Though Somalia is a nation steeped in a long tradition of Islam, Muslim militants have recently been fighting to impose a more extreme form of Islam onto the nation. In 2006, a Muslim group gained control of the southern part of the country and imposed Sharia law. The South then became a haven for Muslim extremists, including those with links to al-Qaeda.
In 2009, the Somali government launched a counter-offensive to take control of the southern half of the country. Although regaining some of the South, they were not successful in routing all the Islamic militants.
In the hope of solidifying the divided nation and siphoning off popular support for the jihadists, the Parliament of the Transitional Government announced in April 2009 that it would implement Sharia law as the nation’s official judicial code. Although it remains a mild version of Islamic law compared to what the militants would like, it does mandate the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
Meanwhile, militants continue to struggle for a more radical version of Sharia. The militias of al-Shabaab, and their rivals in the Hizbul party, control most of southern Somalia and are continuing to fight President Sheikh Ahmad and his government for control of the entire nation.
al Shabaab is said to have links with al Qaeda and has vowed to rid Somalia of Christianity, according to a report issue by Compass Direct. They have recently gone so far as to ban bells ringing to signal the end of school classes, “because they sound like church bells.”
It is extremely difficult to survive as a Christian in the war-torn nation of Somalia. Among the eight million inhabitants, it is thought that there are no more than 1,000 practicing Christians. Most of these live in the south, where persecution is the strongest.
Despite their attempts to remain under cover, many Christians have recently been discovered by Islamic militants, who have been searching out Christians. In May 2009, Islamic militants, members of al Shabaab, discovered and shot 57-year-old Yusuf Ali Nur, one of the leaders of Somalia’s underground church, leaving behind his wife and three children. The killing of Yusuf was just one in a series of murders in which those suspected of being Christians are apprehended and either shot at close range or beheaded.
It is not just church leaders who are killed for their faith. Last year Islamic militants sought out and killed women and children who were known to be Christian. In 2008 at least ten Christians, including four teachers, were killed while several others were kidnapped and raped.
Refugees in Kenya
A growing number of Somali Christians have taken refuge in the neighboring nation of Kenya, where there exists a sizable Somali community in Nairobi. This community of Christian refugees is growing. In the late 1990s, there were barely 20 Somali Christians in Nairobi, but now their number has grown to nearly 200, as reported by the BBC in September 2008. During that time one of the refugees, going by the name of Michael, told the BBC about his situation.
“There was a group of people who wanted to kill me, so I was one of the first refugees to leave Mogadishu because I knew I would be a target as soon as the government collapsed. The fundamentalists could easily attack me and kill me.” Unfortunately, not all of Michael’s fellow converts were so fortunate. He explains: “They killed some of my friends. There was a small fellowship that used to meet in my house, about 12 of them – six of them were killed.”
Even in Nairobi many Christian Somalis face persecution from their families and fellow Somalis, also living in Kenya, who are angry about their decision to abandon Islam. Some Christian refugees must endure beatings while some have even had their wives and children taken from them. (Open Doors)