Religion in Somalia

The major religion in Somalia is Islam. There is a small Christian community in Somalia mainly living amongst Somali Muslims in the Banaadir region. Additionally, some people in the southern part of the country practice traditional faiths, including Waaqism.

Religion in Somalia

  General Sunni (incl. Shafi'i, Salafi, Cultural Muslim)
Sunnism in total[1][2][3][note 1]: (91%)
  Various Sufi (Qadiriya, Idrisiyya, Urwayniya) (5%)
  (Shia Islam; Non-denominational Muslims; Ibadism)
Other Muslims in total: (1%)
  Christianity, other Abrahamic & Vedic religion (incl. expats) (1%)
  Irreligious or Unaffiliated (1%)

As the Horn was located to the east of sun-worshipping Egypt, the Horn being associated with the sunrise was then referred to as God's land during the Puntite period, arguably referring to deity's such as Ra. For much of the 1st millennium BC and 1st millennium AD, a predominant religion practised by proto-Somalis as well as other Cushites and Horners was Waaqism, although in the post-classical period, various Abrahamic faiths became increasingly prevalent.[4][5]

State religion


Most residents of Somalia are Muslims,[6] of which the most prominent subset that is practised being the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence. However, other denominations of Islam are also practised, including, Ibadism, Non-denominational Islam, puritanical (Muwwahid/Salafi/Zahiri), and some adherents of the Shia Muslim denomination.[7][8] Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, is also well-established, with many local jama'a (zawiya) or congregations of the various tariiqa or Sufi orders.[9] Article 3 of the Provisional Constitution of Somalia defines Islam as the state religion of the Federal Republic of Somalia, and Islamic sharia as the basic source for national legislation. It also stipulates that no law that is inconsistent with the basic tenets of Shari'a can be enacted. Article 11 guarantees equal rights and freedom from persecution for all citizens before the law regardless of religion. Additionally, Article 17 protects freedom of religion.[10]

Islam entered the region very early on, shortly after the hijra. The two-mihrab Masjid al-Qiblatayn dates to the 7th century, and is the oldest mosque in the country, in the city of Zeila, which Ibn Battuta described as a Shiite city in the 14th century, and remained as such until Ottoman expansionism attempted to incorporate Horner and/or Cushite Sultans along the Horn African coast in the late 16th century.[11][12] In the late 9th century, Al-Yaqubi wrote that Muslims were living along the northern Somali seaboard.[13] He also mentioned that the Adal kingdom had its capital in the city,[13][14] suggesting that the Adal Sultanate with Zeila as its headquarters dates back to at least the 9th or 10th century. According to I.M. Lewis, the polity was governed by local dynasties, who also ruled over the similarly-established Sultanate of Mogadishu in the Benadir region to the south.[14]

In addition, the Somali community has produced numerous important Islamic figures over the centuries, many of whom have significantly shaped the course of Muslim learning and practice in the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and well beyond. Among these Islamic scholars is the 14th century Somali theologian and jurist Uthman bin Ali Zayla'i of Zeila, who wrote the single most authoritative text on the Hanafi school of Islam, consisting of four volumes known as the Tabayin al-Haqa’iq li Sharh Kanz al-Daqa’iq.



Christianity is a minority religion in Somalia, with no more than 1,000 practitioners (about 0.01% of the population).[15] According to estimates of the Diocese of Mogadishu (the territory of which coincides with the country) there were only about 100 Catholic practitioners in Somalia in 2004.[16]

In 1913, during the early part of the colonial era, there were virtually no Christians in the Somali territories, with only about 100–200 followers coming from the schools and orphanages of the few Catholic missions in the British Somaliland protectorate.[17] There were also no known Catholic missions in Italian Somaliland during the same period.[18] In the 1970s, during the reign of Somalia's then Marxist government, church-run schools were closed and missionaries sent home. There has been no archbishop in the country since 1989, and the cathedral in Mogadishu was severely damaged during the civil war.


