Are you a Muslim or Christian?

Islam permeates through every aspect of life in Somaliland. It is the first Muslim country I’ve been to where I’ve felt a real sense that the people believe deeply and that their belief is embedded so deeply that it seems unfathomable to entertain the idea of not being Muslim. There is the normal prayer five times a day towards Mecca. The prayer just after sunset means that businesses close shop for about an hour so the men can head to the mosque to pray. All women are covered in Somaliland. I thought at some point I’d come across at least a few that were not but it seems the dress is getting more conservative with time. The Saudi Arabian style with full head cover and only the eyes showing is apparently a newer fad to Somaliland that didn’t exist years ago. The treatment of women in the Muslim world is often a very hot topic in the west. I have to remind myself however, this is Somaliland. It is a free democracy. Women are equal to men in every way, meaning they can vote, drive cars, own businesses and choose what they wear. Somaliland is not an example of oppression.

It didn’t take long for Somalilanders to start asking me about my beliefs and from what I hear this is a common occurrence with all travelers to the state. Some went as far as directly asking what religion I am and even more specific, “Are you a Muslim or a Christian?” I never got the sense this question was strictly out of curiosity. It almost seems like a moment of judgment, and depending on my answer I may no longer be welcomed in Somaliland by that individual. Should I reply, “There is but one God, his name is Allah, and Muhammed is his messenger,” and hope they buy it? Should I lie and say I’m a devout Christian or worse, hint at the possibility that I don’t even share the common belief In God at all? I try very hard not to misrepresent myself, so some of the time I would simply reply, “No religion.” Other times I would pretend I didn’t understand the question as to not indict myself. I can sit here and talk about how friendly Somalilanders are and how welcomed I felt throughout my stay in the country, and I would be telling the absolute truth. I’d be lying, however; if I said that I wasn’t uneasy at times facing the reality that I was severely out of my comfort and in a world that I could only observe and not truly understand.

To Somalilanders, it seems, Islam is it. There is no choice. There is no other option. Not because they are forced to but because it is what they know. To be a Somalilander is to be a Muslim. The idea of Christianity makes sense in a historical context but I gather that any belief system outside of the two seems to put them at a loss for words. All of these things considered, I’m not an expert just after one week in the country. I welcome some of my Somaliland readers to correct me or enlighten me further. As an outside observer I can only experience so much and take my initial impressions and put them into words.

At the request of many Somalilanders, I’m just simply sharing my experience.

4 thoughts on “Are you a Muslim or Christian?

  1. Hi Joey,

    My name is Guled Yusuf Ali and I am 24 years old. I was born in Hargeisa but me and my family moved to The Netherlands when I was three. I came across your site through the Hargeisa City group on Facebook. I myself try to go back every year but for now I just managed to go back four times.

    I would like to start by saying that as a Somalilander and ofcourse as a muslim I am very happy to see that you had in general a good experience in Somaliland and I hope any inconvenience was of a minimum. I liked your story very much and most of the things you said are true about Islam and the way of life in Somaliland. Since our self declaration in 1991 we have been doing our best to become an own state and I feel particularly proud to see how far we have come by a mere budget of tens of million of dollars a year for the past couple years (before that it was much less and before that it was nothing at all).
    Our main objective now is recognition and hearing guest like you talk about your positive experiences can only be seen as a sign of improvement.

    In conclusion I would like to thank you, on behalf of the people of Somaliland, for the compliments and your visit. I really hope to see you go back to Somaliland in the future and experience more wonderfull times.

    With kind regards,

    Guled Y. Ali

  2. As you know Somaliland is 99.999999 % Muslim(since Somaliland is yet to be recognized, lets just look at it as part of Somalia which is also 99.9999%). The only other 99er is Saudi Arabia. The religion is deeply ingrained in the heart and mind of ever Somali person. Other religions are frawned upon or are even looked inferior to Islam.

    When they seen you in Hargeisa and that you look to be from the Europe/N.America they automatically associate you with been Christian and a lost soul that needs to be saved. They believe that you are heading to hell and that they should inform you of the danger and the only way you can avoid hell in their believe is to embrace Islam.

    Also keep in mind that if a Muslim converts a non-Muslim to Islam that his chances of going to heaven are greatly increased. So these people just wanted to go to heaven.

    I do not believe it was a matter of hostility but in the point of view aforementioned in that last paragraph.

    Usually the people that tend to as about your religion in a uncomfortable way are people who are uneducated and with no
    matters. There is place and time for evangelism…

  3. hello, i am from somaliland but i was born and raised in the UAE i study business and i am planning to open a hotel in somaliland , islam for us is a way of life its what we believe in and want , even if we traveled abroad we still are faithful muslims and its what we truly believe and want , for somali life is just like a man sat under a tree and then left its short and we must do all we can to do as much good and praying as we can before we die .

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