Somaliland: Local and Expatriate Christians Exercise Constitutional Right to Freedom of Belief


Rehabilitating St Anthony Padua church Hargeisa Somaliland in 2016 after 27 years of abandonment

By: Yusuf M Hasan

Somalilandsun- A tiny Christian community in the Muslim majority republic of Somaliland is exercising its rights to freedom of worship.
While people who profess to Christianity in Somalia have to contend with threats posed to their lives by Al-Shabaab, a militant group battling the federal government for control of the war torn country, its peaceful and democratically government, Somaliland its neighbour to the north has an open door policy and tolerance for religious diversity.
Though 99.8% of the local population are muslims, a tiny christian community composed of a few locals adherent to the faith and religion expatriates are openly practicing their faith without let or hindrance.
This follows the consecration of the Church of St Anthony of Padua in Hargeisa the capital of Somaliland by Bishop Giorgio Bertin, bishop of Djibouti and apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, in August 2016.
“Now I can say we have some little presence in Hargeisa, but not in Mogadishu, where it is still too early because of insecurity,” Bishop Bertin told the catholic world adding that though there is permanent priest there.” His flock is able to operate freely but discretion in their activities is imperative.

The opening of the church of St Antony Padua after 27 years which signaled a new chapter for the tiny Christian community in Somaliland is pursuant to the country’s constitution that enshrines freedom of belief to all, while recognizing Islam as the officials religion.
In Part Three of the Somaliland which dictates The Rights of the Individual, Fundamental Freedoms and the Duties of the Citizen, are granted all,
According to Article 21: which defines Implementation and Interpretation Part three of the constitution, as persons to The Rights of the Individual, Fundamental Freedoms and the Duties of the Citizen, dictates that
1. The legislative, executive and judicial branches of the state and the local government of the regions and the districts of the Republic of Somaliland, of all levels, shall be bound by the provisions of this Part.
2. The articles which relate to fundamental rights and freedoms[43] shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the international conventions on human rights[44] and also with the international laws referred[45] to in this Constitution.
With the enshrined rights granted above and powers conferred upon the various branches of governance Specific to Religious Is
Article 33: Freedom of Belief which stipulates that
1. Every person shall have the right to freedom of belief, and shall not be compelled to adopt another belief. Islamic Sharia does not accept that a Muslim person can renounce his beliefs.
Despite the constitutional rights and as observed by Bishop Bertin , discretion still remains paramount especially as pertains evangelization which is completely illegal not to mention one renouncing Islam.
Read more on the The Rights of the Individual, Fundamental Freedoms and the Duties of the Citizen granted by the constitution of Somaliland
Apart from constitutional dictates a few other factors that have have led to this development for the Church in Somaliland include the over 500,000 population of its capital which is thriving and re-inventing itself apart from the conflicts of Somalia in its south.
Hargeisa is comparatively safe—one can sip coffee in the open and ride in the streets without much fear. People are also welcoming, a fact often attributed to the city’s having been rebuilt by a diaspora community.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin, of Djibouti and apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, at the St Anthony Padua church Hargeisa Somaliland in August 2016.While it is clear that the Al-Shabaab militants are not going anywhere anytime soon with attendant persecution of non muslims Christian leaders in Somalia and its neighboring countries still look to small glimmers of hope—such as the tiny Catholic Church of St. Anthony of Padua—as they strive to bring peace to the troubled region.
Continue reading Catholic Community in Somaliland

Back in Hargeisa Around 10 Christians have been attending Mass in the small church, something Bishop Bertin describes as very significant for the Catholic Church in the region.
The congregation is largely foreign, composed of workers for the UN or the other humanitarian agencies that have bases in Hargeisa. The church also acts as the base of Caritas Somalia, which runs programs such as rehabilitation of schools and hospitals, food aid, and assistance to poor children.
By: Yusuf M Hasan

Excerpts of the constitution courtesy of 
For more detailed information and or somali language version of the constitution kindly contact the site editor Ibrahim Hashi Jama LL.B, LL.M.

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