Persecution watchdog says Somalia has "the world's most persecuted church."
It's never been easy to be a Christian in Somalia. Missionaries led a few hundred Somalis to Christ between 1898 and 1935, according to Operation World, but missions work was barred there in 1974. Today roughly 300 Somali believers worship secretly in the largely Muslim nation, Compass Direct reports, and they face a growing danger from Islamic extremists.
In September 2008, the Muslim extremist group al-Shabaab publicly beheaded Mansuur Mohammed, a 25-year-old Christian convert from Islam, with images of the murder circulated on the Internet. He was one of at least 24 aid workers killed in Somalia that year, with another 15 execution-style murders of Somali Christians in 2009.
There have been more deaths this year, most recently that of underground church leader Yusuf Ali Nur, whom al-Shabaab killed in May. The group, said to have links to al-Qaida, has vowed to rid Somalia of Christianity and introduce a strict version of Shariah, or Islamic law.
The relentless attacks on Somali Christians make them "arguably the most persecuted church in the world," says Jonathan Racho, Africa regional manager for the persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
"The plight of Christians and other innocent Somalis is increasing by the day as al-Shabaab intensifies its jihad attacks," Racho says. "The situation in Somalia will continue to deteriorate unless the international community steps up its effort to contain the influence of al-Shabaab."
Somalia's transitional government, which is fighting to retain control of the country, treats Christians little better than al-Shabaab, Compass Direct reports. And while saying he is a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed has embraced a version of Shariah that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
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