In a move that appears designed to extort Western money and support in the name of fighting extremism, the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is inflaming the Muslim population that has largely been moderate and peaceful.
Police on Friday killed five protesters, including an elderly scholar, in Assasa town in central Ethiopia in the ongoing Ethiopian Muslim “anti-Ahbashism” protests that have spanned 13 weeks. In the Ethiopian capital on Friday, the major mosques of Addis Ababa and the streets were taken by a wave of protesters that chanted: “We want our rights! Stop Ahbashism campaign! Allahu Akbar!!”
The protestors strongly denounced the continued government interference in the religious affairs and said, “We must elect our religious leaders by ourselves. The current leaders of council of Islamic Affairs should be brought to justice for what they were doing on the Muslim society”. The Ahbashism campaign was aimed at enforcing the Muslims to accept the belief of a new sect called “Ahbash”.
The number Muslims protesting against the government orchestrated Ahbashism campaign is increasing from time to time. The small protest started at “Aweliya Mosque” three months ago has spread beyond Addis Ababa and reached towns like Dessie, Dire Dawa, Harar, Shashemene, Assela, Gondar, Alaba, Baddessa, Assasa, Chagni etc. Haji Abdurahman Sadiq and Mr. Kemal Nuri, two community leaders living in Addis Ababa, say “All what you see is a result of a long time oppression of Ethiopian Muslims. The government proclaimed in its constitution that it has no right to intervene in our religious affairs. At start, it has allowed Muslims to preach freely, to publish Islamic books, to build Islamic schools etc. We were hopeful then and thought that we were beginning a new era. But as time elapsed, the government started to oppress our people brutally. We face a big bureaucratic challenge whenever we demand to build our mosques. Our children couldn’t express their faith freely in government owned colleges and universities. Muslim charity organizations are falsely accused of expanding ‘Wahhabism’ and closed down. The leadership of the Majlis didn’t say anything when these illegal measures were hurting the Muslim society,” pointing to the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs in Ethiopia.
All parts of the Muslim society, including women and children, have participated in the Friday protests. Viewers say the recent speech made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had aggravated the tension between Ethiopian Muslims and the government. The rigid stance of the government was highly criticized by Muslim members of the ruling EPRDF party when they gathered for a training on religious tolerance and development. However, the government authorities said the critiques came from misconceptions and they launched more training programs in rural districts.
FFIVE MUSLIMS KILLED IN ASSASA TOWN, ARSI PROVINCE
Meanwhile, five Muslims are reportedly killed on Friday by Federal Police Security Forces in Assasa town in Arsi province of Oromiya regional state. The incident happened when the security forces surrounded a mosque and tried to arrest Sheikh Su’ud Aman, a well-respected Muslim scholar of the town on accusations of promoting terrorist ideology. When all people in the area opposed the arrest of Sheikh Su’ud, the securities opened fire and killed five people. Sources add that many others are wounded. An old man called Sheikh Kedir is among the dead.
The religious leaders of the town ask, “What wrong did we do? How dare they open fire in our mosque? Isn’t this disrespecting our faith? They killed five innocent civilians and wounded many others. Sheikh Su’ud was a well-respected scholar of our town. He was serving the community for many years and taught hundreds of people. Nobody can suspect him of teaching terrorism ideology. He only refused to participate on the training arranged by Ahbash faction in Shashemene town last week. That may be the reason for which he was accused as ‘teacher of terrorist ideology’”.
The tragic news has spread to the whole of the country and caused a huge rage. The leading religious scholars of Ethiopia are planning to meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss a country-wide prosecution of Muslims.
In his recent speech to the Ethiopian Parliament, Meles was heard saying: “We caught an Al-Qaida cell in the provinces of Arsi and Bale. All of those whom we caught are adherents of Salafi School. This can justify that at least some Salfis of our country are promoting an Al-Qaida type ideology and work to topple the state by force. However, we can’t say all Ethiopian Salfis are members of Al-Qaida”.
However, many scholars and commentators say Meles fabricated this claim in order to silence the Muslims and all others who demand their right. They add, “Ethiopian Muslims have asked to only to give their right to elect the leadership of their Majlis and to stop imposing the ideology of the Ahbash on the mass. Nobody has asked a political power. No one was heard promoting an establishment of a state lead by Shari’a law. The government should stop terrorizing Muslims by bringing a nightmare of Al-Qaida to our country”.
WHY DO ETHIOPIAN MUSLIMS PROTEST?
