Prayer Profile
The Somali of Yemen

[IMAGE] 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. Nearly five million live in the Republic of Somalia. 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.

In the early years of the Islamic era, the east African coast became a place of refuge for many of Mohammed's followers who were fleeing persecution. It was under the influence of these Arabians that the Somali were converted to Islam around 1550 A.D.

Today, more than 500,000 Somali live on the Arabian Peninsula of Yemen. The country is separated from Djibouti and Somalia by the Gulf of Aden on the southwest. Yemen is surprisingly fertile, with much of its land suitable for farming. Rainfall is adequate and there is very little need for irrigation.

What are their lives like?
About 55,000 Somali live in Yemen's capital city of Aden, where they form a large, stable settlement. Although the Somali can be found in a variety of occupations, the vast majority of them are merchants. A growing number of Somalian refugees have also fled to Yemen in an attempt to escape Somalia's civil war and famine.

The name, Somali, is derived from the words, "so maal," which literally mean, "Go milk a beast for yourself!" To the Somali, this is actually a rough expression of hospitality. Their society is based on the nuclear family, which consists of a husband, wife, and children. The man is the head of his household. A typical family owns a herd of sheep or goats and a few burden camels. Some may also own a herd of breeding and milking camels. The more camels a man has, the greater his prestige.

Many of the Somali who live in Aden are bilingual, speaking both Somali and Arabic, the official language of Yemen. The Somali language was without written form until 1972.

Most of the Somali in Yemen can be classified into three main groups: rural farmers, city dwellers, and nomadic shepherds. The principal crops grown by the farmers include potatoes, sorghum, dates, wheat, barley, and corn. About one-third of the country is grassland, where herds of sheep, goats, and cattle are raised. Camels are also raised and are used as a means of transportation in the rural areas.

The nomadic shepherds live in portable huts made of wooden branches covered with grass mats. They are easily collapsible so that they can be loaded on pack animals and moved along with the herds. Their diet includes milk, meat, and wild fruits. Tea is also a favorite drink.

The more settled farmers live in permanent, round huts that are six to nine feet high. They have a more varied diet, which includes grains, eggs, poultry, bananas, dates, mangoes, and coffee.

Typically, the Somali wear brightly colored cloths draped over their bodies like togas. The men may also wear kilts. Those living in Aden sometimes wear Western style clothing.

What are their beliefs?
Although the Somali are 90% Shafiite Muslims, numerous pagan beliefs and traditions have been intermingled with their Islamic practices. They achieve "ecstasy" by chanting or taking narcotics. The standard Islamic prayers are usually observed; however, Somali women have never worn the required veils.

Villagers and urban settlers frequently turn to the wadaad, a religious expert, for blessings, charms, and advice in worldly matters. They believe in a supreme male "sky god," and rainmaking rituals as well as animal sacrifices are commonly practiced.

What are their needs?
One missions agency is currently targeting this people group; however, there are still only 215 known believers among them. Christian humanitarian aid workers are needed to show them the love of Jesus in practical ways.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to raise up long term missionaries to live and work among the Somali of Yemen.
  • 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 targeting 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.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to them through dreams and visions.
  • 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 by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
the Juba Somali of Ethiopia and Somalia;
the Somali of Ethiopia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tanzania, Djibouti, and United Arab Emirates.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Somali
  • Country: Yemen
  • Their language: Somali
  • Population: (1990) 418,500
    (1995) 536,500
    (2000) 630,900
  • Largest religion: Muslims (Shafiite) 90%
    Mulsim (Hanafite) 9.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 215
  • Scriptures in their own language: Bible
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 166,500 (31%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 16,300 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 150,200 (28%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 370,000 (69%)
  • Country: Yemen
  • Population: (1990) 11,311,400
    (1995) 14,501,200
    (2000) 17,051,200
  • Major peoples in size order: Yemeni Arab 83.8%
    Indo-Pakistani 5%
    Somali 3.7%
    Mahra 2.1%
    Sudanese Arab 1.7%
  • Major religions: Muslim 99.8%
    Christian 0.1%
  • Number of denominations: 11

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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