ADDIS ABABA – Accusing their umbrella group of collaborating with the government to indoctrinate their community with Ahbashism campaign, Ethiopia’s Muslims are demanding new election to choose their religious leaders.
"They think that the committee may be terrorists," Ibrahim Hassan, a computer science teacher at the Awalia Mission School, told the Voice of America on Monday, May 21.
“They consider us terrorists, but it represents all the Muslim communities.”
Ethiopia’s Muslims have taken to the streets in the past weeks to protest government’s interference in their religious affairs.
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Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the umbrella 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.
But the government denies the accusations, describing protestors as “Salafists” who formed “Al-Qaeda cells” to peddle ideologies of intolerance.
“They said that [some] Salafists are members of al-Qaeda, but in Ethiopia all of the Muslims are not members of al-Qaeda, they are simply regular Muslims," Ibrahim said.
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 are 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 want the Ethiopian government to hold election in mosques to elect members of their umbrella body.
"It should be inside the mosques, not in the kebeles,” Ibrahim said, referring to neighborhood government halls.
Muslims warn that holding the election in government halls would open the door for manipulation and rigging.
“If it carried out in the kebeles there will be corruption, or some of the government authorities may participate,” Ibrahim said.
At the Awalia mosque, a notice is posted warning worshippers against government attempts to manipulate the ballot.
"They managed to get in through the back door before. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again," read the notice signed by a mosque committee.
Ibrahim says that the government should stop meddling into the religious affairs of Ethiopian Muslims.
“That is not fair. It is related to religion. There must not be interference of government in such tasks.”Ethiopian Muslims are estimated at 30 million, making up nearly 35 percent of the country’s 90 million population.