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  • Yazarın fotoğrafıEndris Mekonnen Faris

Mosques Demolished in Ethiopia

Starting from the last weeks of the month of Ramadan disturbing news about demolishing Mosques in the newly established Shaggar city, which fully surrounds Addis Ababa spiraled. In the wake of the swiftly spreading reports that alarmed Ethiopian Muslims the city administration was immediately approached by relevant Muslim authorities demanding sound explanation and stop unannounced unilateral measures. That, however, ended in unexpected and completely ignorant disregard openly threatening to pursue demolishing Mosques in the city no matter what.

The city administration intensified turning Mosques into ruins with no any due respect to the sacred properties in the Mosques. Regular prayers were not permitted to enter their respective Mosques to collect sacred and valuable materials and were all confiscated and taken away. The most painful part of this ruthless act includes the desecration of the Quran which sent Muslims’ resentment high engendering small size peaceful protests both in and around the city.

Despite the rejections of appeals Muslim leaders keep trying to reach out to officials insisting on stopping illegal demolitions of Mosques and calling for civilized discussions before things go uncontrolled. The last approach Ethiopian Muslims have undertaken in an effort to find solutions included sending formal letters to both the Oromia Regional government and the Prime Minister's Office of the federal government. With no any muchly anticipated responses Muslims faced only escalated demolishing of their Mosques leading to the erupted large size protest Ethiopian Muslims carried out across the country on Friday the 26th of May 2023. Reports have that the number of Mosques demolished reached over 20 when Muslims rallied against the illegal act for the first time with such a huge scale of gathering. While the protest remained entirely peaceful the security opened fire on the innocent crowd and killed two Ethiopian Muslims in Addis Ababa injuring several others.

The protest continued for the second time on June 2 2023 and the security killed three Ethiopian Muslims and injured dozens. Now compelled by the swelling protest so reminiscent of the 2011-2018 Ethiopian Muslim peaceful movement that led to the ousting of the TPLF dominant EPRDF government, the Oromia regional government sat with Muslim leaders for the first-ever open dialogue. The bilateral discussion resulted in a promising solution whose effect was seen in the ending of the Friday prayer on the 9th of June 2023.

The argument about Shaggar City’s Mosque Demolishing

Lately, the city administration tried to justify the unacceptable demolition claiming the illegality of the Mosques. It went on to say the Mosques are unfit for the alleged city’s masterplan and they should be removed. This goes against three sound arguments Ethiopian Muslims bring forward.

First of all, if the Mosques in the Shaggar City are being demolished because of the legal issue, then nearly all Mosques in Ethiopia will be wiped out leading to an outright deprival of Ethiopian Muslims’ right to own Mosques. Literally, no Mosque exists in Ethiopia that came into existence through the very legal procedures Churches have been built. The legalizing process of Mosques Muslims built came always later on while the Muslims use them following a cringing battle against discriminatory bureaucracy. Therefore citing illegal justifications in order to demolish Mosques is a violent extension of the same procedural discrimination and is not acceptable.

Second, Shaggar City’s measures are too ego-centric, ignorant, and violent-ridden to comprehend. Neither consultation nor deliberations preceded to persuade the Muslims. In fact, Muslims are said to be the first and the only victims suffering from the inappropriate demolishing of their Mosques. No other reports emerged yet depicting the same mistreatment of Christian citizens in Shaggar City. When Muslims raised objecting this illegal measure they were blamed for not showing support for the government’s efforts at development.

Third but not least, the authorities deafening silence and the violent response to the peaceful calls for amicable solutions forced Muslims to think the demolishing has to do with promoting a particular religion over the cleansing of Mosques. This is in line with the viral public knowledge that narrates the Oromia Region in general and the Shaggar City, in particular, are working for a purely one-religion-dominant political structure excluding Muslims. Statistics indicate that Muslims constitute the majority of the Oromo Nation in Ethiopia by far. A recently published document shows that there is no single Muslim in the entire power circle of Shaggar City. As such Ethiopian Muslims have a hard time understanding the City’s argument that claims the wiping out of Mosques in the very area has to do with fixing the masterplan.

