June 21, 2013
When al-Shabaab held sway over much of Somalia several years ago, many Somali parents were compelled to arrange for their daughters to flee from forced marriages to the militant group's fighters.
These women escaped to Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, but now they are beginning to come home as Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces wrest more areas from al-Shabaab control.
In Mogadishu, Liban Ahmed recalled how one of his three daughters was forced to wed an al-Shabaab member in 2009.
"My daughter was very young and had no interest in marriage when that no-good al-Shabaab member forcibly married her," said Ahmed, 45. "She was 16 years old and in seventh grade in school."
"A man who did not know me or my family came into our house, armed with an AK-47," Ahmed told Sabahi. "He told me, 'I want to marry your daughter Zamzam and I am the holy warrior Abu Akram.' I immediately called my daughter to ask her if she knew the man, but when she looked at him she did not recognise him, which terrified all of us," he said.
Ahmed said he felt intimidated but nonetheless told the al-Shabaab intruder that he would not force his daughter to marry him against her will. This angered the militant, who then got an arrest warrant for Ahmed from an al-Shabaab court in Elasha Biyaha, a suburb of Mogadishu.
"The day after I told him that I could not force my daughter to marry a man she did not want, he brought me a summons that ordered me to report to the court within 24 hours," Ahmed said.
Refusing to marry his daughter to a fighter was a sin, the court told him. "I was forced to marry the girl to the man right there at the court," he said. "I was told to turn the girl over to her husband within three days; I was not even given the opportunity to consult with the girl's mother about the marriage."
"After I told Zamzam's mother about the forced marriage, we started collecting money from relatives and two days later, my wife, Zamzam and her two younger sisters fled to Uganda," he said.
But when al-Shabaab found out that they had escaped, the militants arrested Ahmed again.
"I was unjustly sentenced to a six-month jail term, which I finished in 2010, but thank God my daughters were spared the ordeal of being wives of terrorists," he said, adding that the court ordered the al-Shabaab fighter to divorce Zamzam.
Ahmed's family returned to Somalia in 2013 and they are now living peacefully in Mogadishu's Hodan district.
"My family and I are happy about the losses al-Shabaab has suffered," he said, blaming the group for "almost making people detest their own country" because of the abuse they had to endure under al-Shabaab's rule.
Another Mogadishu resident, 55-year-old Sadiyo Mumin, described how when the city was under al-Shabaab control she feared that her two daughters would both be forced into al-Shabaab marriages. She sent her daughters -- then aged 19 and 22 -- to live with relatives in Ethiopia. Mumin this year brought her daughters back to their Hodan district home.
"All thanks to God for removing al-Shabaab and saving our daughters," she told Sabahi. "We are no longer fearful of al-Shabaab forcefully marrying our daughters because they have fallen apart and received curse [due on to them] for all the suffering they caused."
Shamso Ali, a 26-year-old resident of Daynile, is a former al-Shabaab bride. For three years, she was married to an al-Shabaab member against her will, until he died in a fight with government forces in 2012.
"When he was marrying me, he told me he would tell my father that we wanted to be married and [threatened] he would kill my father and me if I refused," she said. "I was really sad and frightened, and I was afraid that my father would be killed if I fled the city".
"We did not have the financial means for me and the rest of the family to flee, so eventually I decided to agree to this proposal before [the situation] escalated," she said. "I am grateful to God that the dark life I shared with a person I was afraid of is behind me and that I did not bear him any children."
Unlike Ali, many other young women who were forced into al-Shabaab marriages ended up struggling through life as single mothers, having to provide for their children with no help from their fathers who would abandoned them for the battlefield without providing any money.
These types of unions are unlawful in Islam regardless of who is involved, according to Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, a prominent Somali cleric and spokesperson for the Somali Association of Islamic Scholars.
He said al-Shabaab began using this tactic under the veil of Islam since 2007, taking advantage of poor Somali families already overwhelmed with the state of chaos and war that had besieged the country for years.
"They took numerous women, forcing them to marry and bullying them into thinking they could not lawfully deny a mujahid fighting [to protect] the religion and the country," he told Sabahi, adding women and families who stubbornly stood their ground faced harsh penalties from the group.
Evidence that al-Shabaab's intentions were never to promote long-lasting marriages or create stable communities, the militants also married off Somali local women to foreign fighters who did not speak Somali, knowing they would not be able to communicate or relate to their wives in any meaningful way.
"A marriage like that is unlawful in Islam; it is no better than rape and there is no basis for it in Islam," the cleric said.
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