Of all the problems in the world, one that really stands out is Christian persecution in Somalia. Christians are being killed by al-Shabaab regularly as a result of their religion. On the watch list of Christian persecution, Somalia is second to North Korea, and of the 11.1 million people in Somalia, there are estimated to only be a few hundred Christians. Most of these Christians live in the southern part of Somalia where persecution is the strongest. This persecution is largely due to the political instability that Somalia has faced, and affects not only the Somali Christians’ chances of survival, but also their social and cultural lives as they are being forced to hide their religion from society to blend in with the Islamic society that they are in.

Somalia is a nation steeped in a long tradition of Islam. In 2004, Islam was declared the official religion of Somalia. Although not placing restrictions on other faiths, the government did not recognize the right to freedom of religious belief. Up until 2006, there was generally informal tolerance for the Somalian Christians. There were only a small number of Christians, but they were allowed to worship openly in their churches. Nevertheless, Christian missionaries were not allowed into Somalia in fear of the Christian population rising. Although Islam had been prevalent for a while, it is only recently that Muslim militants have been fighting to impose a more extreme form of Islam onto the nation. In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union gained control in the southern part of Somalia, and in 2009, Sharia law became the official judicial code of Somalia. Since then, Muslim extremists, especially those affiliated with al-Shabaab, have had control over much of Somalia and have been persecuting Christians in Somalia for their beliefs -- often times shooting them to death or beheading them. This includes not only church leaders, but also women and children. Often times the persecutions are public in order to discourage other Somalis from turning to Christianity. They currently have no tolerance for Christianity and will do everything that they can to prevent it from spreading.

Al-Shabaab is an extremist Muslim terrorist group based in Somalia. Founded in 2006, they are estimated to control up to 1,000 fighters. Al-Shabaab means “the youth” in Arabic, and it is made up of a group of young men that aim to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on Somalia, which includes the killing of the Christians in Somalia for not being Muslim. However, al-Shabaab is not only blamed for attacks on Somali Christians, but also for attacks on international aid workers, journalists, civilian leaders, and African Union peacekeepers. In January 2013, French forces attempted to rescue a French hostage in Somalia, which ended up leaving the soldier dead, and another soldier missing, while also killing 17 Islamist fighters. Although mainly focused on Somalia, al-Shabaab have attacked other parts of Africa. In 2010, they carried out suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital, and they attacked a Nairobi mall in 2013. Their primary aim, however, is to rid Somalia of all Christianity. In 2014 when their leader Ahmed Godane died, they appointed a new leader, Ahmad Umar, whose main goal is to rid Somalia of Christians. Recently the group has been weakened considerably by a sustained African Union military campaign, but they are still considered the principal threat in Somalia against Christians.

Al-Shabaab has been attacking Christians in Somalia at an extremely high rate. They are not only carrying out attacks on individuals, but they have also committed large-scale terrorist acts that have killed many people at a time. In 2013, Abdikhani Hassan, a husband of a pregnant wife and father of five children, was shot to death by two gunmen on his way home from work because he was spreading his faith. In 2013, 67 people were killed at the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall. In 2014, Al Shabaab beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin publicly, declaring to the public that they want to wipe out all the underground Christians in the area. One of the most notable instances of recent terrorism from al-Shabaab was on April 2, 2015, when five gunmen from al-Shabaab stormed into Garissa University College, killing 147 people, and injuring 79 others. A month earlier, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for attacks on the Somali border in which 12 people died. The reason they are persecuting Christians is that they consider Christians to be the enemy of God, and by committing this act of killing, they are pleasing Allah. One major problem is that much of Somalia is illiterate. Of the 216 countries in the world, Somalia ranks 210th in literacy with only 37.8% of their population being literate. As a result, often times the illiterate population will depend upon the rumors they hear. Therefore, when they hear preaching against the ideology of “western imperialists,” the public will often times accept these rumors and believe that Christianity must be wiped out.

