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Somalia - Religion

The US government estimates the total population at 10.3 million (July 2013 estimate). A large majority is Sunni Muslim. Conservative Salafist groups with politically prominent leaders are prevalent. A small, low-profile Christian community and small numbers of members of other religious groups reportedly reside in parts of the country.

Somalis also engage in rituals that derive from pre-Islamic practices and in some cases resemble those of other Eastern Cushitic-speaking peoples. Perhaps the most important of these rituals are the annual celebrations of the clan ancestor among northern Somalis--an expression of their solidarity--and the collective rainmaking ritual (roobdoon) performed by sedentary groups in the south.

Somalis have modified Islam, for example with reference to the social significance of baraka. Baraka is considered a gift from God to the founders and heads of Sufi orders.

Wadaddo help avert misfortune by making protective amulets and charms that transmit some of their baraka to others, or by adding the Quran's baraka to the amulet through a written passage. The baraka of a saint may be obtained in the form of an object that has touched or been placed near his tomb.

Although wadaddo may use their power to curse as a sanction, misfortune generally is not attributed to curses or witchcraft. Somalis have accepted the orthodox Muslim view that a man's conduct will be judged in an afterlife. However, a person who commits an antisocial act, such as patricide, is thought possessed of supernatural evil powers.

Despite formal Islam's uncompromising monotheism, Muslims everywhere believe in the existence of mortal spirits (jinn), said to be descended from Iblis, a spirit fallen from heaven. Most Somalis consider all spirits to be evil but some believe there are benevolent spirits.

Because Muslims believe that their faith was revealed in its complete form to the Prophet Muhammad, it was difficult to adapt Islam to the social, economic, and political changes that began with the expansion of colonial rule in the late nineteenth century. Some modifications have occurred, however. One response was to stress a return to orthodox Muslim traditions and to oppose Westernization totally. The Sufi brotherhoods were at the forefront of this movement, personified in Somalia by Mahammad Abdille Hasan in the early 1900s. Generally, the leaders of Islamic orders opposed the spread of Western education.

Somali Islam rendered the world intelligible to Somalis and made their lives more bearable in a harsh land. Amidst the interclan violence that characterized life in the early 1990s, Somalis naturally sought comfort in their faith to make sense of their national disaster. The traditional response of practicing Muslims to social trauma is to explain it in terms of a perceived sin that has caused society to stray from the "straight path of truth" and consequently to receive God's punishment. The way to regain God's favor is to repent collectively and rededicate society in accordance with Allah's divine precepts.

On the basis of these beliefs, a Somali brand of messianic Islamism (sometimes seen as fundamentalism) sprang up to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the state. In the disintegrated Somali world of early 1992, Islamism appeared to be initially confined to Bender Cassim, a coastal town in Majeerteen country. For instance, a Yugoslav doctor who was a member of a United Nations team sent to aid the wounded was gunned down by masked assailants there in November 1991. Reportedly, the assassins belonged to an underground Islamist movement whose adherents wished to purify the country of "infidel" influence.

Through violence, Al-Shabaab imposed its own interpretation of Islamic law and practices on other Muslims. Al-Shabaab militias killed Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) officials and their allies, calling them non-Muslims or apostates. In the areas it controlled, al-Shabaab banned cinemas, music, and watching sporting events on television. It prohibited the sale of khat (a popular narcotic), smoking, and any behavior it characterized as un-Islamic, such as shaving beards. Al-Shabaab also enforced a strict requirement that women wear full veils. Al-Shabaab persecuted minority Somali Christians in areas under its control, including by executing suspected converts to Christianity.

Fear of reprisals from al-Shabaab often prevented religious groups from operating freely. Al-Shabaab reportedly closed mosques in areas it controlled after clerics refused to comply with directives to encourage the public to participate in fighting against the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces. Al-Shabaab continued its propaganda campaign to characterize the AMISOM forces from Uganda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, and Kenya, as well as Ethiopian forces allied to the FGS, as Christians intent on invading and occupying the country. Al-Shabaab directed schools in areas under its control to teach a militant form of jihad.



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