The history of Jews in Somalia refers to the historical presence of Jewish communities in the Horn of Africa country of Somalia.

Judaism in the Somali peninsula has received little attention in the historical record. However, there is evidence of a Jewish presence in the area for centuries, with some members of the community openly practicing their faith and others practicing in secret. Many of the Jews in the area were Adenite and Yemenite Jews, who came to the region as merchants and religious service providers. However, a report in 1949 states that there were "no Jews left in Italian and British Somaliland". While the traditional Jewry in Somalia is known, little is known about the crypto-Jews who practice their faith discreetly.[1]

Jewry in Somalia

The presence of Jewish communities in Somalia has been the subject of much speculation and debate throughout history. Historical records suggest that a small number of Jews, estimated to be around 100-200 individuals, migrated to Somalia in the early 1900s as traders and settled in coastal towns such as Berbera, Zeila and Brava. However, a report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published in 1949 stated that there were "no Jews left in Italian and British Somaliland". Despite this, there are indications that both traditional and crypto-Jews may have continued to reside in Somalia even after this time.[2]

Yemenite Jews in Somalia

It is believed that a wave of Yemenite Jews arrived in the Somali territories in the 1880s, and other Ottoman friendly territories around the same time when Yemenites immigrated to the Ottoman Jerusalem. From 1881 to 1882, a few hundred Jews left but more arrived until 1914. Yemenite-Somali Jews served as prominent leaders in successive Somali governments of the 1960s and 1970s. However, in the 1970s when Somalia joined the Arab League, many Yemenite-Somali Jews sold their businesses and emigrated. Today, present-day Yemenite-Somali Jews are estimated to be no more than 5 to 10 merchant families widely distributed along the coast in Benadir coast, and northern Somali cities. The ruins of historic Eastern Synagogues can still be found in Obbia town in Somalia, but many smaller local synagogues in towns such as Hafun, Alula and Bender-Qasim were destroyed by the Italian fascists in the 1930s.[citation needed]

While the history of traditional Jewish communities in Somalia is relatively well-known, little is understood about the crypto-Jews who practiced their faith discreetly. The true extent of Jewish presence and influence in Somalia remains a topic of ongoing research and debate.[3]

Israel–Somalia relations

See also: Israel–Somaliland relations

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Israel was among the first nations to recognize Somalia and Somaliland's independence before the two unified.

In 1967, Somalia joined the Arab League and adopted a pro-Palestinian stance, this along with the wake of the Six-Day War lead to the expulsion of the small Jewish community in the country. Since then, relations between the two countries have been largely non-existent, with Somalia not recognizing Israel as a state.[4][failed verification][5][failed verification]

In the 1970s, Islamic extremist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, brought a new phenomenon of antisemitism to Somalia. This led to the ostracization of the Yibir clan, a Somali clan with a widely accepted view of Jewish origin.[5][failed verification][neutrality is disputed]

In 2017, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi "Farmajo" Mohamed refused to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Kenya. During the African Heads of State meeting in Nairobi, Farmajo refused to engage in a meeting with Netanyahu. This move was praised by Hamas, with senior member Mousa Abu Marzouq stating that "attitudes have value and meaning, and their country has respect and appreciation, and their people have dignity". Izzat Al-Rishq, another member of Hamas, thanked the Somali president's position, which he said "reflects the authenticity of the brotherly Republic of Somalia in standing with Palestine and rejecting any normalization with an entity which occupies land and holy places." This stance is indicative of the ongoing tensions between Somalia and Israel, with many in Somalia standing in solidarity with Palestine and opposing any normalization of relations with Israel.[6]

in 2020, it was reported that Israel had been providing humanitarian aid to Somalia in the form of food and medical supplies.[citation needed]

In 2022, the President of Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, announced that it would establish diplomatic relations with Israel in the near future. This move was met with mixed reactions, with some praising it as a step towards modernization and development, while others criticized it as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.[7][better source needed]

Ethiopian Judaism in the Somali peninsula

Judaism has a rich history in the Somali peninsula, with both Ethiopian and southern Arabian strains present in the region. While there is limited evidence of any Somali clans embracing Judaism during the pre-Islamic era, the conversion of individuals and families cannot be ruled out. The Hebrew heritage of marginalized Somali clans, including the Yibir, can be traced back to the Beta-Israel, or Ethiopian Jews. By the 16th century, the Somali population had largely adopted Islam as their primary religion.[8]

One factor in the spread of Judaism in the region was the influence of the Ethiopian Empire. As a powerful kingdom that ruled over much of modern-day Somaliland, Ethiopia brought its brand of Christian orthodoxy and elements of Judaism with it. This is evident in the presence of Jewish archeological evidence in the region, such as ancient cemeteries in the Hargeisa region of Somaliland embossed with the Star of David.[9] The Damot Kingdom, led by the Jewish Queen Gudit, also had a significant impact on the spread of Judaism in the region.[citation needed]

In addition to Ethiopian Judaism, the Somali peninsula also saw the arrival of southern Arabian Judaism, primarily through southern Somalia and limitedly through Somaliland. The Jewish community in Djibouti, for example, belongs to the influential Adenite and Yemenite Jewish diaspora.[8]

The Jews of Djibouti

Main article: History of the Jews in Djibouti

Another community with a history in the Somali peninsula is the Jews of Djibouti. The Jewish community in Djibouti has a history dating back to the 1800s. The first Jews to settle in Djibouti came from Aden, which was a British colony at the time. They were primarily Jews from Yemen, a region that had a large and diverse Jewish community. The community played a key role in the development of the port city of Djibouti, helping to build the territory then known as Côte Française des Somalis. The Jewish population reached its peak in the 1930s, with around 1,500 Jews living in the area. However, with the slowing of migration between Yemen and Djibouti in the early 20th century, much of the community consisted of native Djiboutians who converted and married into the established families.[10]

During the time, the Jews were distinguished from their Muslim neighbors by their wearing of long sidelocks called payot and white fringed garments, similar to that of Yemenite Jews. Additionally, French authorities counted eleven Jewish traders in 1902, and indicated that they mainly worked as jewelers and craftsmen. They had several synagogues, including the grand synagogue in the city center on Rue de Rome. The Hahamim of Djibouti were sought for their halakhic expertise and skill throughout the region.