According to the Pew Research Center, less than 0.1% of Somalia's population in 2010 were adherents of traditional or folk religions.[19] These mainly consisted of some non-Somali ethnic minority groups in the southern parts of the country, who practice animism. In the case of the Bantu, these religious traditions were inherited from their ancestors in Southeast Africa, and include the practice of possession dances and the use of magic and curses.[20] Waaqism was an ancient traditional religion practised by many Horners, in particular by Cushites. As there has not been a comprehensive survey, it is unclear to what extent Somali Waaqists exist in the contemporary period.[21]


According to the Pew Research Center, less than 0.1% of Somalia's population in 2010 were adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, or unaffiliated with any religion.[19]

Irreligion and deism

One correspondant has discussed how irreligiosity is an increasing phenomenon among Somalis. Although the bulk of this sentiment comes from Somalis in the diaspora, there are also many Somalis from their home country, Somalia, who discuss their disbelief in religion, although covertly. These discussions primarily revolve around the existence of God. It has been theorized that increased apostasy, irreligiosity and detachment from religion stems from misgivings and despair at the existence of radical Salafist groups such as Daa'ish and Shabab.[22]

Freedom of religion

The provisional constitution of Somalia provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam (although it does not explicitly ban conversion), and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of Muslim religious law. No exemptions from application of sharia legal principles exist for non-Muslims. The federal government of Somalia had limited ability to implement its laws beyond greater Mogadishu; most other areas of Somalia were outside its control.[23] The provisional constitution requires the president, but not other office holders, to be Muslim. There are no public places of worship for non-Muslims in the country.[23]

Due to the Somali Civil War, the enforcement of laws pertaining to religion by the various autonomous governments in the region is inconsistent. Generally, the judiciary in most areas relies on xeer (traditional and customary law), sharia, and the penal code. In many regions, activity by Salafi groups further restricts religious freedom, as individuals are afraid of reprisal.[23]

Societal attitudes

There is a strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni traditions. Conversion from Islam to another religion has been socially unacceptable in all areas of Somalia. According to the federal Ministry of Religious Affairs, more than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. Members of other religious groups combined constitute less than 1 percent of the population and include a small Christian community, a small Sufi Muslim community, and an unknown number of Shia Muslims. Immigrants and foreign workers, who are mainly from East African countries, belong mainly to other religious groups.[24]

See also


  1. Other figures from the main and adjacent pages rounded the decimals to the nearest whole number after deducting/amalgamating from primary figure


  2. Fisher, Jonathan. "AMISOM and the regional construction of a failed state in Somalia." African Affairs 118.471 (2018): 285-306.
  3. Adam, Jamal. "Identity Development of Somali College Student." (2017).
  4. Ta’a, Tesema. "Religious beliefs among the Oromo: Waaqeffannaa, Christianity and Islam in the context of ethnic identity, citizenship and integration." Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities 8.1 (2012): 87-111.
  5. Kirwan, Laurence Patrick. "The Christian topography and the Kingdom of Axum." Geographical Journal (1972): 166-177.
  6. "Middle East Policy Council – Muslim Populations Worldwide". 2005-12-01. Archived from the original on 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  7. Filesi, Teobaldo. "MOGADISCIO: TANTI SECOLI FA." Africa: Rivista trimestrale di studi e documentazione dell’Istituto italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente 51.2 (1996): 263-272.
  8. Abdullahi, Mohamed Diriye (2001). Culture and customs of Somalia. Greenwood. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-313-31333-2.
  9. I. M. Lewis, Saints and Somalis: popular Islam in a clan-based society, (The Red Sea Press: 1998), pp. 8–9.
  10. "The Federal Republic of Somalia - Provisional Constitution". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  11. Nour, Tanq Mohamed. "Ottoman Efforts to Protect Somalia from European Powers." Proceedings of the International Symposium on Islamic Civilisation in Eastern Africa: Kampala, Uganda, 15–17 December 2003. No. 13. Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 2006.
  12. Briggs, Phillip (2012). Somaliland. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 7. ISBN 1841623717.
  13. Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 25. Americana Corporation. 1965. p. 255.
  14. Lewis, I.M. (1955). Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar and Saho. International African Institute. p. 140.
  15. "Almost expunged: Somalia's Embattled Christians". The Economist. 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2009-10-22.
  16. "Diocese of Mogadiscio". David M. Cheney. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  17. Charles George Herbermann, The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic church, Volume 14, (Robert Appleton company: 1913), p. 139.
  18. Charles Henry Robinson, History of Christian Missions, (READ BOOKS: 2007), p. 356.
  19. "The Global Religious Landscape, Religious groups 2010" (PDF). Pew Research Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 9, 2013. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  20. "Somali Bantu – Religious Life". Archived from the original on November 1, 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  21. Mire, Sada. "Wagar, fertility and phallic stelae: Cushitic sky-god belief and the site of Saint Aw-Barkhadle, Somaliland." African Archaeological Review 32.1 (2015): 93-109.
  23. International Religious Freedom Report 2017 Somalia, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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