Much of the violence has resulted from the instability in Somalia’s government. In April 2009, the Parliament of the Transitional Government announced that it would implement Sharia law as the nation’s official judicial code, in hopes of solidifying the nation. In doing this, abandoning the faith of Islam became punishable by death. A large part of their reasoning for doing this was to gain support from the jihadists, as al-Shabaab had become extremely powerful. They raised tens of millions of dollars from illegal schemes, such as extortion, illegal taxation, and other “fees” and were estimated to have been making up to $100 million a year from these practices. In 2011, a famine was declared in Somali regions, yet al-Shabaab reversed an earlier pledge which would have allowed aid agencies to provide food in the famine-stricken areas. Approximately 258,000 Somalis died from the famine and half of these Somalis who died were less than five years old. This has contributed to the highest mortality rate in the world for children 4 years old and younger. Somalia is in direct violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the state is supposed to act on the best interest of the children. Somalia is a part of that convention. In September 2012, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was selected as president which finally added some political stability to Somalia after a rough 21 years of extreme instability. The Somali government was not official recognized by the United States until January 2013. Despite having a new leader, the government still believes they must kill those who leave Islam. Somali Christians have no representation in any form of government that could offer protection because they would likely be killed if they tried advocating for Christianity.

Culturally and socially, these laws are extremely difficult on Somali Christians. They are forced to meet secretly in fear of being found out and killed. They also often have to try to act as a Muslim by adhering to their social customs and practices. These customs include the practice of fasting for Ramadan from morning until night and sacrificing lambs or goats. The traditional Islamic culture also involves the separation of men and women in most spheres of lives as well, preferring women to stay at home with the children while the men work. This is unfortunate for women as they do not have much say in the matter. In addition to having to adhere to Muslim customs, the Somali Christians are not allowed to celebrate their own customs. For the first time since 1991, Somalia placed a ban in 2013 on celebrating Christian holidays such as Christmas. If any Somalians were seen celebrating Christmas, they would face severe consequences. The Somali government also went as far as outlawing school bells, since they sound like church bells. One unfortunate example of what can happen when not adhering to these Muslim customs occurred in March 2014, when 41-year-old mother, Sadia-Ali Omar and her 25-year-old cousin were executed after militants from al-Shabaab became suspicious of them for not attended Friday mosque prayers regularly. For the few Christians in Somalia, expressing their religion is not a possibility even though the Bible mandates Christians to spread the Gospel to others. This lack of freedom is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which claims that all humans have the right to practice their own religion, and that there should not be discrimination among religions. For people to be murdered for practicing their religion beliefs is against the rights we have as human beings.

A growing number of Somali Christians have taken refuge in their neighboring country of Kenya. There are many Christians in Kenya as it is actually the most practiced religion in their nation. In Kenya’s largest city, Nairobi, the number of Christian refugees is growing by the hundreds. The United States has resettled 27,000 Somali refugees from 2008 to 2013. Additionally, the United States has given millions of dollars of aid to Somalia, and recently Barack Obama authorized drone strikes in Somalia to kill many of al-Shabaab’s top commanders. Of the Somali refugees that have fled to the United States, many currently reside in Minnesota.

On November 26, Pope Francis visited Africa, calling it a “continent of hope” He pointed out that Christianity has been spreading in countries such as Uganda and Kenya, despite Uganda having faced the king’s plan to wipe out the followers of Christ. He focused strongly on the needs for land, labor, and lodging in Africa, but he also addressed the Christian and Muslim leaders in Kenya, telling them that they have little choice but to engage in dialogue to guard against the “barbarous” extremist attacks that have occurred recently. He insisted that religion should never be a justification for violence and lamented that “all too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies". He said there needs to be more dialogue on these issues.

Despite Pope Francis’ statement that Africa is a continent of hope and his call to engage in dialogue against the attacks that have recently occurred, there is not enough being done currently to protect the Somali Christians. When they are not allowed to express their beliefs to the government without being killed or to celebrate holidays and customs publicly that are Christian, they are being stripped from their basic human rights from society. As seen in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all humans should have the right to life, liberty, and security of person without discrimination from their religion. By killing Somalis who express their belief in Christianity, they no longer have the right to any of those things. Being forced to hide their beliefs from the country and having to live in fear is not an acceptable way to live. Pope Francis is correct in saying that meaningful dialogue is important to solving this problem, but in the meantime, these Christians are being killed regularly, and a change needs to be come soon.