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Ethiopia: Unity in Divinity!

Alemayehu G Mariam

One People, One Country!

For the past two decades, Ethiopia has been the scene of crimes against humanity and crimes against nature. Now Ethiopian religious leaders say Ethiopia is the scene of crimes against divinity. Christian and Muslim leaders and followers today are standing together and locking arms to defend religious freedom and each other’s rights to freely exercise their consciences. But they face a formidable and treacherous foe who thrives on division and discord.  Not long ago, a wicked but lame attempt was made in broad daylight to spark strife and friction between Christians and Muslims. The head honcho of the ruling party in Ethiopia told his rubber stamp parliament:

At the recent Timket (baptism of Jesus, epiphany) celebrations, there was a slogan which declared, “One country, one religion.” Those who carried this slogan were few. We don’t have a constitution that says one country, one religion. The constituion says one country, diverse religions. It is evident that there are some, few as they may be, who want to have a Christian government [in Ethiopia]. These are mostly people who lack critical thinking but we believe they can be straightened out through re-education.

One cannot say all Salafis are Al Qaeda. That’s a mistake, a crime. But all Al Qaeda are Salafis. For the first time, an Al Qaeda cell has been found in Ethiopia. Most of them in Bale and Arsi. All of the members of this cell are Salafis. This is not to say all Salafis in Ethiopia are Al Qaeda members. Most of them are not. But these Salafis have been observed distorting the real teachings [of Islam]. They [Salafis] say most people in Ethiopia are Muslims. They say the official statistical reports are false. They say since most Ethiopians are Muslims, there must be an Islamic government. Such agitation is currently underway on a mass scale by these fundamentalist agitators…

Hmmm!!?? Now, who could possibly benefit from stoking the fires of fundamentalism and sectarianism and fanning the flames of religious conflict and rivalry in Ethiopia? Who could possibly be behind the alleged group barking for “one country, one religion”? Who could have possibly set up “Al Qaeda cells” in Ethiopia “for the first time” eleven years after 9/11?  Is the core problem of Ethiopia today a dispute between those who clamor for an “Islamic government” and those jabbering for a “Christian government”? Is the real question facing Ethiopia democracy vs. dictatorship or “Islamic fundamentalism” vs. “Christian fundamentalism?” Are “Al Qaeda cells” the malignant virus threatening Ethiopia’s existence? Or is the metastasizing cancer in the Ethiopian body politic one-man, one-party dictatorship?

The whole attempt to spark religious antagonism and conflict between Muslims and Christians could be overlooked as the  bizarre machinations of a warped and depraved mind but for the fact that it is the manifest strategy of the leaders of the ruling party in Ethiopia to prolong their grapple hold on power. Inflammatory and incendiary claims are made against alleged religious extremists and presented in such a way as to panic ordinary Muslims and Christians into fearing and loathing each other. “We don’t have a constitution that says one country, one religion.” The constitution says one country, diverse religions (sic!).” Why talk about what the Constitution does not say? Why not talk about what the Constitution exactly says?

Article 11 of the Ethiopian Constitution makes it crystal clear: “There shall be no state religion. The state shall not interfere in religious matters and religion shall not interfere in state affairs.”

Article 27 emphatically declares: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion by force or any other means, which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”

Does it make sense to talk about what the Constitution does not say? Only if there is an ulterior motive!

“Religion is a Personal Choice; Country is a Collective Responsibility”

There are no credible Ethiopian Christian or Muslim leaders who subscribe to, endorse or in any way promote religious or political extremism of any sort. There is no evidence that any credible religious leader of any faith in Ethiopia has ever proposed a theocratic state of one religion or another. Yet, the lunatic fringe is paraded out in public as representatives of mainstream members of the Islamic and Christian faiths. But no reasonable Ethiopian would buy the “bedtime story” about some unidentified Christian or Islamic groups establishing a theocratic state of one kind or another or Al Qaeda cells poised to take over Ethiopia. The problem in Ethiopia is dictatorship, not dogma.

At a recent joint press conference in Toronto, Canada,  leaders of the Islamic and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo faiths joined hands to show their unity  indefending the ancient monastery of Waldeba in northern Ethiopia from destruction by foreign investor commercial agricultural enterprises. The ruling regime is currently engaged in a project to convert the holy land surrounding the Waldeba monastery into a vast sugar cane planation.




