Somalia (MNN) — Al-Shabaab is known as a Muslim militant group fighting for the soul of Somalia.
Loosely translated as "The Youth," it's the cell of al-Qaeda in the small African nation. A failed state, the weak government grapples with lawlessness and piracy with few resources to answer the economic power of the terror group.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA. He says Somalia's government is trying desperately to throw off the label of "failed state." They recently organized a conference that drew 160 Islamic scholars, elders, and imams from in the country and abroad. Its purpose: to try to come up with security and stability solutions for Somalia.
Nettleton says, "The end result of the conference was: they issued a fatwa against al-Shabaab. Basically, they said, ‘They're not following Islam properly. What they do is not a true representation of Islam. People should not help them. People should not support them.'"
It is the first time Somali religious leaders have come up with a fatwa against the group, which controls vast rural areas. The edict is likely not one that will be received quietly. Nettleton explains, "Al-Shabaab would say, ‘We're the true Muslims, and we're conducting jihad because we're the true Muslims and those who are not living up to the edicts of the religion should be punished."
A fatwa is often associated with death threats or sentences. However, this fatwa may not have the teeth to hurt. For the average Somali, it's more a question of survival. "If al-Shabaab is in charge of my village, and they have guns, am I going to stand up and say, ‘Hey! You know, there's a fatwa against you, and I can't support you.' When it comes down to it, they are the authority because they're the guys that have the guns."
Less than half a percent of the population is Christian. Somalia ranks 5th on the Open Doors World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 countries around the world known for persecution of Christians. With a long history of oppression, does even a toothless fatwa help their cause? Nettleton doesn't think it'll change much. "Our Christian brothers and sisters are going to be under fire in Somalia, regardless of who's in charge. The government is an Islamic government. They're not going to support the church. They're certainly not going to support Muslim converts. However, in the scheme of things, they're probably less violent and less of a threat than al-Shabaab is."
Most Somali Christians are secret believers who worship in house churches. Islamic radicals, such as the al-Shabaab group, have vowed to eradicate all Somali Christians. The murder of Christians, specifically Muslim converts to Christianity, is increasingly common, and there is little in the way of justice. Fear has taken its toll on Gospel work. Many believers have fled.
However, Nettleton notes that "across the Muslim world, God is moving–sometimes without any people involved at all. He's moving supernaturally through dreams and visions. We can pray that that will happen in Somalia and that Muslim people there will come face to face with Jesus Christ and commit their lives to Him."
Nettleton acknowledges that not everyone will resonate with the needs of the Christians in Somalia. However, every great moment of the Church started the same way. "The first action point–and the most important one–[is] to pray. For most of us, that's all we can do. We're not going to go to Somalia; we're not going to try to go talk to somebody about the gospel; but all of us can pray."
Then, consider how you might resource the Voice of the Martyrs to come alongside the national Church in Somalia. And finally, while it's a dangerous place to actually visit, you can raise awareness of the needs and the plight facing the body of Christ.