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Updated Apr 3, 2020

Somalian authorities have begun to work with Muslim clerics to create what they call an “anti-corona army”. Using the public trust in religious leaders, the government is encouraging imams to use minaret speakers to broadcast information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The inclusion of religious characteristics in the government’s public health initiative is doubly important in a country where large swaths of territory are controlled or terrorized by the violent jihadist group al-Shabab. In areas where they exercise some level of governance, al-Shabab has warned Somalians against COVID-19, claiming it is a virus deliberately spread “by the crusader forces who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them”.

Madrassas—schools for Islamic religious instruction—have been shut down and prayer in mosques is discouraged to prevent infection. Imams, teachers, and public health officials will all be included in the anti-corona army, which will help to monitor Somalians and talk to them about handwashing and social distancing. Other myths that are circulating is that the pandemic is a divine punishment on China for the Communist Party of China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur population, or on the United States over its treatment of Muslims.


Why It Matters

Misinformation may be the second-biggest crisis during this pandemic. Around the world, false information about prevention, symptoms, and cures risk millions of lives. Worse are those who use misinformation to personally enrich themselves with fake “miracle cures”. For affected countries like Somalia, already battling a persistent terrorist threat, the dangers of rumors and myths surrounding COVID-19 are multiplied. For religious communities in Africa and elsewhere, coordination with religious institutions and figures will be essential to ensure public health information is received and, more importantly, trusted.

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