Almost all radio stations in southern and central Somalia have stopped broadcasting music in order to comply with demands from Islamic militants. As of today, only two of 16 stations in the capital Mogadishu are playing music.
By Davion Ford
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The call for a ban on music in Somalia was issued by Hizbul Islam on 3 April. The radical militant group is one of two main insurgent forces in the country; the other is the infamous al-Shabaab. Together the two militias control large swaths of the country and have been attempting to institute a strict form of Islamic Sharia law. Hizbul Islam gave Somalia's radio stations ten days to comply with the ban or be shut down. And the only two stations in who have defied the order are Radio Mogadishu, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers, and Radio Bar-Kulan, which is broadcast from Nairobi, Kenya.
Music is evil
Somalia Islamic groups have previously attempted to ban music in some areas under their control, but this new prohibition seems to be the most widely applied to date. Instead of songs, some stations are now broadcasting poems and other spoken texts. Even jingles have been taken off-air. In some cases they have been replaced by animal noises and even the sounds of gunfire. According to the militants, music and other forms of entertainment violate Islamic principles, and negatively influence people. But the International Crisis Group's Somalia analyst Rashid Abdi, says these beliefs are extreme to say the least:
"The Islamist groups... espouse an extremist theology which holds that music and other forms of entertainment... are actually a distraction from worship... [but] the majority of mainstream Muslims will see this as actually a crazy idea, that there could be a theological basis for banning music."
Perhaps mainstream Muslims will balk at the music ban but this has not stopped Somali Islamic groups from attempting to ban other things that seem quite ordinary in the Western world. Football, films, bras and even beauty salons have also fallen afoul of their highly restrictive interpretation of Islam.
A form of escape
Somalia has been in the midst of civil unrest for the past 20 years. In that time a famine killed 300,000 people and inter-clan fighting has further divided the country. And on top of this, Islamic insurgents have gradually taken control of large regions. Kassim Mohamed is a Somali journalist who works in neighbouring Kenya. He says that music is an essential part of Somali culture and that the ban may well have a crippling effect on his homeland:
"Considering Somalia is a war torn country, and many people living in Mogadishu are now depressed because of listening to gunfire everyday, so I think without music they are not going to survive. And it will be really very hard for people to cope with that kind of trauma."
And according to Kassim Mohamed, it's not just Somalia's psychological well-being that's stake; not having access to music may well increase social unrest within the country:
"The youth are now busy watching films and listening to music, but when they have nothing to do they will be pouring themselves onto the streets of Mogadishu and other parts... So I think there is a reason to say there will be a kind of chaos expected in the near future."