Kenyan Islamic group cracks down on soccer, films

Nairobi, Kenya - A group of Islamic clerics in northeastern Kenya said on Monday it was cracking down on public broadcasts of soccer and films because it feared young Kenyan Muslims were shunning Islamic traditions.

The group based in the town of Mandera on the border with Somalia said it had also put pressure on local administrators to back their television bans in a soccer-mad nation eagerly awaiting the World Cup in South Africa.

"If we come to a place where movies or watching football goes on we simply take everything and destroy the disc and repay the owners. We have now succeeded in 10 places," Sheikh Daud Sheikh Mahmud, head of the group, told Reuters.

"We will not stop until we have destroyed totally all the cinemas showing movies and football in this area," he said by phone from Mandera.

Kenya said such bans could never be enforced legally.

"This is a secular country so our people have the freedom to do whatever they want within the law, which includes watching football," government spokesman Alfred Mutua told Reuters.

"On our side of the border is a nation of law and order where there is no legal restriction on showing football."

The region of Somalia that borders Kenya is largely controlled by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group, a rebel militia which enforces a harsh version of sharia law that includes banning school bells and music on radios.

The Kenyan group denied any link to al Shabaab.


Sheikh Daud Sheikh Mahmud said they were worried youths in the predominantly Muslim region were being distracted by television broadcasts in bars and cafes.

"We realized that our children were spending the whole night in those misleading places ... this is something against our Islamic religion and we are the leaders of the people," he said.

Many Kenyan Muslim leaders support a more moderate interpretation of Islam, although one said restrictions on television were possible if young Muslims were indeed spending too much time transfixed by light entertainment.

"Our religion isn't against football as it is also healthy exercise," Sheikh Nor Barud Gurhan, a Nairobi-based Muslim scholar, told Reuters.

"We could ban it if the people are busy only watching and playing football without doing the obligatory actions of Islam like praying," he said.

The northern Kenyan group pledged to step up its anti-soccer drive in Kenya as Africa waits to hosts its first World Cup in June, a point of great pride for many Kenyans.