Witnesses says that the current protests are part of an ongoing resistance movement of Ethiopian Muslims who react against a plan of the government to indoctrinate them with the ideology of Ahbash faction. Founded by an Ethiopian born Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harari Al-Habashi in 1983, Ahbash preaches that the “Wahhabi” are non-Muslims and must be combated. Thus, the western nations see Ahbash as their friendly ally than the so called “Militant Wahhabi” school. The faction is represented by an organization called “Association of Islamic Charitable Project”. The Ethiopian origin of the founding scholar of the faction gave it the name “Ahbash” (the “Abyssinians”, derived from “Habasha”- the Arabic name of Ethiopia)
Ahbash claims to follow the Shafi’i school of law, one of the four canonically accepted schools in Sunni Islam. It sees itself as the propagator of the true creed of “Ahlu Sunna” (Sunni Islam) which was canonized according to the teaching of Imam Abul Hassan Al-Ash’ari (9-10th Century). However, the claim of Ahbash was rejected by well-known Islamic institutions including Al-Azhar University, the most celebrated school in the Sunni world. Further, both Sunni and Shi’a religious leaders have warned against Ahbash mainly due to its “takfir” (apostasy) edicts and extreme alliance with the West.
The Ethiopian government put the “Majlis” (Higher Council of Islamic Affairs) under the leadership of Ahbash scholars three years ago. In July 2011, the two parties together started a massive campaign of training and promoting the Ahbash ideology through government-owned media. To lead the trainings, more than 200 Ahbash scholars were brought from Beirut, Lebanon, where the headquarter of the faction was located. The campaign was called “Ahbashism” by the mass of Ethiopian Muslims. Some of the trainees say that the Ahbash scholars have went to an extent of ordering them to submit to Islam in a new form. The trainees add the Ahbash scholars was justifying that practice by saying “Since the beliefs of Ethiopian Muslims was being spoiled by “Wahhabi ideology” in the last three decades, it is too hard for them to say ‘I am a Muslim’ unless they reject Wahhabism”.
Haji Abdurahman and Mr. Nuri, the aforementioned community leaders, say “Beginning from the heartbreaking repression measure taken on Muslims in 1995 when they denounced a pro-government Majlis leadership of that time, we were enduring high oppression. But we faced the ugliest of all oppressions in this year. We are asked to accept the beliefs of Ahbash or face prosecution. Our imams are being arrested for refusing to accept the Ahbash ideology. The problem is very serious in rural areas where the media can’t reach. The government has already broken the rule of the law”.
The claim of these community leaders is supported by many viewers. They say that the government has gone against the constitution of the country by favoring one faction and alienating the majority. They add also that both Ethiopian Muslims and Christians have never been accused of religious extremism although the successive governments were highly oppressing the Muslims. This view is rejected by Dr. Shiferaw Teklemariam, the Ethiopian Minister for Federal Affairs, who recently spoke in government owned TV and Radio that all those who accuse the government of oppressing Muslims are the “Wahhabis” who have no tolerance to live with the Sufi Muslims and Christians. He said “We support the Majlis while it was training Muslim scholars on the constitution of the country. We work together with Majlis to eradicate religious extremism from the country. But that doesn’t mean interference in religions.”
Haji Abdurahman and Mr. Nuri say the government’s claim is false. They say “This is their usual propaganda. None of us opposes the government if it were truly seeking to teach about the constitution. It was the Minister of the Federal Affairs who officially inaugurated the Ahbashism campaign nine months ago. He said on the spot that the government has allocated over 11,000,000 Ethiopian Birr in support of the campaign. In all of his media appearances, he praises the Ahbash philosophy and condemns the ‘Wahhabi’ ideology. In one of the stages, he told us that the government officially recorded ‘Wahhabiya’ as an extremist sect and works to eradicate it from the country. Few years ago, they were terrifying us in the name of Khawarija. Now they echo about ‘Wahhabiyya”.
THE FUTURE WAY
Many Ethiopian Muslim scholars say the government is taking the country to a very troublesome situation. “The Ahbash faction”, they explain “is a well-known extremist group in the Muslim world. There is no peace where this deviant sect has reached. Its pro-west stance doesn’t mean it can tolerate other religious groups. In addition to its deviance, it teaches that stealing and looting of the properties of non-Muslims are lawful practices. If it is left on the leadership of the Majlis, we fear it may create a big tension between Ethiopian Christian and Muslim peoples. We ask the government to hear our voice urgently”.
The Muslim scholars’ fear is also shared by many political commentators who say “The government of EPRDF has planned to leap the country to a developed nation. But it can’t go too far by neglecting the voice of the mass. Religious extremism has never been the problem of our country. It is only some shortsighted advisers of the government who proposed the importation of a controversial faction of Ahbash to combat what they called ‘Wahhabism’. So it is highly essential for the government if it thinks for a while and revises its ill planned Ahbashism Campaign”.
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