Somalia: 30 musicians lashed by religious militia 12 years ago
Somali woman singer tells the untold story of how, on 8 January 1996, local Islamic court’s militia raided a concert in North Mogadishu, took 30 musicians into custody, and confiscated their instruments. The next day, the musicians, accused of corrupting the morals of Somalis, were sentenced to 20 lashes each by the Islamic court, and were punished in public.
By Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays
Very few international news agencies and local newspapers reported on this horrible event and the human rights groups seemed to miss out on recording it in detail. Now, for the first time, Shukri Muse Wehelie, one of the women singers lashed by the Islamic court’s militia, dares to speak to journalist Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays.
Shukri Muse was 21 years old in 1996, and a popular singer and actress in Mogadishu. She knew very well of the famous public square in North Mogadishu – the only place in the capital where local court’s militia used to publicly dispense brute justice for their convicts that ranged from lashing, amputating limps to stoning to death.
Some times, Shukri Muse passed by this square overcrowded by several thousand people jostling one another to get a better view of these horrifying events. Yet, she had never witnessed one of them as she had disagreed on the draconian moral codes of the Wahabi brand of Islam that these self-styled clerics were forcefully trying to impose on the public.
But, what Shukri had never thought was that one day she would be standing in the middle of the same square, being a criminal convicted by the same Islamic court for her music, and that she would be lashed before the same crowds of people. On the contrary, she was over-ambitious and believed that one day her concerts and music on public awareness-raising would prevail over the inhumane acts of the court’s militia.
Shukri Muse singing with Bashir Ibrahim, veteran singer, in another concert in Mogadishu in 1996
Mogadishu in 1996 In 1996, Somalia’s capital Mogadishu was divided into several fiefdoms controlled by self-seeking warlords. One of the most notorious and ruthless warlords, Ali Mahdi, had been ruling in North Mogadishu. In the meantime, the first and the only Islamic court in Somalia had been actively operating and building up their power in this area with the sole consent of this warlord.
With several hundred well-armed militia of its own, this court was headed by Sheik Ali Sheik Mohamud, better known as ‘Sheik Ali Dhere’, as its chairman and Sheik Abdi Ali Alasow as his deputy. By establishing itself first in North Mogadishu, its long-term mission was to expand its power throughout the capital by using most out of the prevailing chaos, lawlessness, and power vacuum in the city.
Concert raided, 30 artists arrested We hand over the microphone to Shukri Muse and let her give her personal account of how she experienced the incident:
“On 8 January 1996 at about 4 in the afternoon, as the artists of Banadir Star band – of which I was a member – were in the middle of performing a concert attended by well over 600 hundred audience at a basketball stadium near the Eastern police station in North Mogadishu, we saw hundreds of the Islamic court’ militia forcing their way into the stadium. At the time, at least three songs had been performed, a short comedy acted, and the next song was in progress.
All of a sudden, the venue became full of armed militias to the extent that they outnumbered the audience. Shortly, one of the most senior officials of the court, dressed with ankle-length white, unfitted gown with long sleeves, and a head shawl, waving a long whip in his hand, entered the stadium. I recognised him very well as Sheik Abdi Ali Alasow, the deputy chairman of the Islamic court.
Immediately, Sheik Abdi began whipping the artists as his militia fired into the air, throwing and breaking our instruments, dispersing and chasing the audience who, for fear of their lives, were already pushing their way to the main gate or jumping over the walls. As a result of the stampede that followed, some of the audience sustained fatal injuries.
Sheik Abdi and his militia, shouting out ‘You represent evil and have been corrupting the morals of the Muslims!,’ herded us to one place and then divided us into two groups of men and women. They took all our instruments in a vehicle before the court’s militia, armed with AK47 rifles and whips, herded us out of the stadium to the Eastern police station in the same neighbourhood.
Upon arrival, they imprisoned the men in a small, dark, and dirty room while we, the women, were taken to another prison – the former ‘Beder warehouses’ that the court turned into a prison – situated near the football stadium, Sportivo Conis Stadium, in Abdul-aziz district in North Mogadishu. In total, we were seven women and they crammed us all into one dark room and left us there without food and water.”
