Persecution of Christians in Ethiopia in the light of History
March 2011, International Christian Concern is alarmed by the sudden spike in attacks on Christians in the Muslim majority areas of Ethiopia—a country with a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. Ethiopia's majority demographic are Christians (62.8%) which further underlines the urgency for an international response to the wave of anti-Christian violence.
The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council say there are factions funded by the Saudis exacerbating tensions between traditional Sufis and new Wahhabis; and between Muslims and Christians. Repressive fundamentalist Islam is spreading, testing the limits of Ethiopia's autonomous ethnic regions saying they are seeking to purify them.
In recent years, persecution of Christians in predominantly Muslim areas of the country has escalated along with the increased application of Sharia Law. In response, the government in 2008 made religious incitement and defamation criminal offences.
History of Christianity in Ethiopia
A bit of history
The country of Ethiopia is a Christian empire that has incorporated within its borders various ethnic groups of people. The Tigray in the north and the Amhara in the central highlands combine to form the Christian heartland and 45% of the country's population. The remainder of the country's population is highly diverse being composed mostly of animists and Muslims. National unity is quite fragile.
In 1974, there was a communist revolution led by Mengistu's Marxist regime. The Tigray (Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front) together with other ethnic groups fifteen years later made a successful move to oppose the collapsing retreat of communism in 1989, eventually resulting in a federalized government and a new constitution written in 1994.
The increase in self-determination, however, magnified the ethnic differences. The largest ethnic group, the Omoro, complained of the Tigray domination and wanted to secede. These ethnic tensions were then further complicated by the rise in Islamic intolerance.
(2009) A new view of Ethiopian Christianity. How the vernacular nature of the Ethiopian church played a critical role in the development of a state church.
Man, Rift Valley, southern Ethiopia
Jihad attacks and Islam on the rise
Considered a Christian majority country, these attacks in 2011 are unprecedented in Ethiopia's recent history. There have been attacks against Christians in the past but not so large a number of churches attacked and burned. One pastor explains that local law enforcement has failed to take actions to stop the violence and so Ethiopian federal authorities have dismissed at least one lcal official.
The Ethiopian church leaders report that there is a very radical Islamic movement called Kwarej. They ignore the government's laws calling for an Islamic government where Sharia is the only law they heed and, as the Muslim Brotherhood promotes, Christians and Jews are
second class citizens and tiny other religions are exterminated and believers of the other religions will be killed .
This is a philosophy that matches the Islam proclaimed in Muhammad's Medina period.
- Christian churches burned by rampaging Muslims
Destroyed: Ethiopian Christian church - At least 11 people have died and more than 50 churches, nearly 30 houses, a school and an orphanage along with other Christian-own buildings have been destroyed by rampaging Muslims in Ethiopia
Present-day attacks on Christians have escalated
- July 2010 - 80 Christians left homeless when 25 Muslims burnt down ten homes near Jimma.
- August 2010 - a Christian is arrested in the southern town of Moyale, accused by a Muslim coworker of inscribing "Jesus is Lord" on a cloth. A local imam then testifies that instead it had been written on a Qur'an. Without evidence of these charges, the Christian is sentenced to 3 years in prison. He is then transferred to Jijiga Prison which is governed according to Sharia and where his life is in jeopardy unless he converts to Islam.
- November 2010 - a Christian man is sentenced to three years in prison, after Muslim friends accused him of writing "Jesus is Lord" on the Qur'an.
- February 2011 - Christians are harassed and physically abused in Besheno by Muslims, after posting notices to convert to Islam or face death if they don't leave the city.
- 17 Christian college students stoned and beaten with rods by attackers shouting "Allah akbar!" after trying to distribute Bibles in a village.
- Muslim mobs in the south Ethiopian city of Besheno put death threats (if they don't convert to Islam or leave the city) on the doors of Christian villagers, take away church property, and beat evangelists, killing family members. Several church leaders have either left the city or been forced to convert to Islam.
- International Christian Concern reports that in Jimma Province, a Muslim majority area of the country, 69 churches (at the time of this writing), a school, an orphanage and an office have been burned and two Christians were killed and several wounded. Muslims framed Christians for allegedly desecrating a Qur'an and then started attacking. Police have not responded. 10,000 Christians have fled western Ethiopia.
- Elderly Christian leader assaulted in Asendabo, Jimma by armed Muslims who entered his house. When his grandson rushed in to intervene, the attackers turned to attacking the young man who sustained machete wounds. The family got him to a hospital 3 hours away.
- Churches and homes burnt down in by mobs in the Jimma region, leaving 10,000 people displaced, many living in the bush, in a strategically planned attack by an extremist Muslim group.
"It is only the beginning"
After these attacks in Jimma, the militants announce through loudspeakers that this attack is only the beginning and is to serve as a warning to Christians. There will be more attacks and more killed.
Unless the Ethiopian government rigorously monitors the situation in Jimma and other majority Muslim provinces, the concern is that Christians will be massacred.
Fatuma's Story of Her Visit to Heaven
Ethiopia's government is faced with the challenge to hold up their constitution and the rights it provides against the pressure of the regional Islamic courts. Islamists are seeking to take one piece of Ethiopia at a time in an effort to topple their federal government and constitution, yet the U.S. and the U.N. remain silent.
© 2011 Deidre Shelden
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