Reconciliation and Tolerance: the way forward in Ethiopia By Bahir Kemal

January 18th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopia is not only a cultural and linguistic mosaic, but it is also a country with the three ancient religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

When it comes to religion and ethnicity more care has to be taken due to the delicacy of both issues and the sensitivity of people who belong or are member of a certain religion or ethnic group. It does not mean we have to try to be perfect in discussing both issues. Avoiding discussion on both subjects leads to more complication which will result into mistrust between members of the deferent groups.

The renowned Spanish novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We, Ethiopians, have to learn from our history for our future existence as a country by correcting mistakes made in the past.

Religion is one of the main parts of Ethiopian history. Especially, Islam has been part of our history from beginning of the time of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Ethiopia was first country in the world other than Arabia (Mecca) where Muslims settled.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instructed his followers (Sahaba) which includes members of his family to seek refuge in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to avoid prosecution from Mecca Kuraysh tribe. He told them to go to Ethiopia, where they would “find a king there who does not wrong anyone.” After their arrival they were welcomed by the then King Negash ( Ashama ibn Abjar). The king gave them refuge and protection and refused the requests of the Quraysh clan to send them back to Arabia. It was the first hijra (migration) in Islamic history before the second hijra (Migration) from Mecca to Median from which Islamic Calendar begun.

Barakah Umm Ayman who accompanied the prophet (PBUH) from his birth to his death was an Ethiopian. She considered as step mother of the Prophet (PBUH) after the death of his parents. Bilal ibn Rabah, one of the most trusted and loyal companions of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the first Muadhdhin or the caller to prayer, was an Ethiopian.

The city of Harar, according to UNESCO, is “considered ‘the fourth holy city’ of Islam,” with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines. These are main historic events and reality in the Islamic history of Ethiopia and no other country has other than present Saudi Arabia where Islamic revelation revealed.

Of course there were few events which had different interpretation and damaged relation between Islam and Christianity in the country. The so called Ahmad Grang syndrome of the Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi expansion (16th Century) which led to unnecessary discrimination of the whole Ethiopian Muslims by the past governments is one example. When fascist Italian invaded Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941, it used divide and rule policy, similar to the current government of TPLF, by creating animosity between deferent ethnic and religion groups by systematically fevering one at the expense of the others. Italians especially used discrimination imposed on Ethiopian Muslims by government of the time to their advantage.

For example, to neutralize the patriotism of few Muslims and to seek support from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Italians allowed some space for religious “freedom” such as by opening few Madrasas (Islamic school), and allowing more number of pilgrimages to Mecca (Haj). However after Italian invaders was chased out from our country this favoritism was exaggerated by governing elites and smear propaganda was spread through Christian community to isolate Muslims painting them as being traitors which resulted in making life difficult for the Ethiopian Muslims community up to being called “Muslims living in Ethiopia” by the same elites. The real traitors (Banda) were not limited to any religion or ethnicity.

Despite all hardships and discrimination by governing elites propaganda Ethiopian Muslims have played and are playing important role in the advancement of our country and lived and are living side by side with the rest of the countrymen without any hostilities up to now. Tolerance and reconciliation were and still are part of the culture of our society. These are part of our history and heritage which we have to proud of as Ethiopian in general and as Muslims in particular. However, they have not been used since TPLF government took power.

TPLF government is doing its homework since its existence as organization to dismantle Ethiopia with poisonous revenge politic originated from hate policy of the organization and its leader Meles Zenawi. TPLF used divide and rule policy as a perfect tactic to achieve its goal for the past 20 years. The tactic failed beyond little psychological influence here and there in the country since the beginning of existence of the organization as a government which resulted in human loses in different part of the country. There is no more evidence than historical OLF change of its political program for the failure of TPLF divisive tactic based on ethnicity. At this time TPLF left with only two cards to play, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

The involvement of TPLF government in religious matter was not new. From the day one the main task of the TPLF was shaping all Ethiopian institutions the way it can be easy to manipulate. Religious institutions, especially the mains religions Christian, Islam and Judaism, are one of its nightmares due to that it was not as easy as ethnic card to play with. Any how, Meles managed to some extent to manipulate few religious leaders to suppress the voice of the majority of their followers. It is evident that Meles sending out his force in full to silence all his opponents by libeling them with bogus name – terrorist or fundamentalist to stay on power untill his last day. For sure there are no more terrorists in Ethiopia than state sponsored terrorism; no more fundamentalists than the government which doesn’t believe in any religion, a government inhuman and led by emotionally exhausted and morally bankrupt dictator who is trying to create bogus fundamentals for its own internal and external consumption.

There is no denial that TPLF managed to create tensions between two peace loving Christians and Muslim communities using few individuals and groups led by its cadres as we witnessed in Jimma and recently in Silte area. Ironically this time, TPLF deepening its involvement in religious matter especially in Muslim affair as far as telling as which brunch to follow, while the difference between many branches tolerated by its own leaders and followers. All four schools of thoughts of Islam (Madhabs) followers lived in the country without an issue for centuries, let alone fighting on the branches of the religion. So, why now?

Of course there are few illiterates victim of TPLF hiden agenda & opportunist individuals who are using it to their advantage by weakening the tolerance and peace loving of Ethiopian Muslim community which exists since Islamic revelation.

As known to every one as a dictator Mr . Meles wants to become the only one regarding any brunch professionin Ethiopia, now he is working on his “theology” to save himself and his party from doomsday as “a leader” of all religions. The main function of any government should be to enforce laws, legislate new once and arbitrate conflicts, not creating conflicts intersociety to cling on power. One can wonder if Mr. Meles is aware of existence of article 11 ‘separation of state and religion’ & and article 27 freedom of religion, believe and opinion’ in the “Ethiopian constitution”.

Dictators do not need majority support to stay on power instead they need support of business , labor union the military, the policy, religious organization, organized crime, or the extremely wealthy. They also need support of western country to keep flow of aid money for their oppression by being “Valuable friend”. That is what Mr.Meles doing to stay on power, manipulating to get their support. Wouldn’t be for their support he won’t stay at where he is now for a single day. For that we do not need more evidence than 2005 general election in which Ethiopian people spoken.

When the Prophet (PBUH) said to his follower “find a king there who does not wrong anyone” at first Hijra( migration) it indicates that Ethiopian was land of justice & a land where freedom of religion was respected.
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We have to claim back Ethiopia that respect equality, justice for all, human right and tolerance. By recognizing the past dole we have to build the future on reconciliation. Attempting to forward on revenge instead of reconciliation and torelance by siding unelected dictatorial government can’t lead us any where. We have to learn from our past history as Ethiopian in general and as Muslim in particular and stand side by side with majority of population fight for justice, equality and freedom. Only then we will pursue what we believe in as free human being.
As John C. Maxwell (Author) said “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them”. We have to admit past mistakes and correct them for the last solution to avoid being used by those who shed crocodile tears.

Despite all odds in the past we lived together for centuries in tolerance waiting for right moment to come. The right moment is now as it was not pre TPLF or post TPLF. Tel them (TPLF) that we do not want a government that interferes in our religious affair, a government that pocks for conflict to divert attention from real issue,luck of justice & human right, and a government that fear mongering to divide citizens to stay on power. We, Ethiopians, have to unite to get our real freedom not the bogus one.
“…There is no compulsion in religion…” (Quran 2:256.)

Allah the Almighty Bless Ethiopia and Ethiopians

The writer can be reached at bahirk@hotmail.com

  1. Buna
    | #1

    Thank you Ato Bahir! We need to hear more from our Muslim brothers and sisters. I have learned a new things about the history of Islam in Ethiopia from your article!

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