Somali Christians Fear Militant Islam at Home and Abroad
By Wasul Chemosi
Washington, D.C. September 7 (International Christian Concern) – Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked terror group in Somalia, has sought to rid the region of Christians and is specifically targeting Christian converts from Islam. Many Somali Christians, having fled persecution in their homeland, have found little security in neighbouring East African countries. Even in the Christian-majority country of Kenya, radical Islam is steadily gaining numbers and influence.
Two months ago, three Christian converts from Islam returned to their homeland to attend a university in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The men, whose identities have been concealed for their protection, had been working in Ethiopia and converted to Christianity in 2005. Upon their return, however, people grew suspicious when the men were not seen praying at the local mosque.
“One of our fellow students jokingly questioned us about why we were not serious about attending prayers at the mosque,” recalled one of the men. “I kept quiet and the discussion ended. Three days later is when we were attacked.”
On June 25, six armed Al Shabab militants entered the Christians’ home and opened fire. The Christians were found by neighbors and were rushed to the hospital. All three suffered gunshot wounds and, after spending a week in the hospital, they determined it was no longer safe to live in Somalia. The men crossed the southern border into eastern Kenya joining thousands of other displaced Somalis in refugee camps in Dadaab.
Local sources told ICC that Al Shabab had been closely monitoring the men for months. “New arrivals outside of Somalia are monitored by Al Shabab because they are considered to support western ideologies, including foreign religions, and they are viewed as sympathizers to the West,” said a Somali journalist in the area. “That is why they were victimized.”
The men’s plight is one among many acts of violent extremism that has targeted the Somali Christian community in recent months. In a similar case, a Christian family fled Buula-barde, a village in central Somalia, after receiving death threats in May. “The extremists began sending threatening messages to their mobile phones to recant their faith or face execution,” a Christian who knows the family told ICC. “Al Shabab is monitoring religious groups and discovered that the family had embraced Christianity. The family fled to Ethiopia.”
Al-Shabab and its sympathizers are believed to be responsible for many attacks in East African countries, and the escalating violence targeting Christians raises concerns that Islamic extremism is on the rise. “Pastors and Christians are very afraid,” said Imam Hussein, an Ethiopian Christian convert from Islam who came to Kenya after fleeing persecution in his home town. “I know people, mainly Christian converts, who had to leave their homes and their families because of pressures from these terrorists. It’s very dangerous. Although these militants are very few in Kenya, they are very fanatic, like al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Many Muslims are even against them and stand with the Christian community.”
Al-Shabab adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law that includes amputating the hands of thieves and stoning adulterous women. Their radical agenda is exposed when reading one of the many death threats received by Christian converts in the region:
“Stop your harmful ideologies and preaching to the Muslims,” read a warning to a Somali Christian in December. “Some Somali Muslims are already affected by this cancer of Christianity… they will be under the sword of the mujahedeen (holy worriers)... We know where you are... We ask Allah to help us make his purpose reign... We are reaching millions of youth to join our jihad against the enemy of Islam and to terrorize by any means we can to make them understand that they are nothing but lowly infidels.”