Rebels ban musical ringtones on phones

NAIROBI Tue Nov 3, 2009 1:02pm EST

Members of the hardline Al Shabaab Islamist rebel group sit on a pick-up during a demonstration in Mogadishu, October 30, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Members of the hardline Al Shabaab Islamist rebel group sit on a pick-up during a demonstration in Mogadishu, October 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Faruk

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Sacdiyo Sheeq used to love listening to Bollywood movie songs on her mobile telephone.

But since hardline al Shabaab insurgents seized the southern Somali port of Kismayu, the 25-year-old's life has changed.

"Al Shabaab wants our ringtones to be only a Muslim cleric reading the Hadith or Koranic verse," she told Reuters.

"I used to listen to my favorite Indian songs on my cell phone, but now I have just thrown that memory away."

Al Shabaab, which Washington says is al Qaeda's proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state, wants to topple the U.N.-backed government and impose its own strict version of Sharia law.

The heavily armed group controls much of the south and parts of the capital Mogadishu, and courts run by its clerics have ordered executions, floggings and amputations in recent months.

It has also banned movies, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer in the areas under it control.

"We do not tolerate anything that may corrupt the people," al Shabaab's spokesman in Kismayu, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, told Reuters by telephone. "We don't allow anything that goes against our religion, especially music and sexy videos."

Ali Mahamud Yusuf, 19, fled his home in Kismayu after he was whipped in public last week by al Shabaab gunmen who had caught him listening to music and watching videos on his phone.

"I am still suffering from the 25 lashes," Yusuf said. "They accused me of rejecting religion. I don't want to tell you where I am now for security reasons. I am scared."

Fighting has killed 19,000 Somalis since the start of 2007, and while some residents credit the insurgents with restoring a semblance of order in some areas, al Shabaab's strict rules have alienated many Somalis who are traditionally moderate Muslims.

But Kismayu residents said the rebel group's latest rules on mobile phone ringtones posed yet another dilemma -- since the faithful are not supposed to interrupt the Hadith (the word of the Prophet Mohammed), how are they supposed to answer calls?

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Clarke)

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