Forced to Marry a Muslim Sheikh–Christian Women in Somalia Face Double Persecution
Out of the 14 million civilians in Somalia (ranked #3 on the 2018 World Watch List), there are an estimated few hundred Christians. For these few believers, their faith could mean death.
Ayan is praying for a miracle.
She knows that without it, her life will be a living nightmare. The 19-year-old young Christian woman from Somalia is set to be married off to an elderly Somali sheikh (patriarch in an Islamic tribe). The forced marriage is her Muslim family’s attempt to coerce Ayan into renouncing her Christian faith and return to Islam.
For Ayan, the marriage to a man three to four times her age goes beyond marrying someone she doesn’t love. She knows that it will most likely mean a lifetime of abuse and most definitely will severely stifle any attempt to secretly gather with other believers. A 2014 report from Pakistan sheds light on the fate of women forced to convert and marry Muslim. The report says “forced conversion and marriage begets further violence as victims are subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking or sale, or domestic abuse.”
The 2018 World Watch List research found that throughout the world, especially in places where Islam is the dominant religion, women are doubly persecuted–for both their gender and their faith. The report shows that every day, six women are sexually harassed, raped or forced into marriage because of their faith. In 2017, Open Doors’ research documented 2,260 such incidences against women—and this number only covers those who had the courage to report such an incident, representing only a fraction of those actually raped and harassed in these ways.
Ayan gave her life to Jesus in 2015 after her believing sister privately told her about Jesus beginning in 2009. Ayan kept her new faith secret but her transformed character, withdrawal from Islamic activities, and increasing closeness to her Muslim-background believing sister raised suspicions among her family members.
After her family discovered she had, indeed, converted to Christianity, they threatened to stop her education and marry her off. Though they allowed her to continue with her education, they denied any access to her Christian sister. Throughout 2017, her family held her in solitary confinement. In November, Ayan finished high school, but as often is the case in Somalia and many other countries where persecution comes from the Muslim tribe, she was forced to attend daily classes under an Islamic teacher to become a teacher in a madrassa (Islamic school).
A few weeks ago on Sunday, January 7, Ayan’s family members forced her to undergo an Islamic blood ceremony where they sacrificed a goat, followed by sheikhs bodily surrounding her, aggressively speaking Quranic verses and spells over her. They also tied some amulets, or good luck charms, around her wrist–pieces she later threw them away.
Through it all, Ayan has held on to her faith in Christ. She also managed to find a way to contact and tell her sister of her family’s impending plans for forced marriage.
A Life or Death Decision in Somalia
In Somalia, the possibility of an open Christian faith without persecution is nearly impossible. Ayan undoubtedly counted the cost when she accepted Jesus. Ranked in the top three of the 50 countries on the World Watch List year after year, Somalia threatens violence against Christians by both tribal society and the Islamic terrorist group, al-Shabaab a splinter group of al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI). The group was spawned by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a coalition of shariah courts that briefly controlled Mogadishu in 2006. Al-Shabab originated as the ICU’s militant wing, and when Ethiopian troops invaded Mogadishu in December 2006 and ousted the ICU, Al-Shabab began its war on Somalia’s government. In 2012 al-Shabab (Arabic for ‘The Youth”) formalized its ties with Al Qaeda as its militant wing in the Horn of Africa. This group of young Islamic extremists targets villages, slaughters resistance and enforces Sharia Law.
One believer shared with us, “In Somalia, there is no safe place to practice the Christian faith openly.”
A World Watch List analyst adds, “Al-Shabab has made it clear on numerous occasions that there is no place for Christians in Somalia.”
The hope for a stronger central Somali government is a far-off goal, as there has been no central government in Somalia since the country’s civil war in 1991; all Somalians, especially those who have converted from Islam to Christianity, are left in dangerous waters.
Praying for Somalia
- Pray with converts from Islam to be safe–a huge concern. Muslim background believers in Somalia daily demonstrate bold courage, and we pray that God would sustain them to bring more people to Him.
- Pray for discipleship opportunities for these isolated brothers and sisters.
- Pray for al-Shabaab members. Although they are steeped in the evil ways of Islamic extremism, ask God to miraculously save them–similar to a Saul-to-Paul Damascus Road conversion, for His glory and their joy. Ask God to raise up courageous laborers ready to go to these hard places.
- Remember Ayan and young women like her facing forced marriages. Pray for God’s divine intervention in their lives and ask Him to embolden her faith in Christ with each of the enemy’s attempts. Pray that their families would come to faith in Christ, too.