Mosques: Key Living Manifestation of the Muslims' Oppression

Upheavals around Mosques constitute the disturbing history besetting Ethiopian Muslims. Ethiopian Muslims suffered and keep suffering from building Mosques in their country. It has never been an easy path for Ethiopian Muslims to possess Mosques. Denying lands to Muslims comprises an important tool for oppressing Ethiopian Muslims by consecutive Christian rulers who reigned the Ethiopian State. Muslims experienced all forms of harm in connection to questions they raised in order to build their Mosques. As such, a country of 120 million population whose good half are Muslims does not have a single Mosque as large as the history and grace of Ethiopian Muslims. The Grand Anwar Mosque in Addis Ababa was built during the short occupation of Italy with the leading protective role the Italians played back in the 1920s.

Christian dominant governments never permitted Muslims to build mosques in stark contrast to lavish Churches that spread abundantly with an extended size of appropriate land in and around the capital Addis Ababa as well as across entire Ethiopia.

As Muslims grew strong both in size and relative financial capacity they began building small size mosques on lands acquired either from individuals (individual properties) or bought from citizens. And then comes the most challenging procedure of legalizing them. Only in the last three to four years that a few mosques in Addis Ababa received documents that ensured their legality. The bureaucracy largely occupied by Christians work hard to make the procedure all but impossible to grant lands to build Mosques or legalize them.

The scope of the Ethiopian Muslims’ reaction

Ethiopia’s political culture reflects discourses of politics on the grounds of identity. As such, identity politics rooted in historical explanations defines Ethiopia’s existing political orientations guaranteed by the current constitution. A considerable segment of the Ethiopian polity identifies first as a group that belongs to one or the other subnational polity. It is commonplace in post-1991 Ethiopia to see a citizen who first identifies oneself first as Oromo (for example) and then Ethiopian. Some argue that this has weakened citizens' affiliation with religions. The cause of Ethiopian Muslims disproved this on a number of occasions. The Sheger City Mosque demolition appears to be a sound case in point.

Ethiopian Muslims, despite being divided on the line of a sense of nationalism, swiftly converge around a particularly common cause. This is against the relentless effort by the politicians to divide the Muslims. There was a growing call by inconsequential Oromo nationalists to separate Oromo Muslims not to object to a government of their own and the demolished Mosques do not belong to Oromos and are illegal. That failed blatantly. The scope of the reaction Ethiopian Muslims show defy expectations and remained inclusive where Oromo Ethiopian Muslims play a fairly significant role.

An Outlook: Abiy’s Government and Ethiopian Muslims’ Relationship

The prominent peaceful movement Ethiopian Muslims undertook from late 2011 to 2018 ended up bringing about the Abiy government. Upon taking office Abiy resorted to swift popular reforms which Ethiopian Muslims benefited from a lot. As such, Muslims felt the Ethiopian State’s top office had for the first time been occupied by a Muslim-friendly leader Abiy Ahmed.

It all began by releasing Muslim leaders languishing in prison for more than six years charged under terrorism laws. This was followed by a series of reforms underpinned by binding laws including legalizing the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (aka Majlis) through parliamentary declaration. This equalizes Ethiopian Muslims by law with other religious segments which was not the case until 2018. The significant change also includes allowing the operationality of interest-free finance and banking system that aims to introduce inclusive financial and economic policies whose main targets are Ethiopian Muslims. Currently, four full-fledged banks operate on the principles of an interest-free system and more than 14 other conventional banks including the biggest bank Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, do possess either branches or window systems.

Despite the ban to establish political parties on the basis of any religion, the Abiy government opened up the political sphere to all segments of societies in Ethiopia. Largely Muslim-majority regions were systematically sidelined over the last 27 years not to play a fairly equal role in Ethiopian politics. That has changed now and Muslims occupy key decision-making positions enabling them to contribute their best to their societies and the country in general.

Most importantly, the Abiy government at the Federal level maintains a political ideology that promotes Ethiopia’s true color of diversity reflected particularly in the nation’s empowerment for self-identification and self rules at the unit level.

Such constitutionally enshrined political establishment guarantees to achieve two interrelated goals. On one hand, it represents the genuine face of Ethiopia’s polity. On the other hand, it ensures the sustainability of the land’s unity as it responds positively to the very empirically sound question of the political needs of the inhabitants.

As long as the Abiy leadership, throughout its ruling term, maintains the relatively steady track of protecting and promoting the political establishment, Ethiopian Muslims try to tolerate corrigible irregularities. As such, the current resentment that emanates from Shaggar City could be seen as too little to damage the fairly positive outlook the wider Ethiopian Muslims maintain vis-à-vis Abiy.

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