Introduction / History
Ten million Somali live scattered across eight countries in the northeastern portion of Africa, commonly called the "Horn of Africa," and in the Middle East. They are one of the most homogenous people groups in Africa, speaking a common language, adhering to a single faith, and sharing a cultural heritage.
The Somali first appeared in Africa around 1200 A.D., and began expanding westward and southward about 150 years later. They converted to Islam around 1550, under the influence of Arab traders. Today, nearly 30,000 semi-nomadic Somali live in northern Tanzania. This territory is characterized by its dry climate and sparse vegetation.
The United Republic of Tanzania is an East African country, located just south of the equator. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean on the east, and seven African nations, including Kenya, to the west. It has a developing economy based on agriculture.
What are their lives like?
The Somali society is based on the nuclear family, which consists of a husband, wife, and children. The man is the head of his household and has the right to be married to four wives. The women are responsible for raising the children, although the men do take part in their religious training. Respect for one's elders and maintaining integrity are strongly emphasized.
A typical family owns a herd of sheep or goats and a few burden camels. The more camels a man has, the greater his prestige. The men's duties include herding and milking the camels, while the women and children tend to the sheep and goats. Both men and women help with the farming.
Most of the crops that are raised are for family consumption; however, the sale of surplus items in small markets provides important additional income for most families.
The nomads travel from place to place according to the needs of their herds. They live in portable huts made of wooden branches covered with skins or grass mats. The huts are easily collapsible so that they can be loaded on pack animals and quickly moved. Their diet includes milk, camel and goat meat, rice, and other grains. Tea is also a favorite drink.
Typically, the Somali wear brightly colored cloths draped over their bodies like togas. The men may also wear kilts. They speak the Somali language, even though Swahili and English are the country's official languages. Most of the children attend school; but, less than half of the adults can read.
What are their beliefs?
The Somali are virtually all Shafiite Muslims, with Sufism (a mystic branch of Islam) being an important "religious experience" for many. The standard Islamic prayers are usually observed; however, Somali women have never worn the required veils. Villagers frequently turn to the wadaad (a religious expert) for blessings, charms and advice in worldly matters.
Although Tanzania currently offers freedom of worship, Muslim political powers are being expanded as much as possible. Islam is being promoted through the mass media, and money from the Middle East is being used to build mosques. As Muslims gain more political power and influence, the Tanzanian government is showing more favoritism toward Islam.
What are their needs?
Christian broadcasts and the Jesus film are available, but little fruit has come from them.
Today, there are only a few known Somali believers in Tanzania. Missionaries who are sensitive to the Muslim culture are needed to live and work among them. We must send forth laborers into this harvest field before Islamic pressures disallow it.
* Ask the Lord to raise up missionaries who will work among the Somali and share Christ's love with them.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to go and break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant favor and wisdom to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Somali.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among them.
* Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio and television to the Somali.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Somali.