At the press conference, Le’ke Kahenat Mesale Engeda, a prominent exiled prelate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Toronto, reaffirmed Christian Muslim unity and described Ethiopia’s current condition:

… Our brothers and sisters who are followers of Islam have always served to protect our country. Recorded history shows many Muslim fathers fought for and suffered in defense of our country. Muslims and Christians have lived in Ethiopia peacefully [throughout history]. When trouble rises to face the [Orthodox] Church, Muslims have risen up with us to face them. Today a Muslim leader from Toronto is standing with us. As you know, at this time in Ethiopia our Muslim brothers and sisters are facing extreme hardship… But we are all standing together…

… Our brothers and sisters who are followers of Islam have always served to protect our country. Recorded history shows many Muslim fathers fought for and suffered in defense of our country. Muslims and Christians have lived in Ethiopia peacefully [throughout history]. When trouble rises to face the [Orthodox] Church, Muslims have risen up with us to face them. Today a Muslim leader from Toronto is standing with us. As you know, at this time in Ethiopia our Muslim brothers and sisters are facing extreme hardship… But we are all standing together…

… To all members of Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church members: Do not join with the forces of darkness and whose work will not bear fruit. The great and ancient country of Ethiopia, the beacon of freedom for all Black people in the 21st Century is [facing great danger]. It is now clear to all that the  woyanes [the ruling regime] environmental program [land giveaway to foreign investors] is destroying  our Church and faith and reaching its ultimate stage. The woyanes’ terror and chaos has brought great shame to Ethiopia. Previously, the Church administration of Wedi Zenawi and Aba Gebremedhin [ruling party appointed head of the Ethiopian church] allied with the ruling regime has been the cause of church burnings, imprisonment, torture and killing of religious leaders. They have also caused the burning of Ziqulla monastery.

Now using the excuse of building a sugar factory, they are planning to destroy Waldeba monastery, which has been one of the major holy sites of faith and religion for our Church for over a thousand years. Waldeba is a historic and holy place. It is a place where learned church leaders  have come. It is a place for which our forefathers have given up their lives in its defense. So to uproot the people in Waldeba, to create commercial farms on this holy ground and to dig up the remains of the holy fathers is a great shame… People of Ethiopia! What do you think? What do you see? What is the role of Ethiopia’s religious leaders as we stand and watch Ethiopia’s churches burning and our Faith destroyed?




Hajj Mohamed Seid, a prominent Ethiopian Muslim leader in exile in Toronto, urged strong commitment to Ethiopian unity:

… As you know Ethiopia is a country that has different religions. Ethiopia is a country where Muslims and followers of the Orthodox faith have lived and loved each other throughout recorded history.  Even in our lifetimes — 50 to 60 years — we have not seen Ethiopia in so much suffering and tribulation. Religion is a private choice, but country is a collective responsibility. If there is no country, there is no religion. It is only when we have a country that we find everything. Today, Ethiopia, which has been strong in its religious faiths, has been broken up into pieces. They are trying to get Muslims and Christians to fight. They campaigned for that for a long time. But it did not work. They tried to get the Oromo to fight with the Amhara. But that did not work…. We know of only one type of Muslim in hsitory — one who honors his word. [The saying is that] when a Muslim does not stand by his word and the rain does not fall, that spells doom for the country. They have brought a new religion and are creating chaos in Ethiopia…

…As you know today is Friday. On Firday, I should be at the Mosque for prayers and not attend to secular matters. But I am here because of the situation in our country. If there is no country, it makes for a difficult time to pray and uphold religion. Churches and monasteries are respected by Muslims and Christians but Ethiopia’s foundation is religion. The [Waldeba] monastery is in a land where the pious have lived a monastic life eating the berries and leaves in the wilderness. It is not a land to be sold to China and India. Today starving people are forced to dig and shovel day and night [so that Chinese and Indian investors can profit]. This is a great shame for Ethiopians.  They [the rulers in Ethiopia] have sold the land [to foreigners] and have kept the most arable land to themselves. The money from the sale is not in our country. It is in their pockets.

…. Is there an Ethiopian generation left now? The students who enrolled in the universities are demoralized; their minds are afflicted chewing khat (a mild drug) and smoking cigarettes. They [the ruling regime] have destroyed a generation. Truly, I have never read of the history of a government or administration that commits such atrocities on its people [as the one currently in Ethiopia]. If each one of us is given a full day to tell about the suffering and tribulation of the people, it would not be enough.

What greater tyranny is there than destroying religion? Is there a greater tyranny? If religion is destroyed in Ethiopia, that means Ethiopia does not exist. The only thing that is left is the name on a map. They have divided us into 9 pieces, but our land has already been sold to foreigners. They have moved their money out of the country. They are enjoying it. Their plan for us is to fly 9 flags, remain divided into 9 pieces and shoot and kill each other. That is what they have prepared for us in their program. We must not be divided by religion or ethnicity. We have the responsibility of history to keep Ethiopia united. Our children and children’s children must not remain exiled yearning for their country.

Let’s stop and think for a moment. Have you ever read in history or seen with your own eyes a regime such as the one in Ethiopia today? Therefore, Muslims and followers of other religions must submit our supplication to the Almighty our Creator. In my days in Ethiopia, there were locusts and other parasites that invaded the land. At that time, religious leaders prayed; the Muslims to Allah; the Christians prayed in the churches and monasteries. That was a time of judgment. Therefore, we have to be strong in our faiths. We have to work with greater strength to protect and defend our country. This is our obligation. Those of us living outside Ethiopia, knowing that effort is being made to destroy the younger generation, must rise up and help to the best of our abilities. It is not only financial help. You must also give moral support. We have to confer and consult with each other. We must have our cries heard. I ask all of us to pray so that Ethiopia can survive in peace and this government will be changed.