Jewish woman in traditional paya headdress. Djibouti, 1922.

After the 1948 independence of Israel, the state organized Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 which evacuated about 45,000 Yemenite Jews threatened by political unrest from Yemen to Israel. Two hundred Jews from Djibouti were included in the evacuation operation. With the mass aliyah of 1949, the community never recovered, and over the decades, the remaining families gradually left Djibouti in favor of Israel or France. Today, there are only around 50 Jews remaining in Djibouti, mostly French expatriates with Jewish origins and the native population of "just a few isolated, unaffiliated Jews." The Jewish properties were settled by the local Issa people, a modest cemetery and the grand synagogue (which was renovated into office spaces in 2012, leaving only the original outside facade) are the only two Jewish structures still standing in the country.[11]


Main article: Yibir

The Yibir, also spelled as Yibbir or Yebir, is a marginalized clan found in Somalia. They are believed to have Jewish roots, specifically tracing their heritage to the Beta Israel, also known as Ethiopian Jews. The Yibir have faced discrimination and marginalization within Somali society due to their perceived Jewish heritage.

There is limited historical evidence of the Yibir's Jewish origins, but it is believed that they may have been converts to Judaism or that Jewish traders and merchants may have intermarried with the clan. Some accounts suggest that the Yibir have preserved Jewish customs and practices, such as circumcision and kosher slaughter of animals. However, their Jewish identity has been largely kept secret for fear of persecution.

The Yibir have traditionally been associated with the practice of traditional healing and divination, which has led to further discrimination against them. They have also been marginalized economically and socially, often occupying the lowest rungs of Somali society.[12]

Bibliography and further reading


  1. ^ "Only Three Jews Remain in Somaliland; All Other Members of Community Went to Israel". Jewish Telegraph Agency. 15 August 1959.
  2. ^ "Only Three Jews Remain in Somaliland; All Other Members of Community Went to Israel". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 15 August 1949. Retrieved 2023-01-26.
  3. ^ Kobrin, Nancy. The Last Two Jews of Mogadishu Living Under Al Shabaab's Fire.
  4. ^ "Why Somalia Should Leave the Arab League". HuffPost UK. 2014-05-28. Retrieved 2023-01-26.
  5. ^ a b Kobrin, Nancy. "Ilhan Omar Controversy Where Does She Get Her Views Clarion Project". Academia.
  6. ^ "Somali president refusing to meet Israel's Netanyahu". Middle East Monitor. 2017-12-05. Retrieved 2023-01-26.
  7. ^ "Report: Somali president plans talks with parliament on possible ties with Israel | The Times of Israel". Retrieved 2023-01-26.
  8. ^ a b Ali, Aweis A. "A Brief History of Judaism in the Somali Peninsula". Africa Nazarene University (24). Ethiopian Judaism entered the Somali peninsula through Somaliland while southern Arabia Judaism entered the peninsula primarily through southern Somalia and also through Somaliland albeit with limited arrivals. While there is no strong evidence of any Somali clans embracing Judaism during the pre-Islamic era, the conversion of individuals and families cannot be ruled out. The Hebrew heritage of the marginalized Somali clans including the Yibir is an ancient one which goes back to the Beta-Israel, Ethiopian Jews. Somalis were, at least nominally, entirely Islamized by the beginning of the 16th century.1 Islam remained very shallow in the interiors of the Somali peninsula until the 1800s.2 Since 1500, no large scale of indigenous Somalis practicing a religion other than Islam has been reported. The Greater Ethiopia Influence One of the five Somali inhabited regions in the Somali peninsula is part of modern-day Ethiopia. While the population of this Somali region is a negligible 6,000,000 people compared to the overall Ethiopian population of 110,000,000, the landmass of this Somali region is about 1/3rd of the total Ethiopian landmass. It should be noted however, under its old name of Abyssinia, Ethiopia had ruled much of modern-day Somaliland, including sections of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.3 Zeila town in Somaliland was ruled by the Axumite Kingdom as early as the 900s before losing the strategic town to local Muslims and their Arab co-religionists. The Axumite
  9. ^ Mire, Sada (March 2015). "Mapping the Archaeology of Somaliland: Religion, Art, Script, Time, Urbanism, Trade and Empire". ResearchGate. University College London: 121.
  10. ^ Rouaud, Alain (1997). "Pour une histoire des Arabes de Djibouti, 1896-1977". Cahiers d'études africaines. 37 (146): 319–334. doi:10.3406/cea.1997.3516.
  11. ^ Angoulvant, Gabriel; Vignéras, Sylvain (1902). Djibouti, mer Rouge, Abyssinie. Paris. p. 415. ISBN 978-2012856394.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ "HF (Persecution - Discrimination - Yibir - Occupation - Caste) Somalia v. Secretary of State for the Home Department". United Kingdom: Asylum and Immigration Tribunal / Immigration Appellate Authority.