Insights

Christians in Somalia live in fear

Hundreds of Christians in Somalia, typically foreigners from nearby countries who work across the East African nation, fear Muslim extremists – both jihadists in al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaeda, and rogue elements among their otherwise peaceful neighbours – would kill them if they knew they held Christian services.

Around 99.8 per cent of Somalis are Muslim, according to the World Bank.

In recent years, the situation for Christians in the Horn of Africa has worsened, as illustrated by killings shared on social media. In the region under the control of al-Shabaab, the militants hunt for Christians.

The militant group holds to the strict Islamic doctrine of Wahhabism and promotes an extreme version of Sharia law. But local clan elders support them, acting as intelligence gatherers who report suspected non-Muslims.

Al-Shabaab has also launched attacks on churches and schools in neighbouring Kenya, leaving hundreds of Christians dead. In October, two Christian schoolteachers were killed in an attack by suspected al-Shabaab militants in northern Kenya near the Somali border.

Kenyans still vividly remember the attack on Garissa University in April, 2015, when al-Shabaab fighters singled out and killed Christian students.

The US State Department has labeled al-Shabaab one of several “entities of particular concern,” based on a recommendation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. That label is used for groups that commit “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations” of religious freedom, according to USCIRF.

Christians in Somalia have lamented their lack of freedom to worship.

In August, 2017, the only remaining Catholic church in Somalia was closed a few days after it opened temporarily. A public outcry resulted from the opening, with many calling for the church to be shuttered. Politicians listened.

“We have decided to respect the wishes of the people and their religious leaders and keep the church closed as it has been for the past 30 years,” Sheikh Khalil, the minister for religious affairs in Somaliland, an autonomous region in the country, told journalists at the time. “We will never allow any new church to be built in Somaliland.”

Catholic Bishop Giorgio Bertin, who oversees Djibouti and also acts as the pope’s representative to Somalia, said it would be hard to open a church in the country.

“It’s very hard to operate a church in Somalia because of the risks Christians face there,” said Bertin, who noted at least 100 Catholics live in Somalia. “They are forced to pray and worship secretly because it’s risky being identified as a Christian in Somalia.”

Source and photo: Sight Magazine

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