Crisis in Mali
“This desert is bright, luminous. Traversing it, one breathes deeply; one is in good spirits, and safe from robbers.”
Ibn Battuta on Mali
Ibn Battuta might no longer recognize the Mali of today. The good spirits and sense of safety the legendary traveler once described Mali as inspiring have been replaced by fear and trepidation.
The Conflict and Its Origins
The current conflict in Mali is of complex origins, with various groups seeking independence or autonomy for the region of Azawad in northern Mali, populated primarily by the Tuareg people. Following the overthrow of President of Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012 in a coup d’état, various groups including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), began fighting each other for control of northern Mali. Conflicting visions for the future of the region between the nationalist MNLA and the Islamic extremism of the Ansar Dine and MOJWA leaves innocent civilians caught in the middle.
What ties what is happening in Mali with other conflicts that seem to plague the Muslim world is the imposition by the rebels of a harsh interpretation of religious law that strips the sharia of all compassion and mercy, and displays blatant disregard for Islamic history with the destruction of tombs and other religious sites.
Kangaroo courts pass swift judgement on accused criminals; amputating the hands of those accused of theft with the flimsiest of reasons, and people have been whipped for smoking, not being properly covered, or even having a musical ringtone. Anyone accused of adultery is promptly stoned, and the names of unmarried women with children are compiled to be charged with adultery.
Those accused of cooperating with the Malian government, or rival factions, face beatings, amputations, or worse. As with other similar conflicts on the African continent, innocent children are recruited as soldiers for the rebel groups.
The tombs of Malian saints buried within mosques in Timbuktu have been desecrated, just as has happened previously in Libya, and libraries have been torched, though thankfully there have been reports that ancient manuscripts had been hidden away prior to the burning of the libraries.
The History of Mali
Mali has a rich Islamic heritage spanning centuries. The Malian empire spanned much of West Africa, and the empire’s most famous ruler, Mansa Musa, was one of the richest people in the history of humankind and a devout Muslim who gave away large amounts of gold to the poor and built mosques at every stop he made from Mali to Mecca to perform the hajj, establishing Islam in west Africa and making Timbuktu a centre for trade, culture and Islamic scholarship.
Today, under the rule of warring rebel factions, however, the reality is very different.
When we hear of atrocities committed by so-called ‘Islamists’, it is often mentioned that they are part of an attempt to enforce “Sharia” law and return to an “austere” form of Islam. Where in such travesties is the compassion showed by Sayyidina Umar Al-Khattab, the second caliph, who would personally carry sacks of grain in the middle of the night, and grind and cook them himself to feed to the poor and hungry?
Or that of the Prophet Muhammad himself, who when a woman admitted to having committed adultery, attempted to show mercy to the woman and spare her any further shame or punishment by suggesting that she had merely kissed or touched the man. The absence of mercy and compassion in governance by such ‘Islamist’ groups makes a mockery of the sharia.
Relief at Last?
Under a United Nations Security Council resolution approving military intervention in Mali, the arrival of French troops and soldiers from various African nations have pushed back the rebel groups and allowed the civilian population in Mali relief from their suffering. Nevertheless foreign military intervention comes with its own set of potential problems, as can be seen in other countries, and the trauma and problems caused by the conflict will not be easily resolved.
Among the groups currently aiding those in Mali are Islamic Relief, Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency. If you wish to help our brothers and sisters currently suffering in Mali, please consider contributing to these or other recognised groups, and pray that those affected are given relief from their suffering.[divider]
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local training institute and a part-time writer.