CAIRO – As tension remains high in Ethiopia over government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslim community, Ethiopian Muslims deny reports about an imminent conflict with the Christian majority.
“Muslims in Ethiopia respect our Christian brothers and sisters and are hopeful that the recent fights and violence will not lead to a larger conflict between Muslims and Christians,” a group of Muslim activists and university students calling themselves “Concerned Muslim Ethiopians” said in an e-mail to Bikyamasr website.
“We have other more important issues to deal with now in Ethiopia.”
Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past weeks over government interference in the religious affairs of Ethiopian Muslims.
Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
The government of Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Muslims also accuse the Ahbash of launching an "indoctrination program" in predominantly Muslim areas, forcing people to attend "religious training" camps or risk police interrogation and possible arrest.
But some media reports said that the current tension in Ethiopia could turn into a wider conflict between Muslims and Christians in the east African country.
“We are a group of university students and we are frustrated with much of the coverage that has been existing in the international media concerning the protests that have been taking place in our country,” the Muslim activists said.
“As Muslims living in Ethiopia we would like the world to know that we are not against Christians, but are against the government’s efforts to crackdown on our community and attempt to tell us which version of Islam we should be following.”
Muslim activists also dismissed government claims that it was battling “radicals” as a fear tactic to silence the Muslim community.
“We just want our freedom and to get the government to let us have it,” the activists said.
Security forces have attacked Muslim worshippers and mosques in the past weeks in a bid to stop ongoing protests in the country.
Last week, four Muslims were killed when Ethiopian police stormed into a mosque in the capital Addis Ababa to disrupt preparations for a city-wide program called Sadaqa (feast).
Police also tried to storm the Anwar Mosque in the west of the capital on Saturday, prompting Muslims to gather to block their way in.
A week earlier, scores of Muslims were arrested after staging protests against government interference in their religious affairs.
In April, four Muslims were also killed in clashes with police in southern Ethiopia in protest at the arrest of a Muslim preacher.
“The police have attacked and even killed Muslims at mosques for not complying with the government on our faith,” the statement said.
“This is unacceptable and we would like to bring the international attention to our situation and warn against labeling us Muslims as radical. We are not. We are simply citizens who want to practice our faith as we want.”
Founded by Ethiopian-Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, Ahbash is seen by the West as a "friendly alternative" to Wahabi ideology, which the West sees as extreme and militant.
Muslims say Ahbash imams are being brought over from Lebanon to fill the Majlis and teach Ethiopians that “Wahabis” are non-Muslims.Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia’s population.
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