News From Across the Continent – March 2010

Nigeria: Muslim-Christian Clashes Kill Hundreds

On March 7, 2010, the central city of Jos was again the scene of violence in Nigeria in which a late-night attack by herdsmen killed up to 500 people from nearby farming villages. The attack has been seen as a reprisal for attacks in January 2010, in which about 300 herdsmen were killed by youths from the farming community.

The town of Jos is all too often a focal point for competition over the use of arable land in central and northern Nigeria, where climate change has dried up pasture lands and forced animal herders closer and closer to farming communities, where their herds can destroy crops.

Jos is also right on the de facto fault line separating Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north from its mainly Christian south. The farming community in Jos is primarily Christian of the Berom ethnic group, while the herders are ethnic Fulanis who practice Islam.

“Land is central to the conflict in Jos,” says Ugar Ukandi Odey, a Jos-based news reporter for the Nigerian newspaper NEXT. Mr. Odey has been covering the attacks and the tense aftermath. “The Beroms are the original people of Jos, and the Fulanis are nomads moving around with cattle who have settled in amongst the Berom people. But it becomes ethnic and religious, because there are Christians on one side, and the Fulanis are Muslims on the other side.”

Local disputes are common all along the cultural and ethnic dividing line between Nigeria’s north and south. There are no signs that the crisis in Jos will spill to other Nigerian states other than Plateau State, where Jos is located.

Violence in Jos killed some 326 people – most of them Fulani herders – just two months ago, and local reports suggest Sunday’s attacks may have been reprisals. Christians of the Berom community view the Fulani herders as a threat to their livelihood as farmers, and also as a threat to their political hold over the local government in Jos, local experts say.

Jos, unfortunately, has a violent reputation. Rioting between Muslims and Christians killed more than 1,000 people in 2001, and another 700 in 2004.

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Somalia: Britain Bans Somali Islamic Militant Group Al-Shabab

On March 1, 2010, the British government said that it is banning the Somali militant group, al-Shabab, and designating it a terrorist organization. The British Home Office said the move to ban al-Shabab is necessary.

Al-Shabab is a militant Islamic group fighting for control of Somalia against the country’s transitional government.  The group has pledged its allegiance to al-Qaida and has vowed to set up a strict Islamic state in Somalia.

There is growing concern the group is recruiting young men from Somali communities abroad to fight.  That is a worry for Britain, which has one of the largest Somali communities in Europe.  

The British Home Office order to ban al-Shabab must now be approved by parliament.  A ban would make membership in the group a criminal offense and would mean it could not lawfully raise money or conduct other activities on British soil.

The United States has already designated al-Shabab a terrorist organization.

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Somalia: Al Shabaab Dismisses Muslim Scholars’ Jihad Claims

On March 19, 2010, a former spokesman of Al-Shabaab dismissed a declaration by some Muslim scholars that the struggle by his organisation and other radical Islamists in Somalia was not Jihad (holy war). Speaking at a mosque in Mogadishu after midday Friday prayers, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali Abu Mansur, mocked that no group could call his movement’s efforts anti-Islamic. The sheikh was reacting to a declaration issued by some Muslim scholars on March 14 rejecting terrorism in Somalia under the pretext of jihad. The global Muslim scholars met at the United Arab Emirates and confirmed that Somalia, under President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was an Islamic state and no group, including Al-Shabaab had excuse to wage jihad. “We call all parties to the reconciliation process,” stated the declaration. Sheikh Abu Mansur insisted that Al-Shabaab was on the right track to fight the Transitional Federal Government. The sheikh justified his explanation, calling the Burundians and Ugandans serving as peacekeepers in Somalia as non-Muslims. He called all Muslims to join the struggle to remove the TFG and the AU Peacekeepers, Amisom from Somalia.

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Sudan – Muslims in South Sudan Are Allowed to Freely Spread Islam

On March 1, Muslims from Southern Sudan held a conference in Nyakuron Culture Center in Juba to discuss the future of Islam in Southern Sudan. 

Salva Kiir Mayardit, the First Vice President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan’s regional government, told the conferees to preach and spread Islam freely as long as they separate it from politics. He told them
“Don’t just operate here in Juba; go to Torit, go to Yei, go to Warrap and other places”. However, Kiir warned them to stick to religion and not mix it with politics when preaching, adding religion has no political party. He also added that his government would be interested to receive the resolutions that would be passed in the conference.

Southern Sudan Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, congratulated the Muslims for their successful organization in Southern Sudan after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He explained that the SPLM-ruled government took a hard decision to assist in organizing Muslims in Southern Sudan, which he said the government was first reluctant to do given the policy of separating religion from the state. The government finally decided to help the Muslims in organizing themselves and forming the Council of Islamic Affairs under the leadership of Sheikh Tahir Biar, a southerner from Jonglei state.

It should be mentioned that Sheikh Biar was previously also appointed as leader of the New Sudan Council of Islamic Affairs during the liberation struggle by late Dr. John Garang de Mabior. His group was merged with the other Islamic groups inside the government controlled towns in the South after the signing of the CPA.

Some observers, however, say the body was probably established with the purpose of giving Muslims a focal point that would shoulder the responsibility of their activities in the South instead of letting them loose without a controlling central structure.

At the same event, Sheikh Biar commended the government of Southern Sudan for its good relations with the Islamic Council as well as the freedom given to Muslims in the South.

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Sudan: Bashir Is Committed to Maintain Islamic Legislation in the Country

On March 6, 2010, Sudanese President and leader of the National Congress Party (NCP), Omer Al-Bashir, reiterated his commitment to maintain Islamic legislations in the country and rejected calls for a secular state. President Al-Bashir, who campaigns for his reelection, was addressing scholars and leaders of Islamic brotherhoods in Khartoum. He reafirmed his commitment to the Islamic laws and the empowerment of the Islamic religion in the country. He further scoffed at the proposal of some political parties calling for the establishment of a secular, state and the abolition of the Public Order Act. Bashir further called on the scholars, preachers and leaders of Sufi brotherhoods to maintaining the Islamic nation and religion by propagating Islam’s principles and precepts among Muslims. He also commended the efforts of the late President Nimeiri who imposed a harsh and unpopular panel law in September 1983. “Whatever we disagree with (Nimeiri) him politically, but we stress that he fought against the underworld and bars,” Bashir said about the former Sudanese president who applied the Islamic law for the first time since the independence in 1956.

At the same day, Presidential adviser, Salah Gosh, in a speech made in Al Suki, Northern state, attacked opposition parties saying they agreed in Juba to abolish the Islamic laws. He also accused them of using the electoral campaign to advertise for a new secular state.

 The issue of Sharia laws is presented as a theme against the SPLM candidate Yasir Arman who calls for its cancellation in order to maintain Sudan’s unity. Arman denied recently NCP allegations that he had called to open bars and houses of prostitution he also said that the ruling party is using religion in politics but not really apply it. “What is happening now is the use of religion in politics, and that has affected Islam,” said Arman in a statement posted on his blog.

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