Small music bands In 1996, there were few small music bands operating in the midst of the chaos and lawlessness in Mogadishu. These bands were formed by artists who remained inside the country because they either were unable to flee or had chosen not to do so – in an attempt to continue their artistic activities, after the former national music bands had ceased to exist as a consequence of the deadly civil war in the country.
Banadir Star band, like other bands, did not have a meeting-place, let alone other facilities. They would use a cinema-house, Kumburaale, in Bondhere district in North Mogadishu as their meeting-point, and a place to rehearse their performances. The chairman of the band, who was living in this neighbourhood, had helped the band have this cinema-house at their disposal. The plays and concerts of this band consisted of awareness-raising shows that the public could watch for free, and special shows for generating income for the artists.
Artists tried and convicted “The next day, on 9 January at about 1:00 PM, the court’s militia brought us back to the Eastern police station. There we joined the male artists who were trembling in the dirt with anguish, and we were all told to wait there for a trial by the court judges.
Soon, a group of judges sat in upholstered dining chairs in a semi-circle before us. They held copies of the Koran in their hands, and began deliberating on our case. Sometimes, they were arguing each other, exchanging heated words, without even speaking to us or giving us a chance to speak for ourselves. Both the chairman of the court and his deputy were among the judges.
Few minutes after, they ordered us to sign statements in which we denounced music, and declared that we would never be involved in it hereafter.
After that, Sheikh Ali Dhere stood up and announced the official court verdict. He said that, after consulting the Koran, we were found guilty for deviating and corrupting the morals of fellow Muslims and that, in consequence and as punishment, the court sentenced us to 20 lashes each.”
Artists lashed in public The Islamic court in North Mogadishu had begun dispensing brute justice two years earlier, on 11 August 1994. In its first four months, it had sentenced 182 people, most of them to lashings, and amputations. The court’s judges had never ordered a jail term longer than 11 months. Another 13 people convicted of stealing or banditry had paid for their crimes with their limbs.
After Sheik Ali Dhere’s announcement of the verdict, the court’s armed militia herded Shukri and her colleagues out of the building to the infamous square. Few days before, the square looked like an empty dirty parking lot beside a ruined moment to a state that died long ago. Now, a crowd of several hundred people had already gathered – waiting to watch the event – on what was once a public square with a statue of two Somalis holding the country’s flag high.
“At about 1:30 AM the horrible event began with the male artists being the first to be lashed, one by one. As the lashing began in full-gear, the number of spectators increased. Certainly, some of them must have been crying inside when they saw the blood of their beloved artists dripping from their bodies, and heard them moaning in pain, while others believed that we were paying the price for our crimes.
When it was my turn, two strong men took turns to flog me. To avoid getting tired of the lashing exercise, the clerics were taking turns. One of them was Sheik Abdi Ali Alasow, the deputy chairman of the Islamic court, who also led the court militia that arrested us and confiscated our instruments the previous day. But this Sheik also gave me one extra lash. He told me that, having been a young woman whose music was widely admired nationwide, he personally decided to give me one extra lash.
The square was surrounded and guarded by heavily armed militia with their fingers on the triggers of their Kalashnikov assault rifles. Therefore, no one could even think about running away or making any suspicious movements during the lashings.
Not even Khadra Aweys, who was 14 – an actress and the youngest in the band – was spared by the clerics from being lashed. Like us, two strong men took turns in flogging her.
The women artists convicted by the Islamic court were seven in total. The court clerics spared four of them from being lashed after they had claimed before the public that they were pregnant and, in fact, no more evidences were needed to substantiate their claims as their pregnancies were quite noticeable.
Maryan Abdule Gesey, actress, folklore dancer and comedian, experienced the worst from the lashing; the clerics hit her two times on the breast. She fell and cried out in pain that finally knocked her unconscious. She feared that she would die on the spot. Luckily, she did not die in the square but suffered from that experience for years afterwards.”
Four musicians died Since 1996, four of the artists flogged on that day have died for one reason or another:
Mr Ahmed Nur Jangow, a well known singer and music composer, died at 58 on 25 March 2008 of heart attack, as the result of the stress and depression he had been suffering from for a long time.
