Close to 300 Muslim scholars and imams from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have issued a religious edict (fatwa) against Al Shabaab and its extremist Wahhabi doctrine.
They said they will henceforth “join their respective governments in weeding out extremism” after realising that extremist ideas must be combated. They warned that religious radicalism threatens the existence of sovereign nations and their economies.
After a two-day conference at Mackinon Road township in Kwale County, the clerics, who belong to the moderate Sufi order of Sunni Islam, said Salafist groups, to which they said Al Shabaab belongs, are motivated by Wahhabi doctrines and have hijacked Islam.
They met at the Al Mahmudiyah Sufi Islamic Centre under the umbrella of the International Sufi Conference on Sunday and Monday and admitted that although Sufism advocates tolerance and moderation, they underestimated the appeal and determination of Wahhabi doctrines and Salafist groups.
Spread of Islam
A statement released after the meeting said Sufis have co-existed with non-Muslims in this region for more than a millennium and are responsible for the rise and spread of Islam in East, Central and Horn of Africa region for close to 1,300 years.
In a statement, the clerics said traditional Islam does not support violence, murder and destruction or expulsion of Muslims and non-Muslims even when there is a difference of religious interpretation.
Sufis are also known as Ahlu Sunna Wa al Jamaa and have been persecuted by extremist groups in countries like Somalia, but are also battling Al Shabaab in areas like Garbaharey.
Early this month, suspected Al Shabaab militants shot and wounded a Sufi cleric who later died in a Nairobi hospital. US based Somalii scholar Mohamud Elmi, urged Muslims in the region to work with their governments to defeat Al Shabaab and other extremists.
“Islam is utterly against extremism and terrorism and we are gathered here to chart the way forward in dismantling and deconstructing all ideas of extremism propagated by groups purporting to be fighting in the name of Islam,” Dr Elmi said.
He said the conference resolved to propagate “tolerance and co-existence between the followers of Islam and Christianity”.
The clerics said they would seek the unity of all Sufi organisations in the region and visit countries to combat the spread of radical ideologies.
They will also be seeking to influence the curriculum taught in Islamic schools or madrassas.
The clerics said besides countering radical ideology, youths ought to be gainfully employed to avoid being seduced by Salafists.
Sheikh Abdulkadir Al-Ahdi of Kenya said Sufis were instrumental in the spread of Islam in East Africa and Asia and hence “have a role to play in countering violence that lies with the fanatical “’Wahhabi’ strain of Islam.”
Sharif Abdullahi Sharif Ali, the Grand Mufti (top Muslim leader) of Ethiopia said Islam must be rescued from extremism.
“Islam is a religion that holds in high regard the sanctity of human life as one of its highest values and the scenes of bloodletting in the name of Islam we have been witnessing in the region are truly regrettable,” he said.
He said his country has been fighting extremism for decades beginning with the struggle against Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya which morphed into Al Shabaab.
“So Ethiopia started fighting extremism long before Kenya,” he said.