At a summit in Dubai, scholars and clerics are gathering to destroy the Somalian rebels' religious credibility.
Somali president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been busy of late. This weekend he is attending a summit in Dubai, along with an international cast of scholars and clerics, to refute the ideologies of groups that "abuse the name of sharia by imposing their own literal, ill-informed interpretations onto others". Organised by the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance (GCRG) the summit will clarify the orthodox position on jihad and takfir – judging a Muslim to be outside the fold – and analyse the religious motivation of group of violent Islamists in Somalia, known as al-Shabaab. The meeting will result in a fatwa condemning them.
Several thoughts spring to mind. It should not take a summit to state the obvious and it will take more than a fatwa to end the chaos and destruction wreaked by al-Shabaab. Previous Cif blogs have attracted a variety of opinion on the success or otherwise of fatwas against terrorism. So where does this leave the summit? According to Anna Rader, of the Royal United Services Institute, Somalia is a deeply religious country but most citizens are appalled by al-Shabaab's extreme interpretation of Islam and that the cultural strictures it seeks to impose are onerous to say the least when the country is struggling with poverty and insecurity. Other Islamist groups in the country – such as al-Ittihad al-Islami and the Islamic Council Union – have balanced the implementation of sharia with law, order and attempts to address social welfare issues. Al-Shabaab, she adds, has made no effort to connect its form of "justice" to broader issues, "calling into question whether it really has any clear programmatic goals or any sense of what a truly Islamic state would look like for Somalia".
Both al-Shabaab and the Somali president use religious rhetoric to establish legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the international and domestic community. Both lay claim to being the true guardians of Islam. It could be that, by allying himself with people such as Salman al-Awadah, the Saudi Arabian scholar who set up Islam Today, and Abdullah Omar Naseef, president of the Muslim World League, that the Somali president is more interested in bolstering the transitional federal government (TFG) than trying to influence al-Shabaab, which has made it clear it is not interested in winning support among Muslim leaders.
Sharif's efforts may backfire and strengthen anti-TFG feeling among other Islamist groups or strengthen opposition to al-Shabaab. It is difficult to assess how effective a fatwa will be in a
country where material, rather than spiritual, resources are so sorely lacking. The GCRG has invited me to Dubai to report on the conference, so I hope the assembled dignitaries will be able to
shed some light on the motivation for a religious strategy, rather than a political one.