Mr Abdullahi Amir Aw-Kuku, one of the most popular Somali comedians ever, died at 83 on 28 March 2008 after a long struggle with a persistent TB which resulted from hunger and the lack of medication
Mr Kasim Ahmed Rageh “Qahweyste”, a musician, and
Mr Nur Osman Jayte, a comedian, both were respectively murdered in Mogadishu by unidentified gunmen for unknown reasons.
Fled Mogadishu “When the last person was flogged, the clerics told us to go home at a time when we were not able to make any movements with our limps. Our clothes were full of blood. Some of the spectators and our relatives helped us to get home.”
Shukri Muse left the square with her clothes soaked by blood, with bruises and open wounds on her back and shoulders. She would not be able to wear her favourite clothes for a long time. Until recently, the scars resulted from these wounds were visible on her back and shoulders. The experience and the pain still continued to haunt her for many years.
Saida Sheikh Ahmed, a Somali journalist and writer based in Brussels, Belgium, told me that, on the day the artists were being lashed, she was present at the square, and witnessed the horrible event.
“I was among friends and relatives who tried to relieve Ms Shukri of the pain, and later visited her in her house,” Saida Sheikh told me.
Shukri and her colleagues did not stop their music activities in Mogadishu as ordered by the Islamic court. Instead, they moved their performances to South Mogadishu, the second largest section of the city, in which the Islamic court had not yet expanded its power.
Shukri and many of her colleagues, however, eventually fled Mogadishu – from May 2006 onwards, few weeks before the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) militia took over Mogadishu from an alliance of Somali warlords. They feared that the UIC would severely punish them for not abiding by its 1996 verdict as well as the statements they signed before the Islamic court.
Shukri Muse now lives in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, while her two children live in London, United Kingdom, with her sister, Amina Muse, a radio journalist with the BBC’s Somali service.
Names of the artists The following are the names of the artists arrested by the Islamic court in Mogadishu and sentenced to 20 lashes each. The list is not complete. These are the names so far memorised by Ms Shukri Muse Wehelie:
1. Ms Shukri Muse Wehelie (singer/actress) 2. Mr Abdisalan Yusuf Jimi (actor/composer) 3. Mr Mohamed Abdow Salim (singer/actor) 4. Mr Mohamud Goh Qarbosh (singer) 5. Mr Abdirahman Amir Aw-Kuku (actor/comedian / died in Mogadishu) 6. Mr Aw-Walinjo (comedian) 7. Mr Sidi Ali Winkey (singer/musician and composer) 8. Mr Ali Ganey (drummer) 9. Mr Abuna (Dancer) 10. Mr Mahad Bukur (musician) 11. Mr Ma’alin Maysar (musician) 12. Mr Nur Osman Jayte (comedian / murdered in Mogadishu) 13. Mr Ilka-ase (comedian) 14. Mr Ese Jidow (folklore dancer) 15. Mr Kasim Ahmed Rageh “Qaxweyste” (musician / murdered in Mogadishu) 16. Mr Mohamed Ibrahim Adow “Sholi yare” (musician) 17. Mr Ahmed Nur Jangow (singer/music composer / died in Mogadishu) 18. Ms Binti Omar Gacal (singer) 19. Ms Halima Hilac (singer) 20. Ms Maryan Abdule Gesey (dancer/actress/comedian) 21. Ms Nurto Saleban (actress/comedian) 22. Ms Fawsia Aweys Khamis (singer) 23. Ms Khadra Aweys Khamis (actress)
About the author Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays is a Somali journalist/writer based in Belgium. Currently, he is chairman of the Free Expression Committee of the Somali-speaking Writers Centre of International PEN. He can be contacted on this e-mail address: cmwacays [AT] gmail.com (insert the @-sign yourself)
Shukri Muse singing at the bullet-riddled basketball stadium in Mogadishu, minutes before she and her other colleagues were attacked and arrested by the Islamic court's militia in 1996
Sheik Ali Dhere - chairman of the Islamic court which sentenced the artists to be lashed
Abdullahi Amir Roble, 83, one of the most popular Somali artists, died in March 2008