By Abdi Guled
MOGADISHU, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Somali religious leaders have given the new government 120 days to declare that the Horn of Africa country will be ruled according to Islamic law, a cleric said on Thursday.
A meeting of more than 100 mainly moderate clerics in the battle scarred capital also said African Union (AU) troops in Mogadishu should be withdrawn by the same deadline and no other foreign troops brought in.
It was not clear what actions they would take if the deadlines were not met.
Somalia’s new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, faces the herculean task of bringing peace to Somalia for the first time in 18 years after being elected by parliament last month.
The main threat to stability comes from al Shabaab, which is on Washington’s list of foreign terrorists. The hardline Islamists and allied groups control much of southern and central Somalia and want to impose their strict version of Islamic law.
Diplomats in the region hope that Ahmed, Somalia’s first Islamist president, will be able to bring moderate Islamists on board and marginalise al Shabaab, which is known to have foreign fighters within its ranks.
"Within 120 days the Somali parliament must convene and announce that the country will be ruled according to Islamic law," said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, head of Somali Uluma Council for Correction and Reconciliation.
But he said it should be the more moderate Islamic law -- not the strict version that al Shabaab fighters want to impose throughout the country. Nearly all Somalis are Sunni Muslims.
The council is made up of former clerics of the Islamic Courts -- once chaired by Ahmed. The Islamic Courts controlled the capital briefly in 2006 but were routed by government forces with help from Ethiopian military allies.
"The parliament must make amendments to the current constitution, especially the parts which go against Islamic law," Salad said.
Ahmed said in a speech the day before his election that he wanted religion to be the foundation for the country, but rejected al Shabaab’s views as having nothing to do with Islam.
"Looking after religion is the job of the government and the government should look after the way it is implemented and the people would have to agree this," Ahmed said last month.
Al Shabaab did not attend the clerics’ meeting. A witness, however, told Reuters that some pro-al Shabaab clerics were there, but sat quietly till the end.
Two years of Islamist insurgency in Somalia have created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises with 1 million internal refugees, and others fleeing across borders to Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Wangui Kanina)