Islam is a fundamental pillar of Somali society and provides an important moral compass in Somali peace processes. This article discusses the rise of the Islamic Courts and the impact of Islamic militancy with which Somalis are currently grappling. The violence perpetrated by militant Islamists in Somalia obscures the fact that peace and reconciliation are fundamental tenants of Islam.
According to Islam, promoting reconciliation is an act of goodness and people are encouraged to resolve their differences this way.
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Peace and reconciliation are among the fundamental tenets of Islam, which preaches the virtue of the conflict resolution method known as Suluh (‘Pacification’). This is mentioned in several verses of the Qur’an along with the importance of promoting reconciliation. According to Islam, promoting reconciliation is an act of goodness and people are encouraged to resolve their differences this way.
The Somali Islamic tradition
Somalis traditionally have adhered to the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam. Historically most have have belonged to one of the established Sufi orders and in their practices have fused local traditions and beliefs with Islam. Clan ancestors have been assimilated as Awliya or ‘trusted ones’ and Somali customary law incorporates elements of Shari’a.
The emergence of the Islamic Courts
The first Islamic Courts were established in Maka and Medina neighborhoods of Mogadishu as early as 1991. The militant Somali Islamic group Al Itihad Al Islamiya also established Islamic Courts in Gedo region around that time. More courts were established in North Mogadishu in 1994 and they later spread to other districts throughout Mogadishu from 1998 until 2000.
Interweaving Islamic and customary systems
The Islamic Courts worked alongside traditional elders to gain acceptance of their rulings by the clans, as well as their help in consoling the bereaved and arresting criminal suspects.
Islam and social responsibility
In addition to peacemaking and law enforcement, Islam has been increasingly influential in commerce and in efforts to revive and maintain public services. Many of the new enterprises that have grown up during the war, in the import/export trade, telecommunications and money transfer, are owned by people inspired and motivated by new reformist Islamic sects.
The Ulema and reconciliation
Islam has always played a tangible role in peacemaking and peacebuilding. The Ulema command automatic respect and people have always turned to them to help with unresolved disputes. During Somali reconciliation meetings in and outside the country, the Ulema have played important roles by counseling negotiators and speaking to them through the media, urging them to show flexibility and compromise. They would urge leaders to refer to Islam in solving their differences.
Islamic scholars and external mediation
If peace and security are to be sustained in Somalia, the engagement of the Islamic leadership is crucial. Islamic scholars have attended most previous reconciliation conferences, but usually as observers. Members of the Ulema Forum and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a were observers to the 1993 Addis Ababa conference. Muslim scholars also took part in the 2000 Arta conference, although in a personal capacity, and several scholars from the Courts and members of Al-Islah became parliamentarians in the Transitional National Government (TNG).
At the beginning of the Somali civil war, the conflict was between clans and later clan-based factions. Today, Islamic factions are pitted against a government that has stated its intention to apply Shari’a in full.