Published On: Thu, May 10th, 2012

Ethiopian Muslims protest government ‘interference’

ADDIS ABABA — On the outskirts of Addis Ababa, a muezzin leads a solemn sermon at a mosque before thousands of worshippers stamp their feet to protest against what they say is the Ethiopian government’s interference in religious affairs.

Protests are uncommon in tightly-controlled Ethiopia, and the unrest has caused concern in the predominantly Christian nation that takes pride in centuries of coexistence.

The government fears hardline Islam is taking root in the Horn of Africa country, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against militant Islam in neighbouring Somalia.

“We are observing tell-tale signs of extremism. We should nip this scourge in the bud,” Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told parliament last month.

The protesters accuse Meles’ government of interfering by seeking to impose the beliefs of a little-known sect as doctrine. They say the government is promoting the Al Ahbash, an Islamic movement that opposes ultra-conservative ideology and rejects violence.

The protesters broadly say they adhere to moderate Sufi-inspired values and not the ultra-conservative Salafist interpretation of Islam.

“Call me a terrorist but I will defend my religion,” said the muezzin in his sermon, denouncing the Al Ahbash movement.

Since the beginning of the year, demonstrations have taken place on an almost weekly basis in mosques throughout the capital, and more are expected. The London-based Control Risks group said this week Ethiopia’s security forces might come down hard on any further protests, based on the government’s past responses to unrest.

Meles has dismissed claims his government is imposing the sect as an official doctrine. He said Islamic hardliners are “peddling ideologies of intolerance” throughout the country, but that it was difficult to prosecute them as they are preaching within their rights inside mosques.

Any attempt to exploit sectarian divides has the potential to destabilize Africa’s second most populous country, which is 60 percent Christian and 30 percent Muslim.


Also known as the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, Al Ahbash was founded in the early 1980s by Sheikh Abdullah al Harrari, an Ethiopian cleric who was forced to leave his country for Lebanon in 1950.

According to Abubeker Ahmed, an Ethiopian Muslim activist and head of an independent Islamic arbitration committee, the protesters are lamenting what they see as efforts to impose the sect, rather than the sect itself.

He says the appointed leadership of Ethiopia’s Islamic Affairs Supreme Council was not representative of the country’s Muslim community.

“It (Al Ahbash) has the right to exist in Ethiopia, but it is unacceptable that the Council  tries to impose it on all members of the Muslim community,” Ahmed told Reuters. He said the government wanted to prevent a vote to elect a new council and replace the decade-old one.

“They (the government) want to keep them because they agree to whatever orders,” he said.

What sparked the protests in the Ethiopian capital, activists said, was the Islamic Council’s dismissal of several teachers at the Awoliya institute – a move they said signalled the government’s determination to crack down on groups it believes poses a threat to stability. The institute’s college and an Arabic language learning centre have also been shut down.

Some demonstrators told Reuters an imam seized by police in the Oromiya region last month was arrested for attempting to whip up support for protests in the southern province. Officials say he was detained on suspicion of preaching hardline Islamic thinking.

Some protesters say the government’s strategy might backfire, sowing the seeds of the hardline Islam it seeks to keep at bay.

“We are against any sort of extremism ourselves, we want to stop such thinking,” said Ahmed Mustafa, secretary of the independent arbitration panel.

David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, applauded Meles’ track record on religious affairs.

“The government has done a pretty good job over the years in ameliorating religious differences where there are potentially serious conflicts among Orthodox, Protestant … and Muslims,” said Shinn.

By Aaron Maasho

(Editing by Richard Lough and Alessandra Rizzo)


May 10, 2012

Displaying 21 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Joe says:

    This will only backfire on the minority midget Tigray and Amhara highlanders and in the process create another Ahmed Gran.

  2. pete says:

    Such comment only enhances other peaceful religion followers concern of non-peaceful Islam followers. Joe should refrain from such short-sighted comment and acquire some wisdom before returning here to comment.

  3. daniel says:

    “We are observing tell-tale signs of extremism. We should nip this scourge in the bud,” Meles said
    But it is you who brought this situation for the sake of your power even their holidays were not on the Ethiopian calender. Many people may die but we will keep our christian island nation we know how to we have done it so many times we are not like Nigerian protestants, Ethiopian Orthodox may be patient but , if made angry ,very dangerous read history like how the Russian orthodox dismantled ottoman empire the king of Muslims.

    • bilisummaa says:

      Hi Daniel
      you can keep your Christian land in Ethiopia ( Gojam, Gonder, and Tigray) ,but not in Oromiyaa. Do you know 85% of population are Muslims in Oromiyaa. You should aware your land by now.

    • Didat says:

      Have you ever thought that Ethiopia is actually an Islamic Island? I'm sure you were intoxicated with your tella when we took over your island centuries ago! furthermore we made sure your brain is replaced with a goat brain so you have to think only about leaf! you are a total idiot who thought you can fight Muslims in general!

  4. daniel says:

    bilisummaa now we know who you are OLF hidden inside peaceful muslims in oromiya

  5. SWEDEN says:


  6. osman5 says:

    The prime minister of Ethiopia saying such a flamboyant statement (we nip the extremist in the bud) is a bit divisive. This sort of on the fly lingo might send out a signals to Ethiopian Muslim as the government of Eithiopia being anti-Muslim..
    The government of Eithiopia has he right to safeguard the national security of Ethiopia in the mean time it should be more careful to the reactions of it's diverse population and lead the way as the government of all Ethiopians regardless of religion or ethnicity.

