Rising Religious Tensions In Ethiopia
By: Denkinesh Argaw
Ethiopia has been home to Christians since the 4th century, making it the second oldest Christian nation. Around 615, Muhammad’s Muslim followers in Arabia fled to Ethiopia seeking sanctuary from persecution where the Christian king of Ethiopia welcomed and protected the Muslims seeking refugee. This is how Muslims came to be in Ethiopia. Today, 14 centuries later, when Islam has become an integral part of Ethiopian culture and accounts for 1/3 of the population, the seeds planted so long ago between Muhammed and the welcoming king have bore fruits not so sweet.
Relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been perfect historically, but for the most part they have coexisted peacefully for many, many years in Ethiopia. In recent times, this hasn’t been the case. On November 24, 2014, according to Pastor Zemach Tadesse, the 30-year-old senior pastor of the church Y Semay Birihan Church, or Heaven’s Light Church, was demolished last week by Shenkore district police in the heavily Islamic city of Harar. Just days before the destruction, officials forcibly removed the church’s exterior sign and warned believers not to worship there due to complaints by a local Muslim and were told not to gather under what remains of the church building.
To top it off, the Christian leaders who protested against the destruction were illegally detained until outraged community members called for their release. Pastor Zemach Tadesse, his wife Aster Tadesse, and village council member Yosefe Hailemariam were among the illegally detained for photographing the destroyed church.
These occurrences are nothing new. In 2011, after a Christian was accused of desecrating a Koran, thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes when Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian home. At least one Christian was killed, many injured, and anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 displaced.
Not too long from that incident, in a nearby town that is 90% Muslim, all the Christians in the city woke up to find notes on their doors warning them to convert to Islam, leave the city or face death.
In a country with Christians (Orthodox and Pentecostal) dominating the population by 62% and Muslims by 34%, this is not acceptable. Are the radical Islamic ideologies from the Middle East traversing into Ethiopia? Is this just an Ethiopian issue or will we see this spread throughout Africa over time? Rising tension between the religions is beginning to wreak havoc across Ethiopia. Can Christians and Muslims continue to coexist in Ethiopia?.