Thursday 2 April 2020

Somali clerics help fight coronavirus and Al Shabaab's COVID-19 messages

I have been lucky enough to talk to Somalia's most senior religious leader, Sheikh Ali Dheere, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Osman Aden Dubow, the deputy coordinator for the Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism in the Office of the Prime Minister, Koshin Abdi Hashi, and the university professor and senior adviser in the ministry of foreign affairs, Mohamed Ali.

The told me about what Somalia's religious community is doing to help stop the spread of the virus and to counter Al Shabaab's messages that coronavirus has been imported by 'crusaders' such as the Africa Union intervention force, AMISOM.

I wrote a BBC report about it, which you can read if you click here: My piece on Somalia's religious leaders and coronavirus

Sheikh Ali Dheere washing his hands
Sheikh Ali Dheere entering the mosque
I took the following pictures of a koranic school in a Mogadishu camp for the displaced - all madrassas have been closed in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Here is the text of a report I did for BBC radio about the initiative.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in Africa, there are fears the disease could wreak havoc in countries affected by conflict. Somalia, which has been in a state of war for more than thirty years, is a prime example. Although there have been only three confirmed cases so far, the government is deeply concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19, and about messages about the virus sent by the country’s Islamist group Al Shabaab. Our Africa Editor Mary Harper has been speaking to members of Somalia’s religious community:

In a recent communique, Al Shabaab said coronavirus was being spread by what it described as ‘crusader forces who have invaded Somalia and the disbelieving countries that support them’. The militants, who control much of Somalia, have also said Muslims cannot catch the disease. This is what the government is up against. In an effort to counter Al Shabaab’s messages and teach Somalis how to protect themselves, it has enlisted the support of the influential religious community. The deputy minister of religious affairs, Osman Aden Dubow, says their help is essential as they are the most trusted people in the country. After the closure of Somalia’s tens of thousands of madrassas, koranic teachers and imams have been recruited to spread the word about COVID-19. They will drive around in cars mounted with loudspeakers to tell people to wash their hands for twenty seconds with soap and water and to maintain a safe distance from each other. The same messages will be transmitted from the minarets of mosques. But even if they get the right information, hundreds of thousands of Somalis won’t be able to protect themselves. Displaced by violence, floods and drought, they live in over-crowded camps, without access to soap and water, and no way of keeping apart from each other. Somalia’s most senior sheikh, Ali Dheere, says anything that causes harm in Islam is not permissible – and that certain practices such as washing the dead will have to change in order to stop the spread of the virus. People are also being encouraged to pray at home, although there has been no mention of closing mosques – a highly sensitive issue in this deeply religious country. It’s not just Al Shabaab that is spreading incorrect information about coronavirus. Some Somalis believe it is a divine punishment imposed on China for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs. Some say it has hit America because the US oppresses Muslims. Somalia’s government and religious community have a mammoth task ahead of them, both in terms of busting myths and of teaching people how best to protect themselves.

These are some photos I took of IDP camps in Somalia. I do not know how people are going to practice social distancing or find enough water and soap to wash their hands regularly in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Here are a couple of photos by the Reuter's news agency showing people washing their hands with ash: 

And, finally here is a photo I took of a mosque in Mogadishu's commercial district, Bakara Market


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