Plural Religions, One Country!

Hajj Mohammed Seid resonated a long held sentiment among Ethiopians that “religion is a private choice, but country is a collective responsibility.” Le’ke Kahenat Mesale Engeda makes an incontrovertible statement when he said, “Muslims and Christians have lived in Ethiopia peacefully [throughout history]. When trouble rises to face the [Orthodox] Church, Muslims have risen up with us to face them.” Now trouble has risen to face both Christians and Muslims. It is trouble borne of dictatorship, despotism and tyranny. It is a mortal threat to religion and country. It can only be overcome only through unity of Ethiopians across religious, ethnic, regional and linguistic lines. The example of these two religious leaders goes a long way to show us the need and importance of continuing the religious harmony between Christians and Muslims that has persisted over centuries. It also underscores the need for greater mutual  understanding, reaffirmation of peaceful coexistence and the vital importance of resolute cooperation across religious lines to create a new Ethiopia where religious freedom is secure and every individual is free to exercise his/her conscience according to one’s faith.

The Price of Sectarian Strife

Recent events in Nigeria are instructive of the harmful consequences of religious strife. For decades, in many parts of Nigeria Christians and Muslims have lived together peacefully sharing customs and working  cooperatively in different facets of social life. Though tensions and episodic conflicts have occurred from time to time, generally there has been peaceful coexistence between adherents of the two religions in Nigeria. Over the past decade, this peaceful coexistence has been tested severely by religious fringe groups who have launched violent attacks on houses of worship, public places and government offices.  There has been much loss of innocent lives and wanton destruction of property. But Muslims and Christians often point out the fact  that what appears to be sectarian strife is actually rooted in disputes over land and rights. Unscrupulous politicians have fanned the flames of sectarian hatred and exacerbated differences for their own narrow ends. The press has been blamed for sensationalizing incidents by publishing stories that breed fear and distrust in the society. But Christian and Muslim leaders have risen up to condemn the spiraling violence perpetrated by fringe groups.  Last week, in an open letter to the federal government, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, an umbrella group for Muslim organizations in Nigeria, condemned the recent church bombings in Jos and Biu that killed three people and wounded 41.  President Goodluck Jonathan, who happens to be a Christian, says sectarianism is destructive of the Nigerian nation. His Administration’s position is that there is no “major conflict between the Christian community and Muslim community. Retaliation is not the answer, because if you retaliate, at what point will it end? Nigeria must survive as a nation.” Ethiopia must survive as a nation!

The Unity Challenge

Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia have coexisted peacefully for centuries. No doubt, that will continue. But  together they face numerous challenges imposed upon them by dictatorship. Where political leaders have failed, religious leaders could succeed. Christian and Muslim religious leaders can play a critical role in preventing conflict and in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect and collaborative working relations. They can plant the seeds of harmony, understanding, respect and love as others toil day and night to spread the seeds of hatred, discord, division, conflict and antagonism. The people need spiritual guidance to do good and act with moral probity as much as they need laws to ensure their political freedoms. When religious leaders show the way, the people will joyfully work together to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect.

In the U.S., and quite possibly in other countries, communities of faith organize “interfaith councils”. These councils bring diverse faith communities to work together to foster greater understanding and respect among people of different faiths and to address basic needs in the community. Many such councils go beyond dialogue and reflection to cooperative work in social services and implementing projects to meet community needs. They stand together to  protect religious freedom by opposing discrimination and condemning debasement of religious institutions and faiths. There is no reason why Ethiopians could not establish interfaith councils of their own.

Ethiopia’s unity challenge can be effectively addressed if we practice the basic principle: “Religion is a private choice, country is a collective responsibility.”  In fact, the centuries long peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians is based on this very principle. In practicing this principle today, it is our moral obligation to condemn and oppose religious and other forms of extremism by any group; but it is also the obligation of faith leaders, civic society organizations and human rights advocates to undertake public education  and awareness programs on the mortal dangers of such extremism.  Religious leaders in Ethiopia enjoy great trust and command the respect of the people. Where entrenched political interests promote religious antagonism, it is up to the religious leaders to preach and teach tolerance.  Ethiopia’s problems do not originate from differences in theology. Ethiopia’s problems originate from those who want to use theology as Ethiopia’s eschatology (a theology of doom)!

“Religion is a private choice, but country is a collective responsibility.”

“People of Ethiopia! What do you think? What do you see? What is the role of Ethiopia’s religious leaders as we stand and watch Ethiopia’s churches burning and our Faith destroyed?”

Unity in humanity is unity in divinity!

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: