippla

 

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