Muslim Arab traders and settlers began pushing south from Egypt into northern Sudan in the seventh century. They settled into the area and began intermarrying with the local population. The Muslim traders who came to the region were generally wealthy, and marrying into their families carried with it a great deal of prestige. Over time Islam and the Arabic language also became firmly established in the north. However, Islam spread quite slowly into the interior of the Sudan, only reaching the western and central regions around the fifteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Sudan fell under the colonial domination of Egypt and Britain. It gained independence in 1954. Today about two-thirds of Sudan's population of 29 million are Muslim. Another 30 percent, most of them southerners, practice indigenous religions or Christianity.

Islam reached the rest of the Horn of Africa from across the Red Sea. The Prophet Mohammed himself encouraged a band of persecuted Muslims to flee Arabia to Ethiopia and to seek protection from Ethiopia's Christian king. By the middle of the ninth century, Arab traders and artisans had settled in trading centers along the coast of what is now Eritrea, Dijbouti and Somalia. In the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, two Arabian sheiks speeded the conversion of Somalia when they married into local families, giving rise to two of the largest clan-families in Somali today, the Darood and the Isaaq.

Ethiopia was the only African state not to be colonized in the nineteenth century, and until its monarchy was overthrown in 1974, very few non-Christians held high positions in government or the military. However, Italy ruled Eritrea from 1889 until it surrendered the province to Britain in1941. In 1952, an Eritrean government federated with Ethiopia replaced the British military administration. Eritrea rebelled against Ethiopia a few years later, finally gaining independence in 1993.

Somalia's about 7 million people are almost entirely Muslim today. The overwhelming majority are ethnic Somalis who speak the Somali language and trace their ancestry to the same ancestor, Samaale. They are divided into six large clan-families, four of them pastoral and two agricultural. Each clan-family is divided into primary lineages, which are in turn divided into secondary and sometimes tertiary lineages. Related lineages within a clan form alliances to pay and receive blood compensation for each other in the case of homicide.

Somalia was divided between Britain and Italy during the colonial period. The two parts were reunited with independence in 1960, but in the early 1990s Somalia collapsed into civil war. The northern part of Somalia formerly controlled by the British has once again established itself as an autonomous territory, while the rest of Somalia remains without a formal government. With the disintegration of the central state, the lineage system has become the country's main form of social and economic organization.

Muslims make up an estimated 40 percent of Ethiopia's population of about 64 million. Neighboring Eritrea, with a population of 4 million, is about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Tiny Djibouti, with only 638,000 people, is mostly Muslim.

Nearly all the Muslims in the Horn are Sunni, but they belong to hundreds of different ethnic groups and they speak many different languages. As they adopted Islam, they did not necessarily shed their attachment to the traditions and beliefs of their earlier religion. In much of the region, indigenous customs remain an important part of religious and cultural practice. Ethiopia, in particular, saw no Arab immigration. Its Muslim peoples do not speak Arabic and never adopted any Arab traditions related to marriage, inheritance and other customs.

Horn of Africa facts in Numbers
Infant Mortality Rate
Average Family Income
Unemployment Rate
Life in Horn of Africa

Life started working in the Horn of Africa in 2007 to provide medical supplies, equipment and medicines to hospitals in Somalia. Life continued to expand its efforts by providing emergency food and non-food items to the people suffering from drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Lack of water resources is a major problem in the Horn of Africa; Life addressed the needs of the people by digging water wells in villages in Somalia and Ethiopia.

Life also shipped higher education books to the Amoud University in Somalia and established a computer training center for Eritrean refugees in South Sudan. Life recently started constructing a primary school in Ethiopia.

Life started an income generating project in the Horn of Africa to provide poor families with a pair of milking goats, a dairy cow, a donkey or horse cart and water tankers so they can become self sustaining members of society by earning an income from the project. Life is also building small 2 room mud houses for families in need of shelter.


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