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Persecution of Christians in Ethiopia in the light of History

Updated on June 6, 2015
Ms Dee profile image

Deidre has a Masters in applied linguistics and translation for her 20 years overseas, then she worked as a certified provider of the MBTI®.

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.

The Evangelical Movement in Ethiopia: Resistance and Resilience (Studies In World Christianity)
The Evangelical Movement in Ethiopia: Resistance and Resilience (Studies In World Christianity)

(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

By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World
By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World | Source

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.

A markerJimma, ethiopia -
Jimma, Ethiopia
get directions

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.

March 2011

  • 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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    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      A great point, World Viewr! I go with the line that extreme Islam is not a religion but a political crusade. They are deceived by their leaders to kill for such reasons. Encouraged that you found this so informative--thank you for your comment :)

    • profile image

      World Viewr 6 years ago

      This is such a very informative and enlightening article. I can't understand why people kill because of religion. Nobody could monopolize salvation and those narrow minded fanatics have no right to hurt others just because of intolerance. Kudos to you Ms. Dee.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Good to hear from you 2besure and good point that they will find refuge in Israel. I wonder if that is where the Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria will now go, too.

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      What ever happened to live and let live? I know these Ethopian Christian are being rescued every day and sent to Israel. Their worship is closer to OT Jews than Christianity. They are beautiful people.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Good to have your comment, mslizzee. Yes, I think that is part of it. From what I gather, Iran is behind the unrest. I bet they are even stirring the Muslim Brotherhood to unrest - first starting it in Egypt. They have even said so, to hasten the coming of their Mahdi. They can count on the U.S. not stepping in to stop them, now.

    • mslizzee profile image

      elizabeth 6 years ago from Buncombe County, NC

      Radical Muslims seem to be more empowered than ever. Do you suppose that has something to do with the weak leadership they see in America? Good article.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comment, Simone! How nice to see you were able to stop by :) History sure helps to understand how unusual these attacks are in Ethiopia's experience.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Nicely done; I appreciate your incorporation of history into the discussion.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Very good to have your comment, Jisblessed!

    • Jisblessed profile image

      Jisblessed 6 years ago

      We need to be kept informed and aware. Thanks, good hub.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hi lifegate! Yes, I certainly have. When I served overseas and came back to the U.S. for visits to explain what we were doing overseas, it sure was tough. It was really rare to cross paths with someone who truly wanted to understand what we were doing and what it is like for people 'over there'.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 6 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Ms Dee, What's even sadder is that while these terrible things are happening. We here in America sit in our family "palaces" and don't even so much as offer a prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering. Something's wrong. Have you noticed?

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hi there, JD! So good to have your reminder here of the many Muslims turning to Christ. Christianity is also reported to be expanding more worldwide far and above Islam. God is working out his plan! Thanks so much for your comment :)

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 6 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Oh, sister Dee ~ it's so good you have written about these things in the various places in the world, so we can pray more specifically! May we also pray for our own nation, as the rise of Islamic threat continues. The encouraging thing you and I have seen in our research and communication, however, is that there are multiple Muslims turning to Christ Jesus as Lord here in the U.S. We don't war against flesh and blood and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Prayer is powerful and we can come boldly before the throne ~ God wills that we pray, and He will accomplish His will on earth as it is in heaven. God bless you, sister.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comment, einron, from your personal experience! Amen, they absolutely need our continued prayers. Actually, I did live in a Muslim country for about 19 years (with furloughs to the U.S.), so I know some of which you speak--sadly.

    • einron profile image

      einron 6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

      Thank you for writing this hub. If you have not lived in a Muslim country, you would not know what it is like. We need to pray for the Lord to act on behalf of the poor Christians.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      That's what I have come to find is the case, Hyphenbird. Good to hear from you and this confirming comment.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Most people have no idea about the persecutions Christians endure in this world. Voice Of The Martyrs is a wonderfdul organization and a voice for the persecuted church. Thank you for bringing this to the eye of the public!

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comment and vote, Pamela! Yes, it is overwhelming to look at as I read what little I can about what is happening.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      This is a heart breaking situation. Christians are being attacked in so many countries. This is an excellent article and information. Voted/ rated up.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hello, mquee! You aren't the only one who hasn't been hearing about this. The major media is not reporting it, so I'm doing a series of hubs about the current rise in persecution. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    • mquee profile image

      mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

      This is somewhat of a learning experience for me. I had no idea that these acts of violence were taking place. It is truly sad that these things are happening during these times. Thanks for informing.