In an exclusive interview, Jimma Times (JT) recently spoke with a Somali Christian, Hassan, who is a principal figure in a Christian Ministry among the Somali Diaspora community in the West. Requesting for his parent (last) name to remain anonymous for fear of harassment, Hassan described the grim status of religious freedom in Somalia, challenges in the region and the future ahead for Somali Christians.
Jimma Times: It is often portrayed uncommon for Somalis to be Christians and most Somali politicians & religious leaders assert that Somalia is a Muslim nation. When did you become a Christian?
Hassan: I became a Christian 16 years ago and there are many Somalis who are not Muslims, most are Christians but also there are others who are atheists or agnostics so to say that all Somalis are Muslims for this day and age is unrealistic, to say the least.
Jimma Times: Approximately, about how many Somali Christians are there in Somalia and around the world?
Hassan: I think there are a few hundreds Somali Christians worldwide and most are outside of Somalia. The danger is so high for the Somali Christians to live in Somalia because Islam teaches anyone who abandons Islam should be killed and about 200 Somali Christians have been killed for their faith in Somalia for the past 15 years.
Jimma Times: At times, Islam appears to be used interchangeably with Somali nationalism. What is it like to be a Christian in Somalia and among Somali communities in the Diaspora?
Hassan: It is very; very dangerous to be a Somali Christian in Somalia because there are dangerous Wahhabi fundamentalists who are sworn to hunt down and kill every Somali Christian who is living in Somalia and that is what they did in the past 15 years when they have killed more than 200 Somali Christians. In the past when the former socialist military government was in power it was much safer and there were churches and several hundred Somali Christians, mostly Roman Catholics and some Protestants in Mogadishu alone but today you can't even find a single Christian person. There are some but they are hiding because if they are found out, the Wahhabi fundamentalists will immediately kill them. The Somali Christians in the Diaspora are safe from violence, but they are still persecuted in some smaller ways as they are ostracized and avoided by other Somalis who consider them as traitors and enemies.
Jimma Times: Would the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), currently in Mogadishu, bring positive changes towards religious tolerance?
Hassan: Yes, if the TFG assumes power I am sure it will bring some positive changes towards religious tolerance in Somalia because the TFG is a pro-Western pro-Ethiopia secular government but there is very small chance that the TFG will succeed and assume power in Somalia.
Jimma Times: Are you aware of the status of religious freedom in the breakaway Somaliland region?
Hassan: Somaliland is relatively peaceful and less dangerous when you compare with Mogadishu or with the rest of Somalia. The Somalilanders are traditionally more tolerant people but still there are some Wahhabi fundamentalists who will not tolerate to see Somali Christians even in Somaliland.
Jimma Times: Improved Freedom of religion in Ethiopia has not led to absolute peace and co-existence. As much as some radical Muslims have crossed the line, evangelicals have not fared innocent as well. From Evangelical Christians interrupting Muslim services with loud music, to Ethiopian evangelicals attacking vulnerable Muslim children and treating them as people filled with evil spirits. Where exactly does the line between bold evangelism and confrontational evangelism exist?
Hassan: Well. Jesus never treated people that way. The best example to follow is the way Jesus treated with people. True evangelism has nothing to do with shouting or treating people as if they are filled with evil spirits etc. True evangelism starts with love, humility, dialogue, friendship and respect for the other person and that is what I and other Somali Christians believe.
Jimma Times: There is an unquestionable threat of the intolerant features of Wahhabism and political Islam destabilizing all East Africa. Some organizations in southern Somalia allegedly have Al-Qaeda links and others vowed to rule all of East Africa by their form of Sharia. Do you think regional governments are addressing this danger properly?
Hassan: I believe the present federal government of Ethiopia, headed by Meles Zenawi, is the only government that is trying to address the danger of jihadi fundamentalism in the region. And if the Wahhabi influence takes root in Ethiopia I am afraid for the future of this great and beautiful country that we call Ethiopia because Wahabists will try to start hostility and religious wars between Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia and that will be devastating.
Jimma Times: How do ordinary Somalis feel and react when some radical Somali Islamists say it is the duty of all Somalis to wage jihad and exterminate all Somali Christians?
Hassan: Good question. I think most ordinary Somalis would agree with Islamists to exterminate all Somali Christians. After all, it is in islamic commandment to kill anyone who dares to abandon Islam, that is not just a fundamentalist stuff. The "ordinary" Somali Muslims may not rush to kill anyone who leaves Islam but they will still agree with the Wahhabists when it comes to eliminating Somali Christians.
Jimma Times: All denominations of Protestants in Ethiopia are said to be new and "imported." Yet, even the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity itself, at some period, was imported by evangelists from the Middle East. So why do Christian Ethiopians, Christian East Africans and their western backers accuse new forms of Islam as being an "import?"
Hassan: I think these people are legitimately concerned about the danger of the imported Islamic extremism. The reason is that Christianity does not teach to violently over throw secular governments and replace them with Christian theocratic government based on the gospel. On the other hand, that is exactly what Islamic Wahhabi fundamentalists are doing and that is their ultimate goal. They want to establish Shari'a based Islamic governments all over the region and they want to do this through violent jihad if necessary. Therefore, the concern of Ethiopian Christians and East African Christians is truly a legitimate one. Christians never teach to hate others, in fact, Jesus commanded us to love our enemies but Muslim fundamentalists teach openly to kill and hate what they call “the kuffar” or non-Muslims and their mission is one of jihad, hatred and violence. Jimma Times: Why vilify Arab Muslim investment on African Muslim organizations, while western Churches & western organizations have been doing the same thing for decades? Hassan: Plain truth is not vilification. The end goal of these Arab and wahabi investments is to spread hatred, fear and Islamic supremacism. Wherever these wahabi fundamentalists go and plant their seed of hatred there will always be violence and jihad against non-Muslims. You can’t call that vilification. That is a fact of life..
Jimma Times: Certainly, you face immense external challenges with lack of religious freedom & tolerance in Somalia. But are there internal challenges and obstacles to your ministry?
Hassan: what do you expect when you can’t even visit your own country let alone doing ministry there or living there? Somali Muslims will not even allow us to visit our own country. There is always a dangerous threat and violence that we face because of our decision to follow the religion we want. That is barbaric.Consider this: Muslims in the West have all the freedom they need to practice or preach their Islamic religion in whatever way they want but they are murdering us for reading our Bibles or confirming our Christian faith openly inside Somalia. That is barbaric. That is pure barbarism. What else will you call it? I have never set foot in my homeland, my beloved country for the past 14 years, that is because, my decision to follow Christ, the prince of peace... I just can’t understand.
Jimma Times: Do you see any encouraging, new and specific developments towards a better future for Somali Christians in Somalia?
Hassan: The only way for the Somali Christians to go back and live in Somalia is if all Muslim Somalis leave us alone and let us practice our Christian faith openly. We need to have churches; we need to perform Christian baptisms and marriages and we need to be free in practicing our Christian faith openly and without fear of persecution and violence and we need to pay tax and build our country as every body else. Unfortunately that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
Jimma Times: Thank you for participating in our interview program.
Hassan: My pleasure