The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia. Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remain outside federal government control. Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, govern their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but do not fully control them. Somaliland’s constitution declares Islam the state religion, prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, bars the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and requires all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia. According to several Christian advocacy groups working in the region, on January 25, Somaliland police in Hargeisa arrested six local residents on charges of offenses against the state religion and inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order. On August 5, a Hargeisa court dismissed all charges against the group and released them immediately. The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education continued to implement its curriculum, declaring that a secular education with a focus on Islamic values and instruction in Somali was important in order to counter efforts by the terrorist group al-Shabaab to impose a strict version of Islamic law.
During the year, the terrorist group al-Shabaab attacked government-linked forces and targets throughout the country and pressured noncombatants to support the group’s extremist ideology. According to media reports, al-Shabaab killed, injured, or harassed persons for a variety of reasons, including failure to adhere to the group’s religious edicts. During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, Somali security forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christian crusaders” intent on invading and occupying the country. During the year, the group conducted public executions of persons whom the group accused of committing crimes such as sorcery and spying, according to local and international press reports. Al-Shabaab continued its practice of targeting humanitarian aid workers, often accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity. Compared with the same period in 2020, there was a decrease in violence against aid workers. From January to October, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Access Unit recorded at least 194 security incidents that directly affected humanitarian operations, with two aid workers killed, eight injured, 11 detained, and one abducted.
Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued. Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas. Those suspected of conversion reportedly faced harassment by members of their community.
Travel by U.S. government officials remained limited to select areas when security conditions permitted. U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom remained focused on supporting efforts to bring stability and reestablish rule of law, in addition to advocating for freedom of speech and assembly.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 12.1 million (midyear 2021). Other sources, including the Federal Government of Somalia, estimate the population to be at least 15.7 million. According to the Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, more than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. According to the World Atlas, members of other religious groups combined constitute less than 1 percent of the population and include a small Christian community of approximately 1,000, a small Sufi Muslim community, and an unknown number of Shia Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and those not affiliated with any religion.
The Somali Bantu population, the majority of whom are Muslim, largely inhabits the southern and central regions of the country near the Shabelle and Jubba Rivers. Some Somali Bantu also maintain traditional animist beliefs.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There reportedly continued to be strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions.
Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and continued to be socially unacceptable in all, while individuals suspected of conversion and their families were reportedly subject to harassment from members of their local communities.
Christians and members of other non-Muslim religious groups continued to report an inability to practice their religion openly due to fear of societal harassment across most of the country. The small Christian community continued to keep a low profile with regard to religious beliefs and practices. Other non-Islamic groups likely also refrained from openly practicing their religion.
There continued to be no public places of worship for non-Muslims other than in the international airport compound.
The only Catholic church in Somaliland remained closed, and observers stated that its reopening would be controversial. The church was briefly reopened in 2017 but was closed again by authorities, under public pressure.
Private schools continued to be the main source of primary education. The majority offered religious instruction in Islam. Quranic schools remained key sources of early education for most children. The education system also includes Islamic institutes that run parallel to general primary education and general secondary education and that result in an Islamic education certificate. Externally funded madrassahs throughout the country provided inexpensive basic education, and many taught Salafist ideology, especially in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, according to observers.
Although reliable data was hard to obtain, especially in the rural areas, the majority of young children appeared to be enrolled in Quranic schools, which fell under the authority of the Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and were typically managed by community-level organizations. According to government documents, parents remained the primary source of funding of all schooling in the country, but many Quranic schools received funding from external sources. The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education stated it was beginning to develop a preprimary curriculum, but general implementation, and particularly acceptance by Quranic schools, was unclear.