A mother’s tale of crime and punishment in northern Mali

Aman Sethi writes: There are some decisions that a mother hopes she will never have to make: for instance, would she accept blood money from the man who killed her son?

Hadi Maiga was certain that money would never be able to assuage her grief; and so there she was — a slight woman in a flowing headscarf — in the middle of a vast sun-drenched square on an October evening in Timbuktu watching as the Islamic police led out Moussa Mohammed, the man accused of shooting her son Ibrahim.

Once unshackled, the accused fell to his knees and prayed for what seemed like a long, long time. An Islamic walked up to Ms. Maiga and offered her a gun. She refused to touch it. The gun was handed to her younger son Abdullah who declined as well.

The prisoner stood up from his prayers; an order was given, and a guard from the Islamic police shot him in the back. The prisoner collapsed but staggered back up to his feet so the police shot him again. And to the sand he fell, and there he lay till that night when they brought him to the local hospital.

“Praise the Lord,” said the commander of the Islamic police as the body was wheeled into the morgue. Outside, the rain suddenly pelted down on this town — renowned for its earthen mosques, mausoleums, 333 saints and the solitary djinn.

Before French and Malian forces reclaimed swathes of northern Mali from a ten-month Islamist occupation in January this year, the militants had gained universal notoriety for their radical interpretation and harsh implementation of sharia law.

There is no one universally accepted set of sharia as jurisprudence is drawn from the Koran, the word of God; the Hadith, which describes the way of the Prophet; and fiqh, the human interpretation of divine texts. In the post-colonial period, Muslim communities have tended to adopt aspects of sharia into personal and civil law, rather than criminal law.

In Timbuktu, the militants interpreted the sharia as divine sanction to destroy the medieval mausoleums of venerated Muslim saints, burn rare treatises on religion and science, and impose a regime of flogging, amputations and public executions.

Documents recovered from abandoned Islamist buildings, hospital records, and interviews suggest the 10-month occupation was not a descent into anarchy but a lucidly planned, and often terrifying, attempt at realising a vision of a more just, pure, and orderly society. [Continue reading…]

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