Northern Mali: Our Observers report on their first Ramadan under Islamist rule

 
Local residents had feared that the Islamists who now control northern Mali would make their lives difficult during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims enter a fasting period. However, our Observers in Timbuktu and in Gao report that markets have remained well-stocked, and that the Islamists have been relatively lenient.
 
Since they first took control of northern Mali, two Islamic groups – the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine – have imposed their strict version of sharia law, or Islamic law, on the population. There have been several reported cases of people being whipped for behaving in ways considered deviant, for example by consuming alcohol or tobacco and by having children out of wedlock.
 
Wearing a veil has now become mandatory for women in Timbuktu, and leisure activities such as watching television or listening to the radio are forbidden in the region’s major towns.
 
As Ramadan drew near, Malians interviewed by RFI said they expected the “religious fanatics” to replace their imams with their own and cut off food supplies from humanitarian aid organisations. It seems, however, that they have decided to leave locals in peace during this holy month.
 
All photos were taken by our Observer Amar Maiga at a market in Gao on July 25.
Contributors

“They let us pray and fast like we do every year”

Hamma Biamoye is a teacher in Gao. He is one of the founders of the “Nous pas bouger” (“We’re not moving”), a group that has decided to resist against what they consider excesses on the part of the Islamists.
 
Of course there is a lack of certain products at the market, like some fruit and vegetables which come predominantly from the south [Editor’s note: Traders from the south of Mali fear the instability of the Sahel desert and are reluctant to cross the desert to get to the north]. But it’s possible to find products from Algeria, like meat, sugar, or milk, whose prices have not increased. The Islamists have also asked the bakers in Gao to lower the price of bread from 125 to 100 CFA francs [from about 18 to 15 euro cents], arguing that flour is less expensive than before [the Islamists, who now control the circulation of merchandise in the region, fix their own trade taxes and were therefore able to lower the price of flour].
 
In Gao, a kilo of sugar has gone from 700 to 550 CFA francs.
 
It is obviously forbidden to eat in the street, but even so, my friends who are not observing Ramadan have not reported any harassment from the Islamists. They have let those of us who observe Ramadan pray and fast in the same manner we do every year. In fact, ever since the Islamists arrived here, they have been trying to gain our trust.
 
Vegetables are scarce and expensive.
 

“Shopkeepers and imams refused to obey the Islamists”

Bakary M. (not his real name) is a shopkeeper in Timbuktu.
 
When Ramadan started, the Islamists tried to establish strict rules. They tried, for example, to forbid restaurant owners from preparing meals during the day so that those who were fasting would not have to see food. But after a few days, the merchants, who already have a hard time making ends meet, refused. Some were saying, “Give us something to live on and we’ll stop doing business”. A butcher in my neighbourhood even came to blows with an Islamist. One afternoon, while he was grilling meat, an Islamist armed with a Kalashnikov arrived and started throwing his products on the floor. The butcher objected and they started fighting. They ended up at the Islamic police office where the butcher was eventually acquitted!
 
A kilo of meat in Gao costs 2,000 CFA francs (around 3 Euros).
 
In a similar case, at prayer time, the Islamists wanted everyone to recite long suras [chapters] from the holy Koran at the mosque. But the imams got together and decided to do it the normal way [they usually choose to recite short verses so that everyone, including the sick and elderly, can come and pray]. Seeing that they refused to give in, the Islamists let them do it their way.

Ever since Timbuktu’s mausoleums were destroyed - which really shocked everyone here - the people have decided to resist against the Islamists’ excesses. So the Islamists, on their side, have made some concessions.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière. 
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