As of August 2nd 2012 the Provisional Constitution of Somalia came into force. The UNDP*/UNPOS** Joint Constitution Unit prepared a guidebook on the Provisional Constitution to "aid the Somali people to become familiar with the contents of the Provisional Constitution..."
Set in a question and answer format, the guidebook serves to clarify the basic ins and outs of the Provisional Constitution. The first line in answer to the question: 'What is a constitution?' reads as follows: "A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state and its institutions are supposed to function." Fair enough.
As the guidebook progresses we come across the heading 'Islam and Shari'ah'. The second question under this heading reads as follows: 'What is the status of the Quran and the Shari’ah in the Provisional Constitution?'
Note the answer (emphasis added):
"The Provisional Constitution is based on the foundation laid by the holy Quran and Sunna. It promotes the higher objectives of Shari’ah and social justice – see Article 3 (1). The Provisional Constitution adopts a special provision to the effect that parliament may not pass any law that contravenes the general principles of Shari’ah – see Article 2 (3). The courts have the power to strike down any law on the basis that it is contrary to the Shari’ah and thus to the Constitution – see Article 109 C (1) (a) and (b). The Provisional Constitution reaffirms Islam to be the state religion of Somalia – see Article 2 (1). In line with Shari’ah, the Constitution explicitly prohibits the propagation of other religions in Somalia – see Article 2 (3)."
Of course, Somalia is a Muslim nation and so the Provisional Constitution would obviously incorporate Shari'ah Law. But to what extent is Shari’ah incorporated into the Provisional Constitution? Are merely the ‘general principles’ of Shari’ah being enforced or does Shari’ah have a larger role in the Provisional Constitution?
The next question, and one that is more pertinent to this blog, is what happens, taking into account the last two lines of the quote above, to those Somalis, albeit a tiny minority, who profess the Christian Faith? Are they entitled to freedom of worship, insofar as they do not contravene Article 2 (3) of the Provisional Constitution? And what exactly constitutes ‘propagation of other religions’? Active proselytism? Public existence? Mere existence? And what are the punishments for those who contravene Article 2 (3) of the Provisional Constitution? Are the punishments in line with those of Shari’ah Law?
And supposing a Muslim Somali of his own free will converts to the Christian Faith, what does the Provisional Constitution make of that? Because according to Shari’ah Law, severe penalties, not excluding the death penalty, are meted out to those who ‘apostatize’ from the Muslim faith. Now seeing as there is a Christian minority in Somalia today it would appear possible and likely that over time, Muslim Somalis in contact with Christian Somalis might indeed convert. What happens to such people? Will their free and voluntary decision to convert be respected in accordance with fundamental human rights, or punished in accordance with Shari’ah and therefore Constitutional Law [see Article 109 C (1) (a) and (b)]?
Understandably, the guidebook to the Provisional Constitution is by no means exhaustive, nor was it designed with a tiny and practically non-existent minority in mind. The same is probably true with regards to the Provisional Constitution itself. Those involved in drawing up the Constitution were Muslim or writing it up with an almost exclusively Muslim nation in mind. None the less, a minority though Christian Somali’s may be, they exist all the same. And provision must be made for them in the Constitution.
The questions proposed are by no means comprehensive, with regards to religious minorities in Somalia; however these questions seem to be the most pressing. In order for the Catholic Church to once again take up her work in Somalia, these questions need to be answered. Of course the Church strives to respect the national laws of every nation- even Muslim nations- insofar as they do not contravene the immutable Laws of God.
This fact remains- there are Catholics in Somalia, who are Somalis by race and culture, and who are a part of the national fabric that is the Somali state. They are not foreigners, they are Somalis who love their country and wish to live in Somalia. The Church will not abandon her children- if there are Catholics in Somalia, the Church’s duty first and foremost, is to serve her children and to provide the necessary means to procure their Eternal Salvation. Come what may, the Church must fulfill this basic and essential mission towards her children.
If it can be done in accordance with state legislature- blessed be God. If it cannot, the task of the Church is only made more difficult- but the work must go on. The first Christians lived in the catacombs for three centuries. If Somali Christians must do the same then so be it. But the work of salvation and redemption will not stop- it is God’s work- and no man nor any laws of man can stop that work.
Pray for Somalia and for the benighted Catholics of this land. May God soon deign to let His Church work freely and openly in Somalia!
*UNDP- United Nations Development Programme
**UNPOS- United Nations Political Office for Somalia