Somalia: Confusion over music prohibition



Confusion over music prohibition

Two very different stories are coming out of Somalia at the moment. One says that Islamist hardliners want to silence all music, Taliban-style, and that they want the executives of a music committee sentenced to death. Another that this is not true and that the story could be invented with the sole purpose of making it possible for the committee members to get asylum and economic aid from the international community

By Freemuse

Freemuse is in the process of finding sources and answers to what is really going on in Somalia at the moment. Here is what we know:

In Somalia, the Islamic Courts Union, ICU, presently controls most of the country’s key strategic points. As far as the prohibition on music is concerned, the ICU appears to be divided between moderates and hardliners. Some radio stations have been told not to play foreign music or local love songs, which are said to be immoral, whereas other radio stations have been left alone.
BBC Somali Service editor Yusuf Garaad writes from Mogadishu: “Loud music no longer blares from taxis: it has not been banned, but it is felt best not to test the waters.”
There has been one report that ICU cracked down on a live music performance: a wedding celebration reportedly was broken up because a band was playing and women and men were socialising together.

On October 19, a group of five members of the National Music Committee of Somalia, a member of the International Music Council, IMC, reported that they have fled Somalia and are now taking refuge at a family member’s house in the capital Nairobi in neighboring country Kenya. In a letter to IMC, UNESCO, and “Human Rights Organizations and Activists Worldwide”, they are asking for support and political asylum.

President of the committee, Yusuf Jimale Ali, writes that on 24 March 2006 the offices of the committee were destroyed, and a draft for a report entitled ‘Musical Diversity Research’, which was due to be sent to the IMC, was destroyed. Furthermore, he writes that on 17 October the Islamic Courts Union produced a ‘fatwa’ – “a nonbinding Islamic religious opinion rooted in sources of Islamic law” – to arrest all the members of the National Music Committee of Somalia and sentence them to death.

“There is a group now called ‘al-Shabab Forces’ who are young people loyal to the Islamic Courts. They are not fully controlled by the Courts officials. They do whatever they like, they ban whatever they dislike. The source of the fatwa [against music] is now directly from the Daawah and Information Office of the Courts. Less than a month ago the National Flag was burnt in Kismayo, 420 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. It happened beyond the knowledge of the Courts top officials and they apologized later. It was done by the Shabab forces. The same case applies to us. Now we are fearing for our families rather than our lives,” writes one of the members of the National Music Committee of Somalia.

ICU denies the fatwa

Apparently there has been a response to this story from the Islamic Courts Union. ANSA, an Italian news agency, carried a reaction from Abdurahim Ali Mudey, a representative of the Islamic Courts Union in Nairobi, who said:

“None of this is true, and I’m sure that no sentence or anything similar would be made against musicians, musicologists or artists. Furthermore a fatwa is extremely serious and would never be used for small crimes or individual human behaviour which is not in line with the Koran; this is a media attack against the Islamic Courts Union, and more in general against Muslims. This is just a way to find refuge and economic aid; on the other hand we have seen many people who have wounded themselves so that they could say they had been tortured and therefore gain help and asylum. People like this should go and work at home in peace like millions of others.”

Freemuse has contacted several sources in Somalia and Kenya without being able to get to the bottom of this. If you have reliable information which can shed light on what is going on in Somalia, Freemuse will appreciate to hear from you.

Go to top

Statement from the Somali musician Mariam Mursal

Watch video interview
Watch interview

Go to top
Related reading