Islam and poetry have been described as the twin pillars of Somali culture. Over 99% of Somalis are Muslim, mostly Sunni Muslim; a small minority is Christian, both Anglican and Roman Catholic. Despite the influence of religion on daily life and culture, many Somalis are not strict adherents of their faith, but follow only some of the more important rites.

Muslims recognize one God, Allah, and Muhammad as his prophet. Muhammad is believed to be the last in a line of prophets that included Abraham, Moses and Jesus. In 610 AD, Muhammed introduced Islam to the city of Mecca. His revelations are contained in the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an or Koran. Muhammed’s other teachings were recorded by his followers and are known as the hadith (tradition). Muslims follow the five pillars of the Islamic faith: professing the faith; saying daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alms to the poor and religious scholars; and, if possible, going on one hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.

Prior to adopting Islam, Somalis followed a belief system that included folklore and reverence for ancestors. Elements of this spirituality still thrive in Somali culture. Clan members offer ceremonies, gifts and prayers to ancestors in the hope that they will protect the living. In addition, clan leaders are often revered as people who have baraka, which confers the ability to bless or curse.

Like many Muslims, Somalis believe in various kinds of spirits. Jinn and zar are evil spirits who cause mental and physical illnesses, which can be treated by a wadaad. Certain people can also cause harm by the "evil eye" and by casting curses. The spirit of a helpless person who has been injured may enter the injurer and have to be exorcised.

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Both traditional and hospital treatments commonly involve using the Koran, the sacred text for Muslims. Sometimes patients wear healing amulets that contain Koranic verses written on small pieces of paper; in hospitals, families may read the Koran to a sick relation.