MAPUTO– The Chairman of the Islamic Community of Mozambique, Imam Abdul Rashid, has declared that the religion of Islam has nothing to do with the acts of terrorism taking place in parts of the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.

In an interview with the independent television station, STV, here Thursday, Rashid said: I don’t believe Muslims are involved in this. When I say ‘Muslims’, I’m talking about those who practise the Islamic religion, because there may be those who call themselves Muslims, but who do not practice the religion. That’s their personal matter.

We know the Muslims of the north, particularly in Cabo Delgado. We have our activities there, we know them, and they are peaceful people who have nothing to do with all this confusion.

This is something that comes from outside and they are using some Mozambicans of bad faith, creating this situation which should in no way be associated with the Muslim religion. These are outside forces that are coming here, and I think our government should pay attention to this.”

Rashid blamed the emergence of terrorist groups on financial issues, rather than on religious fundamentalism.

There’s a lot of wealth in the soil of Cabo Delgado, and this must be one of the causes. The idea is to create confusion so that they can exploit this wealth at will, while the government is perhaps distracted, accusing Muslims, when Muslims have nothing to do with it, he added.

However, there is no doubt that members of the group known in Cabo Delgado as Al-Shabaab consider themselves Muslims and that orthodox Muslim leaders in the province had warned the government of the emergence of the fundamentalist groups well before the outbreak of terrorist attacks in Mocimboa da Praia district last October. The warnings were not taken seriously.

The only serious study undertaken so far of this group found that they began operations in Cabo Delgado first as a religious organization, but decided to set up military cells as from late 2015.

The study, drawn up by Muslim cleric Sheik Saide Habibe, and researchers Joao Pereira and Salvador Forquilha, and entitled Islamic radicalisation in northern Mozambique: the case of Mocimboa da Praia, also found that the group’s leaders have links (religious, military and commercial) with fundamentalist groups in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and the African Great Lakes region. They differentiate themselves from the orthodox Muslims of Cabo Delgado by adopting a distinctive dress — white turbans, shaved heads, long beards, and black shorts.

The group claims that mainstream Mozambican mosques have abandoned the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed and are a degenerate form of Islam. They refuse to send their children to official schools, and refuse to enter into any dialogue with Mozambican State bodies or with the local religious leaderships.