21 September 2006

Somalia: Islam is Official Religion, Conversion is Banned

Somalia is officially an Islamic state and conversion is prohibited.

The country has a population of approximately 8.3 million, nearly all of them Sunni Muslims. There is a small, extremely low-profile Christian community.

According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2006 issued by the US State Department last Friday, proselytizing for any religion except Islam is prohibited in Puntland and Somaliland and effectively blocked by informal social consensus elsewhere in the country.

Somalia has had no government since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991. The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which grew out of individual courts' efforts to establish a degree of order in Mogadishu, took control of the Somali capital on June 4, following a military confrontation with a loose coalition of Somali warlords.

A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was created in October 2004 following the Somalia National Reconciliation Conference in Kenya. That government formally established temporary operations in Baidoa in February 2006. The TFG adopted a Transitional Federal Charter which establishes Islam as the national religion.

Some local administrations, including the self-declared 'Republic of Somaliland' and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, have made Islam the official religion in their regions.

Christian-based international relief organizations generally operate without interference, provided that they refrain from proselytizing, according to the US State Department report.

In April 2004 thousands of citizens marched through the streets in Mogadishu and in the southern coastal town of Merca to protest what they believed was an attempt by aid agencies to spread Christianity. Muslim scholars organized the protest following reports that schoolchildren received gifts with Christian emblems alongside charitable aid.

In January 2005 a group of violent extremists desecrated the Italian colonial cemetery in Mogadishu. While the excavation of the cemetery served a political and economic function, the act had religious overtones, as those in control of the site stated that they planned to build a mosque there and erected a makeshift sheet-metal shelter as a first step.

In 2004 there were several fatal attacks against non-Muslim international relief and charity workers throughout the country and in the region of Somaliland. In addition, recent threats have targeted non-Muslim Westerners in the country, including in Somaliland.

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