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Christian workers in Somalia worship in secret, fear al-Shabab

Soldiers walk around the wreckage of a car bomb near the Somali presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 14, 2018. It and many similar attacks in the country and region are orchestrated by the al-Shabab terrorist group. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

MOGADISHU, Somalia (RNS) — In a small single-room house in the Banaadir district of Somalia, dozens of Christians worship in secret out of fear of persecution in a country where no official churches exist.

They sing, dance and testify — though not as exuberantly as in Christian services held in other African nations.

“I thank you, Jesus, for giving me this opportunity to worship you,” said a man wearing a red cap as he stood among the other congregants. “Protect my family and all Christians around the world. We know and believe that, Jesus, you are the lion of Judah who can defeat our enemies.”

Another woman wearing a blue dress and holding her Bible prayed to herself.

“I give thanks to Jesus Christ for saving me from attacks and not being hit in the explosions,” she said.

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

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

Somalia is located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

“We meet secretly in one of our houses and pray,” said Pastor John, who asked that his real name not be used out of fear for his security. “It’s always a normal service but there’s no shouting and singing loudly. The people around here are not friendly, especially when they discover you are a serious Christian.”

John, who is a Kenyan pastor and a building contractor, has been working in Mogadishu for the last five years. Among his congregants are a few Somali converts who also live in fear in their own country for choosing Christianity.

“It’s very dangerous for anyone to identify you as a Christian in this country. You will, in fact, be counting your days on Earth,” said John, adding that he stayed in the country to spread the gospel and earn a paycheck. “So we are always silent as long as we meet and share the word of God in private. But we have always trusted Jesus for protection as the Bible says.”

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

Youth light candles at Uhuru Park’s Freedom Corner in Nairobi, Kenya, to remember students killed by al-Shabab at Garissa University College. Religion News Service photo by Fredrick Nzwili

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

The U.S. State Department has labeled al-Shabab one of several “entities of particular concern,” based on a recommendation from the U.S. 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.”

John, the pastor, wondered why Muslims often were allowed to worship freely in foreign countries but their leaders often barred or stood by as others barred foreigners from worshipping in their countries.

“That’s very bad and they should think about it,” he said.

About the author

Tonny Onyulo

13 Comments

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  • Pray for our brothers and sisters who risk their lives to worship Christ and spread the word; not only in Africa, China and the Middle East – but in all hostile parts of the globe.

  • WHO’S FOOLING WHO HERE?! “The U.S. State Department has labeled al-Shabab one of several ‘entities of particular concern'” – with another one*** being – OH NO – “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria”?! But, but, BUT:

    (1) According to Iraq’s ambassador to Russia, Haidar Mansour Hadi, in a December 8, 2018 interview with Edu Montesanti for Global Research, actually, though, “‘Terrorism [Was] Made in America’: [With] US Sponsored ISIS-Daesh ‘Pockets’” [Planted] Inside Iraq After More than Three Years of Fighting and US Bombings”!

    (2) And on October 19, 2018, Andrés Perezalonso of SOTT wondered aloud: “[Weren’t] 700 Hostages Taken by ISIS Under US Military Watch? [And This, As Part of] America’s Spiteful Efforts to Prevent Syria’s Recovery”?!

    (3) And according to MintPress News, July 12, 2018, “5 Times the US Actively Supported ISIS or Similar Groups: [Then again] everyone knows U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has more to do with destabilization than diplomacy”!

    (4) Daniel Lazare, too, of Consortium News, wondered aloud on December 21, 2017, “Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers? [Because, see] a new study shows that U.S. government weapons ended up in the hands of Islamic State jihadists, but no one in Washington seems interested in how they got there or what President Obama knew”!

    (5) And according to Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University writing for Global Research on September 19, 2014, “America Created Al-Qaeda and the ISIS Terror Group”!

    SO WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON HERE THEN?! Because, after reading this article, and despite the title – “Christian workers in Somalia worship in secret, fear al-Shabab” – 3 naggingly disturbing questions remain: Do “Christian workers in Somalia worship in secret, fear al-Shabab”, REALLY?! But if so, who, then, are using “al-Shabab” to terrorize my brothers and sisters in The Christ Jesus?! Isn’t it the same Good Cop Bad Cop Nation behind ISIS?!

    ***Source: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “USCIRF Releases 2018 Annual Report, Recommends 16 Countries be Designated ‘Countries of Particular Concern'”, April 25, 2018.

  • Freedom OF religion, if you have it, is always freedom FROM some other religion. That’s the only reality on this subject anywhere. How is that accomplished, if you have it? Government, of course.

  • More of a myth of a myth.

    If only there weren’t so many restrictions on owning firearms in Somalia. Then those Christians could protect themselves. /s

  • In Somalia, government is the person who has the most guns/thugs. There is none to speak of.

    A veritable Libertarian/2nd Amendment paradise.

  • Yes. And, according to the CIA Factbook, Somalia is a nation which has an “official” religion in its charter. It is Sunni Islam. So, the government there (even if such was more than thugs with guns, which it isn’t anyway ) is not going to protect anybody from the domination of Islam.

  • More like using religion so you can get thugs for free. Paying them with pillaging a small, weakly defended, minority.

    Islam has dominated Somalia since the 7th Century. For most of its history it was fending off Christian forces from Ethiopia, Great Britain and Italy.

  • In China, the ideology that persecutes the church is Marxism, rather than a faith based group. Unless you count Marxism as a faith, of course.

  • I don’t count Marxism as a “faith”. It is a school of economic and governmental thought, kind of like Capitalism. No, I am not criticizing highly-regulated free enterprise and free markets which work fine when they are highly regulated (which is the case in all first-world countries). But the ism of Marx and the ism of Capital (as defined by various economists) are not religions because they do not claim or rely upon supernatural beings or forces.

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