Eid in Mogadishu: Fear Overshadows Celebrations
September 10, 2010 1 Comment
Somaliland Press:- In one of its rarest occasions, the city of Mogadishu today felt like a city of peace and calm rather than the deadly war zone that it has become renowned for over the last few decades. The thunderous roar of mortars and rockets and the rapid exchange of gun fire remained eerily muted this morning, and as if to honour the blessed occasion of Eid, the city remained silent. The frequently pounded Bakara market, though still healing from yesterday’s heavy shelling, closed its doors to business and public and a steady trickle of people, young and old, made their way towards the prayer site. Reveling in the rare moments of respite from the barrage of mortars that have recently pulverized much of the city, a multitude of men and women moved at aـ leisurely stroll while ecstatic children, blowing multicoloured balloons and whistles, trailed the footsteps of their parents, merrily frolicking on the streets. Their radiant faces displayed, for once, that long lost look of innocence, delight and happiness.
To mark the occasion of Eid, thousands of Mogadishu residents made their way towards Maslax, a Siyad Barre-era military compound now occupied by Al-Shabab. Though the stadium was the usual spot for Eid prayers, as it is large enough to accommodate the thousands of residents, it was abandoned in the last hour for fears that Amisom forces might shell the congregation in retaliation for the attack at the airport that killed several AU and government troops. The Islamists, however, have organized several locations in and around Mogadishu to accommodate the influx of residents rushing to the congregational morning prayers that marked the end of the fasting season and the beginning of family reunions and splendid feasts.
Passing by the crowded Mogadishu streets, the pungent smell of the traditional Somali biscuits and Xalwad filled the alleyways with their unique aroma, stimulating the senses in that early hours of the morning. Convoys of cars and jam-packed buses drove along the narrow roads, beeping their horns and maneuvering their way past the hordes of people joyously marching for prayer. And while the billboards conveyed the warm greetings of Eid to those walking or driving by, the loud speakers mounted on the tall posts fixed on either sides of the road, constantly repeated the famous invocations of Eid in glorification of Allah.
After the prayer had finished inside the Maslax compound, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, the official spokesman of Al-Shabab who also led the prayer, delivered a lecture, praising the efforts of the Mogadishu residents for supporting them in their battle against the government and the African Union forces. Shedding light into the activities of his soldiers during the month of Ramadan in which Al—Shabab declared a ‘massive war’ against the Somali government and the AU forces, Rage said:
‘You, my brothers and sister s, are the people who have been supporting this Jihad against the enemy of Allah. You have stood by our side for a very long time and today that enemy is defeated. God has indeed humiliated the enemy that has invaded our country and they no longer feel secure even under the very apartments they hide in. All praise is due to Allah alone who has enabled his Mujahideen to inflict heavy losses upon the invading crusaders and enabled the missions of the Mujahideen to be accomplished with successes.’
An excited crowd received the spokesman’s words with chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ and solemn declarations that they would further increase their assistance to support the Islamists. The massive congregation ended with a convoy of Islamists fighters driving slowly through the streets, chanting Jihadi songs and reassuring the masses that the Mogadishu battle would soon be settled for good.
Later during the day, the leader of the Islamists, Sheikh Abu Zubeyrs, delivered his greetings through the official radio of Al-Shabab – Idaacada Quraanka Kariimka or The Holy Qur’an Radio and known locally as IQK. In his speech he greeted the masses and also touched on the heated issue concerning the ‘Burn a Koran Day’ event.
And while the Islamists made full use of the occasion of Eid to integrate with the local population here in Mogadishu and the rest of the regions under their control, the same could not be said for the Somali government. Sheikh Sharif along with his senior officials, some members of the AU forces and other supportive parliamentarians prayed inside the presidential palace, while majority of the residents living in the small enclave of government-held territory were left with no choice but to pray inside mosques due to the lack of space that would accommodate the people. Even Mogadishu’s famous Ishabahaysi mosque remained empty as the opposing forces are still stationed just a few yards away from its doors. In his speech over the radio, the Somali president reiterated his famous prose to the public:
‘I am saddened by the fact that our own Somali youngsters and some foreigners are causing such chaos in our country. I urge all the Somali population to pick up arms and fight against these brainwashed youngsters.’
And just as they came in, the enthusiastic public left the Maslax event in droves, with children running beside the convoy of ‘technicals’ – trucks mounted with light anti-aircraft weapons. I followed the crowd and the feeling of delight and cohesiveness that permeated the city could not be missed. Reminiscent of the days when Mogadishu was a prosperous city and still in one piece, the Eid brought about a strong feeling of nostalgia and the amiable atmosphere saw hundreds of children playing carefree and leaping with excitement. The people of Mogadishu may be beaten and weary, but they are not yet bereft of all hope. But as the daily battles continue to ravage this ailing population, the aspiration of these children seems to be set in stone.
Impressed by the digital camera in my hand, Abdikarim, a young Mogadishu resident displayed his replica of a pistol and stood for a pose, his eyes fixed on the camera. After the shutter had blinked a few times, and I shared with him the image that I had taken, he looked up at me, his eyes gleaming with that unmistakable boyish charm. Filled both with delight and amazement, the young boy screamed: ‘uncle, uncle! Don’t I look like a Mujahid?’ and soon called all his friends to the scene to claim his new status. His friends rushed to the scene, along with several other children, all screaming ‘me too uncle, me too! Take my picture.’ And with the events going on in Mogadishu, I was not quite startled when I asked one of the youngsters what he wanted to become when he grew up. His voice was calm and his conviction unwavering. Pointing towards the convoy of Al-Shabab technicals, he nodded his head: ‘I want to be a Mujahid.’