BAMAKO - The flogging and stoning of locals in northern Mali by Islamists for violations are inviting a storm of condemnation from Muslim scholars and intellectuals as a harassment of people in the name of Islamic Shari`ah.
"What is happening is harassment of people in the name of Sharia," Abu Bakr Al-Ansari of the Kal Ansar tribe of Timbuktu told Magharebia news agency.
Islamists, who seized control of northern Mali, have announced the application of hudud (Islamic penalties).
Last week, a young couple were stoned to death on accusations of committing adultery.
It came two months after another couple were lashed for having a child out of wedlock.
"The couple still live in Timbuktu. And the same practices are still in use against the population," said local journalist Yaya Tandina.
"People here are forced to accept this reality because they do not want violence.
Reports were also circulated that residents had then hands cut off for theft and beaten for smoking.
Activists reported that a girl from the village of Goundam was recently flogged for wearing a dress seen by Islamists as "indecent".
"They chased the girl and flogged her in front of her own children and family," Timbuktu mayor Halle Ousmane told Magharebia.
Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March.
The chaos has left a power vacuum in northern Mali that enabled Islamist rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
Muslims make up more than 90 percent of Mali's nearly 12 million population.
Muslim scholars have condemned the extreme version of Shari`ah Islamists are applying in northern Mali.
"We as Muslims cannot object to the law of God, but we do not agree with them in the way they interpret it," Dawood Ag Mohammed, the imam of the Belferandi Mosque in Timbuktu, said.
"Yet what can we do, since we are powerless? Nothing.
All that people can do is to escape Timbuktu, and so many families have fled," he said.
Atay Ag Mohammed, of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), was also critical.
"Some of the clergy fear the wrath of the Islamic groups, but others are openly rejecting such practices, including the scholars of Kidal," he said.
Abu Bakr Al-Ansari, from the Kal Ansar Tribe, said Islamists were terrorizing locals in the name of religion.
Flogging, stoning and discretionary raids on homes and shops have become daily scenes, he said.
"The life of the population has become a dangerous nightmare due to these practices in the name of religion.
These acts carried out by Ansar al-Din and other terrorist groups alien to the region are criminal in every sense of the word," he said.
He believes that the militants are using religion to settle scores with residents of Timbuktu and Gao, who refused to submit to the control of Islamists.
"Therefore the issue of Shari`ah is more political than religious.
Al-Ansari said that the Malians follow a moderate version of Islam, like most people of the Sahara.
We cannot refuse the application of Islamic law, provided that it is applied with justice and moderation, as was the case throughout the history of the region for centuries."
For Haddmin Ould Salek, the imam of Abbas Mosque in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the practices of Malian Islamists run counter to the true Islamic teachings.
"The practices of radical Islamist groups in northern Mali are not compatible with the true teachings of Islam and are highly provocative to the peoples of that region, where Sufi Islam was widespread for hundreds of years," he said.
The violent approach taken by Malian Islamists also runs counter to the history of Islam, he noted.
"Islam spread gradually, taking into consideration the mentality of the society, and did not begin by applying penal laws.
"The use of violence against the population...is wrong and repulsive, and will cause counter-results, because the provocation of any religious group is contrary to the teachings of Islam," he said."It also opens the door to internal fighting that could undermine any desire for reform.