Somalis face punishment or death for watching the World Cup

By Ecumenical News International
June 18, 2010

Football fever has taken hold in Africa, but some Islamic rebel groups in Somalia are stopping people from watching the World Cup because they say that soccer originates from old Christian traditions - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

Christian leaders in Somalia are pleading with groups opposed to football to allow viewing of the matches, as reports indicate some citizens risk being shot or flogged in public for trying to watch live soccer from South Africa.

"As I speak to you now, my son Awey Ahmed is in the detention of the rebel group, Al-Shabaab. He was arrested after they found him watching the football," Pastor Ahmed Abukar Mukhtar, leader of a small Christian community in Somali, told ENInews on 17 June in Nairobi. "There is nothing wrong with football … It is not sex … It is not terrorism."

Abukar, who has fled fighting in his own country to settle in exile in Kenya, said it is wrong for the rebels to use religion to oppress and deny people's rights. He believes football can be used to build peace and inspire young people.

"This is oppression in its worst form that must not be allowed to continue," added Abukar speaking against the noise of vuvuzelas during the match between Argentina and South Korea.

The concerns over World Cup viewership in Somali heightened after Hezbal Islam, one of the rebel groups in the country, killed two football fans and arrested 10 others. They were in north-east Mogadishu on 12 June watching the match between Argentina and Nigeria.

"The Somali people should be allowed to watch the matches as it is their right," said the Rev Pius Rutechura, general secretary of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in East Africa, a Roman Catholic grouping. "We should not tie any games to any religion."

Before the start of the soccer World Cup, the rebels warned against watching matches, which they view as satanic and incompatible with Islamic law. Those caught watching the football will be arraigned before Islamic courts, the rebels had warned.

"Football descended from old Christian culture and our Islamic administration will never allow watching it. We are giving our last warning to the people," Sheikh Abu Yahya Al Iraqi, one of the rebel leaders, was quoted as saying by the Africa Press Agency on 11 June.

The ban on the World Cup goes back to 2006, when Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts banned all forms of entertainment considered un-Islamic under their version of Sharia, which is an interpretation of Islamic law.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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