Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ethiopian Muslims Protest Government Actions

Aaron Maasho of Reuters recently asked for my views on charges by Ethiopian Muslims that the government is trying to impose Al-Ahbash ideology in the country. His article titled Ethiopian Muslims Protest Government 'Interference' contains one of my comments at the end. Click here to read Aaron's piece.

I am including below my longer 1 May 2012 email response to Maasho:

From this distance [Washington], it is impossible to determine if the EPRDF government is playing a role in encouraging the Al-Ahbash ideology in Ethiopian Islam. In the past, the government has tried to stay out of religious affairs. If this policy has changed, it would be significant. But I have no evidence it has changed. For the most part, Islam in Ethiopia has been based on Sufi values. As a result, it has never been seen as a threat to the government. In fact, if you look at voting patterns in the controversial 2005 election, I believe the EPRDF did well in predominantly Muslim constituencies. The government has done a pretty good job over the years in ameliorating religious differences where there are potentially serious conflicts among Ethiopian Orthodox, Protestant (including fundamentalists and Pentecostals) and Muslims. Catholics, animists and others are too few to constitute a political bloc.

The government has been concerned for more than 15 years about the activities of Wahhabi proselytizers from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. They have funded numerous mosques in Ethiopia. In the 1990s and up until about 2005, before the Saudi Arabian government cracked down, several of the Wahhabi charities such as al-Haramain operating in the Horn of Africa had connections to terrorist groups. This activity seems to have ended in recent years. Although I am not aware that groups like al-Haramain were active in Ethiopia, they were very active in Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. Wahhabi influence in Ethiopia did result in some localized conflict between it and followers of Sufi beliefs. Many Muslims in the Oromo community have, for example, grave stones above ground that are sometimes painted in bright colors. The Wahhabi do not accept this practice and are believed to have been responsible for destroying some of them. This caused some serious tension between Sufis and Wahhabis, but to the best of my knowledge the government stayed out of it.

You can be sure that if the government believes any mosque is spreading extremism, it will take measures to end the extremism. I believe it would work through the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs rather than interact directly with the mosque. I doubt that it would push a particular Muslim ideology such as that of the Al-Ahbash group.


  1. A very good balanced comment. I mostly agreed by what you are saying

  2. Surely as it looks you don't have any clue what the government is doing right now. In the name of fighting extremism the government is working day and night to indoctrinate us with Ahbash ideology through the illegitimate council. It is creating doors to extremism in the name of fighting extremism by labeling peaceful people terrorists. Many men and women are being arrested and harassed for refusing to accept this imported ideology. We are all against extremism and terrorism but we will never accept our Mosques to be handed over to the Ahbash people and our Scholars to be arrested. The rant of the government is reaching not just to the supposed "Wahabies" but to the Sufis also. The Ethiopian sufi is far different from Ahbash and we are being forced to forsake our belief and accept them. The government's current approach is to force everyone to go only inline with this sect, but we will never accept that and this is only going to embolden the extremists, if there are any in Ethiopia, that the government wants to fight. They are following their typical dictatorial machinery to finish us. If you stand by the ideal of freedom of religioin, you will never accept the way the government is handling the situation. Salafis in Ethiopia are very peaceful and accept the Secular system in the country, but the government has such a conspiracy theory that all salafis wants shari'a and should be fought till the end. This is not helpful for security interest of the United States too. You may like the Ahbash people, but we will never accept this ideology to be imposed on us by force. They can preach in what ever they want, but we will never accept the illegal take over of our Islamic institutions and arrest of our peaceful Scholars

  3. Yes you are right that we Muslims have supported EPRDF in previous elections. Not anymore. PM Meles has clearly offended Muslims by speaking that all terrorists are Salafis who are BTW Muslims. Second, it has continued to offend us by imposing its will through the illegitimate council. No one has a problem with Ahbash, it is an ideology that will fade when it loses it support from the Council and Federal Affairs. We were only asking for the government to back off and we want to elect our own leaders through Masjids not through local government bureaus. I am sure you are well aware of all this situation. Therefore, I advise you to stop intervening in our lives. We Ethiopians have a great history of settling our own disputes our way. We do not require the support of the US or your henchmen. You should redefine your of Ethiopia. You are bewildered by history of poverty and famine BUT know that we have history of Heroes.

  4. I think due to the grey meaning of extremism dictators and governments are using to fit there interest to subjugate and illuminate ideologies and there potential "opposition" even with what they are dreaming too. In Ethiopia there is no such an extreme movement people are living side by side, honouring their religion. But there are people who don’t want to see participation of educated and religious Muslims and there increasing number. Moreover people are aware of their Islamic identity which was deprived by the former regimes especially by the emperor. At this time one of their arguments to show that there is extremism in Ethiopia, like you have said it, is there refusal to worship those dead, as grave worshipping this is a clear violation of Islamic belief and in 21st century it is difficult to imagine people are worshipping this in the name of Islam. Therefore they clear themselves from this thing and trying to educate the people from these activities. I understand some of the methodology was not as smooth as it has to be. The other argument is Muslims were celebrating epiphany and other Christiane celebration before but they are not doing at this time, so how could this reason used to label Muslims as extremist, why not the protestant is not consider like this since they were part of the celebration for generation. Therefore your reason and scale should be clear and palatable before labelling someone, which actual he is not.
    But recently devotees are trying to work for unity in the shade of the common value of Islam, and showing success as people are aware of what are the DOs and Don’ts in Islam than ever before. Therefore at this time the government want to indoctrinate Ahbash which is far from Ethiopian Muslim and distract the unity. The problem is arising here, We are peaceful.

    1. We Ethiopians lov and respect each other. God bless Ethiopia.

  5. We have the right to believe in what we think is appropriate not being told by anyone. Is it any ones' business if I believe in anything? Why does the government allow people to worship Witchcraft, wizards and other Satanic beliefs?
    For me the belief is not a concern but the interest behind it. If there are foreign elements behind the Muslim religion for their interest, I advise you to think twice.
    On the other hand, put hands off from the Protestants who never interfere in any other religion's affairs.

  6. With all due respect Mr Ambassador, you either don't have the slightest clue or you are telling us what you agreed with EPRDF to say to us.

  7. prof,Ambasader,
    I think what you are narrating is at times when you were here and you didn't follow what is going on now or you are not neutral but supporting your government or Jewish assistance of Al-Ah bash.otherwise there are plenty of written book,videos etc. for which you can have evidences the doing of government with Al-Ah-bash.
    so ,you may be obliged to see the countries once again.