Both insurgent groups, al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam, preach that those who die fighting during the holy month will receive extra heavenly rewards.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality, and is a time for them to fast for the sake of God and to offer more prayers than usual. Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. They abstain not only from eating and drinking, but from having sex and engaging in other forbidden acts in Islam.
Moalim Hashi Mohamed Farah, the regional commissioner of Hizbul-Islam in the Banadir region, claimed that Allah will reward his servants when they do well fighting in the blessed month of Ramadan.
“We shall support the war against the Somali government (TFG) and their allies the AU troops and AMISOM in the Holy month of Ramadan. I’m sure Allah will reward his servants who stage war against kafir (infidels) and the apostates in the month of Ramadan,” said Moalim Hashi.
As Ramadan enters the second week, al-Shabaab is still vowing to attack government troops and is urging the people to fight the government even though on August 21, 10 al-Shabaab operatives, including seven foreign fighters, were killed in a blast in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
The explosion took place at a compound owned by Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansour, one of Shabaab's top leaders. It is not clear whether Mukhtar Robow died.
On August 23, heavy clashes broke out between al-Shabaab fighters and pro-government Somali troops and African Union forces after al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamoud Rage Ali Dhere declared what he called the final phase of the group's war against "invaders” — the African Union troops.
The clashes left at least 38 people dead and 100 others injured after shelling rocked the famous Bakara market.
The next day, al-Shabaab attacked a hotel in the capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 32 people including 15 members of parliament.
The government said there were two attackers, and that they were dressed in government uniforms.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage told reporters that al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack on the Muna Hotel, which is near the presidential palace.
In a phone interview with The New American, an al-Shabaab commander said they had prepared fighters for different missions in the course of the holy month. “We want to wage war on different fronts, not just gun battles. There are those special fighters assigned to carry out special tasks such as suicide bombings and assassinations against the officials of the apostate government,” he said.
Al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam, which are both splinter groups of the Union of Islamic Courts and control large swaths of regions, have been involved in armed struggle against the government. They want to rule the country with a strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
Ordinary Muslim scholars across Somalia have rejected al-Shabaab's version of Sharia as lacking basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence, and have denounced al-Shabaab's actions as efforts to terrorize local people.
Sheikh Omar Faruuq, who is among the top 10 leading Somali clerics, has spoken against the call from the insurgents to increase the killing. “The month of Ramadan is not a month of war, but peace; it is the month when the Holy Quran was revealed. Muslims should respect and make use out of this month,” he said.
Sheik Bashir Ahmed Salad, the chairman of the Somali Islamic cleric’s organization, also commented that the continuous fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu was not based on religion.
“The holy month of Ramadan is a month [in] +which the Muslims are required to ask Allah for forgiveness and follow his orders during the Ramadan. If fighting continues, the sins would be increased. So I suggest for those who are fighting to stop and respect the Somali civilians,” said Sheik Bashir.
Despite the boasts of the Islamic insurgents about imminent victory, government forces are now being supplemented by the pro-government militia Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama. The group said it will support the government, and it will increase its attacks against al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam.
Sheik Mohamud Ahmed Shurie, information secretary of the Ahlu-Sunna, claimed they are ready to help the Somali government battle al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam in the Somali capital and also in the south and central regions of the country.
"The Mujahedeen of Ahlu-Sunna are ready for fighting," said Sheik Shurie. "They would fight with al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam wherever they are in Somalia. In the month of Ramadan, we are scheduled to defeat them," he added.
Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama has joined forces with African Union troops (AU) to increase war on al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam. The Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jamaa group signed a military alliance in the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia.
The influential Muslim group is a generally peaceful, moderate Islamist group that belongs to the Suffi tradition of Islam. It recently took up arms for the first time in Somalia’s 20-year civil war after its members were subjected to violence by the insurgent groups al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam.
The group currently controls the towns of Gurieel, Dhuusamareeb, and Aabudwaaq in the Galgadud region. They seized control of these towns after defeating al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam forces.
At the same time, Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is urging an end to hostilities and has on his part urged Somalis to make peace and forgive one another during this month of Ramadan, all while his forces prepare for increased attacks.
The spokesman for the AMISOM/AU forces, Major Barigye Ba-Hoku, said that its forces are ready for a surge in attacks from insurgents for the whole period of the month. "We got credible information that the insurgents plan new attacks at our bases in Mogadishu, and we are ready to defend any attacks from them," he said.
He went on: “The Islamists urged that they will redouble their war against the Somali government and AMISOM troops, which is so interesting for us. We have the power to defend any attacks from the armed militias and we are informing to the civilians to leave the areas under fighting as soon as possible."
The government, backed by the United Nations, only controls some city blocks in the capital.
Residents in Somalia's capital have feared a threatened increase in fighting during Ramadan. Food prices skyrocketed after the warring sides vowed to increase and redouble the war.
Abdullahi salah Ahmed, a Somali businessman, said the prices of some food items in the city have increased by up to 50 percent since the holy month of Ramadan began. “For many small traders like me, the business has been slow because the big traders have abandoned the city because of fear of more clashes. We are left to feed the hungry population with high-priced goods,” he said.
Somalia has had no effective central government for 19 years. Years of fighting have ravaged the Horn of Africa nation, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
Hussein Moulid Bosh is a Kenyan-born Somali freelance journalist, covering stories around East Africa and also the Horn of Africa countries, especially Somalia.
Photo: AP Images