ADDIS ABABA — Defying government threats, Ethiopian Muslim have vowed to continue their protests against the “Ahbashism Campaign” instigated by the government and “Majlis”.
“Call me a terrorist but I will defend my religion,” a muezzin in a mosque at the outskirts of Addis Ababa said in his sermon, denouncing the Al Ahbash movement, Reuters reported.
Over the past few weeks, Muslim protests have been causing concern in the predominantly Christian nation that takes pride in centuries of coexistence.
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Thousands of Muslims have protested against the government’s oppression of their community, accusing it of spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Majlis to indoctrinate Muslims with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
Protesters were further infuriated when Ethiopian police shot dead seven Muslims in Assasa town in Arsi province of Oromiya regional state two weeks ago.
Witnesses say the Muslim victims fell when Ethiopian security forces surrounded a mosque to arrest Sheikh Su’ud Aman on accusations of prompting “terrorist” ideology.
Scores of people were also reportedly injured in the incident.
Observers said the brutal killing of innocent people in Assasa town has fueled tension between the government and the Muslim community.
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.
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.
Ethiopian Muslim activists confirmed that protesters reject any government interference or trial to impose Ahbashism ideology on their society.
“It (Al Ahbash) has the right to exist in Ethiopia, but it is unacceptable that the Council tries to impose it on all members of the Muslim community,” Abubeker Ahmed, an Ethiopian Muslim activist and head of an independent Islamic arbitration committee, told Reuters.
He said the government wanted to prevent a vote to elect a new council and replace the decade-old one.
He added that the appointed leadership of Ethiopia’s Islamic Affairs Supreme Council was not representative of the country’s Muslim community.
“They (the government) want to keep them because they agree to whatever orders,” he said.
Rejecting the government claims that hardline Islam was taking root in the Horn of Africa country, some protesters say the government’s strategy might backfire, sowing the seeds of the hardline Islam it seeks to keep at bay.
“We are against any sort of extremism ourselves,” said Ahmed Mustafa, secretary of the independent arbitration panel.
“We want to stop such thinking.”
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is home to 60 percent Christian and about 34 percent Muslim, according to CIA factbook.