    Osman Qaal

  7. Allemagan says:

    Mr. Masho claims the Ethiopian population is comprised of 60 percent Christian and 30 percent Muslim (this ratio does not add up to 100%) as a matter of fact. The multitudes of oppressed Muslims from Wallo province to Dollo to Danakil land in the east know that the real ratio of the Ethiopian population should rather be 30 percent Christian and 70 percent Muslim. The fall of the myth of promoting the minority Tigre and Amhara as a bulwark against the Muslim domination of the future politics of Ethiopian will not last forever. Although the ruthless Abyssinians have been able to fool the world opinion for some time about the reality of Ethiopian politics, they will not be able to fool everyone forever. Ethiopia’s demise will not be brought about by imaginary extremist evil forces and Muslim extremism but by the injustice that has existed in that land for centuries.

    By the way, do you know what the word Ahbash means? You guessed it right and the word means “Abyssinians” which is the Arabic derivative of the name of the Christian kingdom in the far northern corner of Ethiopia.

  8. Jabuutawi says:

    This link should dispel the notion that Ethiopia is a Chrisitian majority country. I would even argue that at least 55% to 60% of Ethiopians are Muslims.

  9. Kayse says:


    I'm from the Somali region of Ethiopia and I'm quiet aware of what happens there. Ethiopians are not the abusers nor the once that committed and continue to carry out the genocides, they are Ogadens oppressing their own. Ask Omar Iley and his Ali Yusuf…if you are Reer Abdulle in his eyes your an ONLF and your village will be burnt to the ground.

    The Ethiopians are more educated and tolerant. Those Ogaden thugs (Liyuu police) have stopped me and tried to kidnap me but guess what? Their big boss, a Tigray actually laughed at them and asked them what they wanted from me? Apparently because I was from "overseas"….wallah, the Tigray man said to them "so what, there are millions of Ethiopians living abroad"…they are nomads with old ak47s and macaawis around their shoulders (jeenqaar).

    I dealt with those lawless thugs, they have no clue about the outside world, they went from camel herding to carrying a gun for the "government" and really in their minds believe the way they behave is how governments operate….very laughable.

    I appreciate my Tigray and Amhara friends. Let the Ogadens deal with their own, you know how to play your cards very well and you have my support.

    Most Ethiopians have at least finished high school while the Somalis in Somali Region almost all herd camels from dawn to dusk. They are very ignorant and have no chance against Ethiopians and Ethiopia.

    I know this because I was there just last year in October.

    People like Allemagan live in fairytale land. ONLF is also defeated by Reer I.s.a.a.q—big war between Ogadens…the Ethiopians administer towns and keep to themselves…they do not interfere in religion affairs, etc as long as everyone is peaceful like them.

    Where I went, Islam is thriving, small dusty towns with more than 10 mosques each….timo weyn, suufism, salafists, etc, all there…

  10. mohamed cheers says:

    So those ogaden thugs(Liyuu Police) tried to kidnap you..poor Kayse hehe from overseas!
    What a great story to tell. Am happy they didn't devour you cuz if they did you wouldn't be talking
    now. Typical Kayse lol

  11. Allemagan says:

    If you ever wonder why Ethiopia annexed and occupied Somali territory in the first place, see Calub & Hilala Fields and see the number of gas exploration blocks in the region

  12. Ayuush says:



    Have you ever asked yrself whoever put Abdi Ileys and his ilk there in the first place, isn't it the t he peace loving Ethiopians??? that is how they work these days, they keep their animosity games behind the scenes, and they use stupid people like Abdi Ileys.

    In my opinion, speaking from the Somali muslim side, Allemagans argument is correct, but speaking from the Christian Ethiopian side Kayse side is correct.

    Anyway is this a Ethiopian site with a Somali name, or what??????

  13. Solomon says:

    As long as i know in tigray for example only less than 2 percent are muslims but you don't have any idea how the sky is the limit to their rights how they are respected and treated well by thier Christian brothers. Also don't forget had the king Negash of tigray never existed there would never be Muslims in the world

    • Ayuush says:

      Very true, about King Negashi, he was a good King, as Allah revealed to Prophet Mohamed (SAW), but remember the King was a mere tool being used by our creator, who has the ability to use any human, jinn as he pleases, ask yourself, how was it possible for the good King, who was the head of a very large Christian, fallasha, and pagan society, to adopt a new religion, if it was not for the will of Allah. Therefore, Islam would not have entered Ethiopia if it wasn't for the King, does not make sense, because these matters are in the hands of our creator.

      If Muslims in Ethiopia limits and rights, are as high as the 'sky', why the commotion, we are hearing about? The truth of the matter is Meles Zenawi is so frightened of Islam, because it is the only element that could deprive him of the special priveleges he is receiving from his masters, the West.

  14. notme says:

    Islam is not the will of men, I think history has proved that already. All men who assisted Islam are respected once but yet not there will. Negashi (all mercy of the almighty on him) is no different. But the question is where is "Aksum" located, Analyze the situation of muslims on that area and you will get your answer. But again you already know. I ask my lord to lead as all in his path.

  15. mustefe says:

    ….. islam is a religion of peace /allah wakber/ …. i ve please we ll never let u take our peace … we ll 4 it.

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