CWN.org - DADAAB, Kenya - A Somali Christian put in a refugee camp police cell here for defending his family against Islamic zealots has been released after Christians helped raise the 20,000 Kenya shilling fine that a camp "court" demanded for his conversion dishonoring Islam and its prophet, Muhammad.
But for Salat Sekondo Mberwa of Mogadishu, the war-torn capital of Somalia, this was not the highest price he has had to pay for leaving Islam. A few weeks ago Muslim zealots shot Mberwa in the shoulder and left him for dead, and he and other refugees told of hired Muslim gangs in Somalia raping and killing converts, denying them access to water and, in the refugee camp, burning their homes.
"I thank God that I am alive," a timid and worried Mberwa said.
At about 9 a.m. on Oct. 13, five Muslim youths knocked on Mberwa's sheet-iron gate in the refugee camp, one of three that is home to 572,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in northeastern Kenya's Dadaab town.
"I refused to open the gate, and they started cutting the iron sheets," he said. "They were shouting and calling me names, saying I was the enemy of the Islamic religion, and that I would pay the ultimate price for propagating a different religion. They threatened to kill me if I did not open the door for them."
With him inside the house was his 22-year-old son, Nur Abdurahman, he said.
"As the assailants forced their way into our room, I whispered to my son to prepare for war," he said. "While defending ourselves, I hit one of the young men whom I later came to know as Abdul Kadir Haji."
They soon overpowered the assailants, he said, and the gang ran away, only to return three hours later accompanied by Muslim elders and the police. They arrested Mberwa and detained him at a camp police cell.
After his release, Mberwa said, he was resting inside his house on Nov. 26 at around 6 p.m. when he heard people shouting his name and swearing to "teach him a lesson" for embarrassing them by having left Islam. Once again he decided to lock himself in, and as before the attackers forced their way in.
"I was trying to escape through the window when one of them fired a gun, but the bullet narrowly missed me," he told Compass. "Then I heard another gun fire, and I felt a sharp pain on my left shoulder. I fell down. Thinking that I was dead, they left."
Relatives immediately arrived and gave first aid to the bleeding Mberwa. They arranged treatment for him in Mogadishu, after which he was relocated to Dadaab for recovery.
The officer in charge of Dadaab refugee camp, Omar Dadho, told Compass that authorities were doing their best to safeguard freedom of worship.
"We cannot guarantee the security of the minority Christians among a Muslim-dominated population totaling more than 99 percent," Dadho said. "But we are doing our best to safeguard their freedom of worship. Their leader, Salat, should visit our office so that their matter and complaints can be looked at critically, as well as to try to look for a long-lasting solution."
A bitter and exhausted Mberwa told Compass he was not about to give in.
"What will these Muslims benefit if they completely wipe away my family?" he said. "My son has just arrived from Bossaso with a serious bullet wound on his left hand. It's sad. Anyhow we are happy he is alive."
In November 2005, leaving behind his job at an international relief and development agency in Mogadishu, Mberwa had fled with his family to Dadaab after Muslim extremists murdered a relative, Mariam Mohammed Hassan, allegedly for distributing Bibles. At that time his oldest son, 26-year-old Abdi Salat, had gone to Bossaso, in Somalia's autonomous Puntland region.
Situated in a hostile environment with high temperatures and little or no vegetation cover, Dadaab refugee camps house refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan: 150,000 people in the Dagahaley camp, 152,000 in Ifo and 270,000 in Hagadhera.
Where Mberwa lives as a refugee, Muslim zealots burned a house belonging to his son-in-law, Mohammed Jeylani, also a member of his camp fellowship.
"It was on Oct. 28 when we saw smoke coming out of my house," said Jeylani. "Some neighbors managed to salvage my two young children who were inside the house. The people managed to put out the fire before the house was razed. I have been contemplating reporting the culprits to the police, but I do fear for my life."
Somali Christians cannot openly conduct their fellowship at the relief camps. They meet in their houses and at times at the Dadaab police post among friendly Christian soldiers and public servants.
"They have to be careful since they are constantly being monitored by their fellow Somalis," said Moses Lokong, an officer at Kenya's Department of Land Reclamation in neighboring Garissa town.
Death and Agony in Somalia
Somali refugees in Kenya commonly have loved ones in their home country who have suffered from violence. On July 18 a Muslim gang killed a relative of Mberwa, Nur Osman Muhiji, in Anjel village, 30 kilometers from Kismayo, Somalia.
The church in Dadaab had sent Muhiji to the port of Kismayo on June 15 to smuggle out Christians endangered by Muslim extremists there. Word became known of Muhiji's mission, and on his way back a gang of 10 Muslim extremists stopped his vehicle, dragged him to some bushes and stabbed him to death.
Fearing for their lives, the Christians he was smuggling struggled to remain quiet as Muhiji wailed from the knife attack near Anjel village at about 6:30 p.m.
At the Dadaab refugee camp, Muhiji's widow, Hussein Mariam Ali, told Compass, "Life without Osman is now meaningless - how will I survive here all alone without him? I wish I had gotten children with him."
Another refugee in Dadaab, Binti Ali Bilal, recounted an attack in Lower Juba, Somalia. The 40-year-old mother of 10 children was fetching firewood with her 23-year-old daughter, Asha Ibrahim Abdalla, on April 15 in an area called Yontoy when a group from the Muslim insurgent group al Shabaab approached them. Yontoy is 25 kilometers from Kismayo.
For some time the local community had suspected that she and her family were Christians, Bilal told Compass. Neighbors with members from al Shabaab, believed to have links with al Qaeda, confronted them, she said.
"They asked whether we were Christians - it was very difficult for us to deny," Bilal said. "So we openly said that we were Christians. They began beating us. My son who is 10 years old ran away screaming. My daughter then was six months pregnant. They hit me at the ribs before dragging us into the bush. They raped us repeatedly and held us captive for five days."
The Muslim extremists left them there to die, she said.
"My daughter began to bleed - thank God my husband found us alive after the five days of agony," she said. "We were taken to Kismayo for treatment before escaping to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya on May 5. My daughter gave birth to a sickly baby, and she still suffers after-birth related diseases."
Bilal's daughter told Compass that she still feels pain in her abdomen and chest. She was weak and worried that she may have contracted HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus.