- By Muhammad Al-Hashimi, First Hijrah
Count One. The Ethiopian government, at the very least, is in violation of the Ethiopian Constitution. We have the following from the Ethiopian Constitution under Article 11, Separation of State and Religion: 1. State and religion are separate. 2. There shall be no state religion. 3. The state shall not interfere in religious matters and religion shall not interfere in state affairs [italics added].
Count Two. The government apparently is showing its complete, unadulterated contempt for Ethiopian Muslims by inviting an Israeli Zionist to help in its nefarious project. As Muslims the world over know, the Zionists of Israel have been involved in the systematic ethnic cleansing, indeed the uninhibited genocide, of the predominately Muslim people of Palestine for more than half a century. Furthermore, the racist Zionist project has as part of its satanic agenda to destroy Masjid Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest religious site in the Islamic world.
Count Three. Most egregious of all is the bold face audacity to think that Muslims anywhere, let alone in Ethiopia, can be dictated to about how to practice their religion. The first revelation, indeed command, to The Prophet Muhammad (the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was to read in the name of Allah, The Master of all creation. This fundamental command was meant for every Muslim to study and learn to the maximum extent of his or her intellectual capacity the religion in all of its intricacies with a free mind and free will in order to arrive at a level of unassailable certainty as to the veracity of the teachings of Islam. Furthermore, it has been recorded in The Generous Qur’an, the exact revealed words of Allah, the Creator, to his Prophet Muhammad there is no compulsion of any kind in religion. But the Ethiopian government seems to be hell bent on compelling the Muslims of Ethiopia to believe in a way that has been chosen by the government for the Muslims. How ludicrous and yet how dangerous! The Ethiopian government apparently is asking for disaster. The Ethiopian government is apparently ready to court its own demise. The Muslims of Ethiopia, particularly the youth, are not going to sit idly by in the face of this horrendous insult.
Who are the Ahbash?
The teachings of the Al-Ahbash (“the Ethiopians”) movement, also known as the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, is a movement based in Lebanon yet ironically founded by an Ethiopian shaykh, now deceased, by the name of Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Hirari ash-Shi’bi al-Abdari, also known as al-Habashi. (Thus, it appears that “Al-Ahbash” is a corruption of “Al-Habashi.”) It is a movement that devoutly follows the teachings of the late shaykh. By the late 1980s, the Ahbash had become one of Lebanon’s largest Islamic movements. The Ahbash became a key player in Lebanese politics attracting a wide following among the Sunni urban middle class by advocating pluralism and tolerance. The Ahbash has established branches in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the Ukraine, and the United States.
However, this organization, on which the Ethiopian government is basing its assault on the Ethiopian Muslims, has a reputation for being an organization that espouses teachings that are clearly outside of the fundamental teachings of Islam, the most egregious of which is the policy of referring to those who call themselves “Salafi” or “Wahabi”—often referred to as “Salafi-Wahabi” because of the similarity between the two doctrines— as kufar, or non-believers, in Islam. This is clearly an unIslamic teaching on the part of the Ahbash. Indeed, every Muslim knows that it is prohibited to call any Muslim a non-believer if he or she bares witness that there is no god but Allah and that the The Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the prophet of Allah, prays the five daily prayers, pays the zakat, fasts during the month of Ramadan, and makes holy Pilgrimage to Makka if financially able. The Salafi-Wahabi are no different from other Muslims in this respect.
Why the Government has Called in the Ahbash
Now, it is very clear that it is this particular anti-Salafi, anti-Wahabi teaching of the Ahbash that the Ethiopian government is most desirous of forcing down the throats of Ethiopian Muslims. And they apparently feel that the Ahbash have the expertise to do just that! Here is the crux of the issue: the Ethiopian government has determined that the followers of the Salafi-Wahhabi doctrine in Ethiopia are a threat to the stability of the government and the country. The Ethiopian government apparently fears the Salafi-Wahhabi activities, perhaps due to the high profile international exposure of Al-Qaeda, an allegedly Salafi-Wahhabi group. However, the international context of Al-Qaeda is much different from the national context of the Ethiopian Muslims.
The national context in Ethiopia of the Salafi-Wahhabi doctrine is the same as it is in other nations—predominately Muslim or otherwise—one among other distinguishable doctrines of Islamic law and practice. These other doctrines—or schools—of Islamic law include the Hanafi, the Hanbali, the Ibadi, the Jafari, the Maliki, the Shafi’i, the Zahiri, and the Zaydi schools of Islamic law. The Salafi-Wahhabi are among the members of the global Muslim community who have among them known, respected scholars. And they are, in any nation—predominately Muslim or otherwise—a part of the law abiding citizenry. So, it is in Ethiopia: the Salafi-Wahabi practitioners are a law abiding, hard working minority in a Muslim population that mostly follows the teachings of Imam Shafi and who, therefore, belong to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence. So, this national context, this national reality of the Muslim community in Ethiopia, has to be understood for what it actually is. But it is the international context of Al-Qaeda and their reported unIslamic implementation of Salafi-Wahhabi teachings that the Ethiopian government is using as a pretext to justify imposing—by force of government degree and threat of imprisonment—the Abash doctrine, a doctrine which articulates an anti-Salafi-Wahhabi position.
The 21 November Protest Against the Ahbash Mandate
As I pointed out earlier, the foregoing developments began to manifest in Ethiopia as early as July of 2011. In the meantime, Ethiopian Muslims in the diaspora have not been sitting still. For example, The First Hijrah Foundation (FHF), an organization of Ethiopian Muslims in the Washington, DC, area, called for a protest in the US capitol of Washington, DC, in support of the suffering Ethiopian Muslims back home. On 21 November, FHF organized one thousand Ethiopian Muslims and supporters and staged a protest in front of the US State Department demanding that the US government cut support through foreign aid to the Ethiopian Government given that it is clearly in violation of the civil rights of half of its 80,000,000 people.
One of the members of the First Hijrah Board of Directors, Zenith Muhammad, who was present at the protest, said that the Ahbash intruders are forcibly taking Ethiopian Muslims to their indoctrination camps to brainwash them to accept the Ahbash practices of Islam. She says that this indoctrination includes teaching the abductees that being a Salafi or a Wahabi means being a disbeliever in Islam. These Ahbash intruders are even going to the devilish extent, she says, of forcing Muslims to take the shahada again, implying that they were not Muslims until the Ahbash were invited to Ethiopia to brainwash them! The FHF protest started around 9 A.M. and ended around 1:00 P.M. after the protesters made the Dhur Prayer (early afternoon prayer).
Some Recent Developments
This past December, 2011, I was able to get some information about recent developments with regard to the Ahbash from a reliable source in Ethiopia. According to this source, the Abash have already started printing books and other materials to spread their poisonous doctrine. There is even discussion going on that the Ahbash will be getting land to build schools and even a university to facilitate the entrenchment of their indoctrination program. Furthermore, it is being reported that part of the Ahbash strategy is to approach the more vulnerable segments of Ethiopian Muslim society such as the orphans and the homeless, promising them jobs and education if they join with the Ahbash movement.
The source also points out that the Ahbash are meeting stiff resistance to their indoctrination program from the Oromo—the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia—in the towns and country side of the Oromo region. The Oromo, who have historically been victimized by previous Ethiopian regimes, instinctively stand strong against any government decree they perceive as threatening their culture and religion as they wish to practice them. Furthermore, it has been reported that in the capitol city Addis Ababa, there are at least three mosques—Shaho Jeli Mosque, Kera Mosque, and Ayartena Mosque—where the Ahbash are being stiffly resisted from spreading there poison. However, several other mosques in the capitol are allowing the Ahbash to speak, apparently unwilling to invite possible repercussions form the government . It has also been reported that some Muslim NGOs are being closed down by the government under the pretext that they are involved in religious activities counter to the Ahbash mandate rather than being purely humanitarian or developmental in their activities.
At the other end of the spectrum, it is being reported that at least one very wealthy Harari Muslim is supporting the government sponsored Ahbash. This may be partly due to the fact that the founder of the Lebanon-based Ahbash movement was himself a Harari Muslim, the late Shaykh Abdullah Al-Harari. The nisba “Al-Harari” means one who is from the Muslim city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia. The city of Harar is generally regarded to be the stronghold city of the ethnic Harari—also known as the “Adere”—although it is inhabited by other ethnic groups, including the Oromo and Somali.
In addition to the problems with the Ahbash movement, the Ethiopian government announced in October of 2011—just four months after the Ahbash movement had been invited to Ethiopia to disrupt the lives of the peace loving Muslims—the opening of an airbase in Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia to facilitate the launching of drones in the Horn of Africa as if the drone air base in Djibouti is not enough! Although the Ethiopian government announced that the drones of Arba Minch would only be used for surveillance, any intelligent person who follows global geopolitical events on a regular basis knows, in a word, that this announcement is pure crap! It will not be long, if not already taking place, before the drones coming out of Arba Minch will be used to kill hundreds of innocent Muslims in the Horn—in the Ethiopian Ogaden, in Somalia, in Kenya—in the name of fighting “Islamic terrorists” and “Islamic fundamentalists.” And there is no doubt in my mind that the American and Israeli governments are financing all of this mayhem—both in its Ahbash and Arba Minch dimensions—against the Muslims!
The Issue of Islamic Banking in Ethiopia
There is another troubling issue that has not gotten much press, but in fact may be a window to what is really going on behind the scenes in Ethiopia at the highest levels. I refer here to issue of bringing Islamic banking to Ethiopia. I am fairly close to this issue because I have been actively involved for the past six years with individuals in Ethiopia trying to bring some form of Islamic financial intermediation. Being known for my activism on this issue, I was invited to a luncheon in the summer of 2010 on one of my regular visits to Ethiopia by some of the individuals who were trying to form the first Islamic bank in Ethiopia, the Zamzam Bank.
At the luncheon, I was told about an earlier meeting between officials of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) and representatives of the proposed Zamzam Bank. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi himself was in attendance at the meeting. The Zamzam representatives put forth their proposal and rationale for Islamic banking. The NBE officials put forth their arguments against allowing for Islamic banking in Ethiopia. Meles, who had been listening attentively and patiently to the two sides, finally got up from his seat and directed the NBE officials to craft a new proclamation allowing for Islamic Banking. He then left the room.
Of course, the Zamzam representatives were quite happy with the outcome. The government proclamation, Proclamation 592/2008, declared for the implementation of “interest free banking.” Apparently, those who drafted the proclamation just could not bring themselves to use the term “Islamic banking” in the wording of the proclamation.
That Prime Minister Meles took the action he did should not be surprising. This is because Meles is a very astute political economist. Even the Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, has attested to the acumen of Prime Minister Meles in the field of economics. As such, Meles is very well aware of the track record Islamic banking has had around the world. He understands that it would bring over time a significant boost to the Ethiopian economy. That is why he personally backed the call for Islamic banking.
Now, here is the rub, the really strange thing that occurred right in the midst of the Ahbash controversy and the implementation of the drones at Arba Minch: The National Bank of Ethiopia rescinded the Proclamation calling for interest free banking by issuing a directive that took affect on 1 October 2011! The directive nullifies full-fledged non-interest banking by stating that only “Islamic banking windows” will be allowed in the already existing conventional banks of Ethiopia. This is a crushing blow for Zamzam Bank which had been busy raising start-up capital through investment shares. Apparently, they will have to refund these shares as they will not be able to open as a free standing Islamic bank.
Where was Meles in all of this? Why was he not able to stop this new directive from being implemented? Is there some kind of power struggle going on between the mostly Tigrean government of Prime Minister Meles and the National Bank of Ethiopia, dominated at the level of control and power by the mostly Amhara monarchists who are, for the most part, Christian fundamentalists of the Orthodox Coptic rite?
Positive Economic Development under Meles Zenawi
I raise these questions because under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I have watched Ethiopia grow and prosper. More to the point, the economic growth in Ethiopia has been rather substantial. This fact alone has fostered a positive psychological attitude among Ethiopians, both Christian and Muslim, that there is hope for the future. The Muslims have seen a steady growth in the number of mosques all over the country. There has been an increase in the availability and proliferation of Islamic literature. I can remember that during my first visit to Ethiopia in 1980, under the Mengistu regime, I had a hard time finding Islamic literature anywhere in Addis Ababa, the capitol. However, in more recent times, the availability of Islamic literature has increased quite substantially. In short, Ethiopian Muslims have felt more a part of Ethiopian society under the current regime than in any time in the past. The Ahbash debacle threatens to bring this feeling of inclusiveness to a crashing end!
Even now, when much of the western world is experiencing a severe economic slow down due to the global debt crisis, Ethiopia is enjoying substantial growth in its gross domestic product. Surely, there still remains much work to be done with regard to the distribution of national income through social welfare programs and entitlements; far too many Ethiopians are suffering in abject poverty. Nevertheless, when one stands back and takes a panoramic perspective of Ethiopian political history over the past 200 years, you will not find any political entity under which more has been accomplished than under the regime of Ato Meles Zenawi. So, why would Meles risk the positive attributes of his tenure—particularly with regard to the improvement in the national economy and the increased inclusion of the Muslim populace in national activity—to enter into this current phase of horrendous negativity?
Federalists versus Monarchists
Every Ethiopian Muslim—and many honest Ethiopian Christians for that matter—know that all of the important institutions in Ethiopia—in finance, in business, in industry—are controlled by certain fanatical fundamentalists of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Christian Church. This same group is also known as monarchists; they look back with nostalgia to “the good old days” of the rule of Emperor Haile Sellasie. I know what I am talking about because I have run up against their brick wall on more than one occasion in my interactions with them when trying to take care of my own business in Ethiopia. If the truth be known, these fanatical Christian fundamentalists, the ones who are often behind the scenes and in control, do not want to see Ethiopian Muslims even with the crumbs from the loaf of bread of wealth and prosperity let alone equitably sharing in the loaf of bread itself!
The monarchists have opposed Meles Zenawi and his government mainly because Ato Meles has reorganized the country of Ethiopia into a federal system. In the case of Ethiopia, this means that the status of the major ethnic groups—the Oromo, the Afar, the Somali, etc.—has been raised to a state level where these groups control and run their states according to the limits of the Federal constitution. This means that, for example, the Oromo language becomes the official language in the Oromo federal state. It means, as another example, that Islamic culture can take a more prominent place in the official order of things in those federal states where the majority are adherents of Islam, such as the Harari federal state. This enfranchisement of non-Amhara ethnic groups is what the monarchists hate with a passion. It seriously diminishes the hegemony that the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Christians enjoyed under the monarchy.
This poison of Christian fundamentalists in Ethiopia broke out in the open for the world to see in the summer of 2005 during the campaigns—both inside and outside of Ethiopia—of the CUD, the so-called Coalition for Unity and Democracy, when during their protests and campaigns, they flaunted the Lion of Judah flag of the old Ethiopian monarchy, chanting incessantly “one nation, one language, one flag, and one religion” that one religion ostensibly being the religion of the former Ethiopian monarchy, the religion of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Christian Church! In other words, unity and democracy for the CUD meant a desire to take the nation backwards to the days when Muslims officially did not even exist in the eyes of the Coptic Orthodox Christian monarchy.
It must be understood that not too very long ago, less than 40 years as matter of fact, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Rite was the official religion of Ethiopia. In fact, the late Emperor Haile Selassie, the protector of the Orthodox Church in his capacity as absolute monarch, was known to have said when asked about the condition of the Ethiopian Muslims that there were, in reality, no such thing as “Ethiopian” Muslims because all Muslims in Ethiopia were, in fact, foreigners! This response was in line with the emperor’s propaganda that Ethiopia was a Christian country surrounded by a sea of Muslims. The pitiful thing is that you will find Christians of Ethiopia who will tell you this same fiction to your face today, right now!
A Possible Hypothesis to Explain it All
My hypothesis, in light of the foregoing, is that Meles was unable to stop the NBE directive. This is because the Ahbash debacle and the Arba Minch move may very well imply the resurgence of the monarchist faction that has always been opposed to the Meles Zenawi government. Quite simply, I see American support behind Arba Minch and American-Israeli support behind the Ahbash. The Ethiopian monarchist faction saw and seized an opportunity to reassert itself politically. They may have readily collaborated with the Americans and the Israelis, forcing Meles into a corner to go along with their anti-Muslim agenda. In short, that fundamentalist Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Christian element in the circles of power in Ethiopia—that fanatical holdover from the days of Emperor Haile Selassie—has finally found a convenient tool—the Abash doctrine—and a convenient scapegoat—the activities of Al-Qaeda—to do what it has wanted to do for a long time: stifle the wholesome growth and development of the Muslim community in Ethiopia! Thus, it very well may be that the fanatical Ethiopian Christian power structure has been more than willing to act as accomplices and facilitators in the American-Israeli agenda against the Ethiopian Muslims! Indeed, the screws are tightening around the Muslims of Ethiopia in particular and the Muslims of the Horn of African in general.
Of course, the foregoing hypothesis may be all wrong. It may be that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is himself at the center of this three-pronged pincer movement—i.e., the Ahbash, Arba Minch, and anti-Islamic banking attack—against the Muslim community of Ethiopia. It may be that he is an incredible opportunist who decided to take the substantial monetary largesse that surely the Americans and the Israelis offered him to realize their own geopolitical interests in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. If so, it will mean his fall from grace in the eyes of the Muslim community, at least half—40 million people—of Ethiopia’s population. Indeed, Allah knows best!
The Way Ahead
The Muslims of Ethiopia—whether Maliki, Hanafi, Hanbali, Salafi, Shafi’i, Zahiri, Zaydi, or Wahabi—will have to tighten their ranks and stand together as Muslims. There are dark days ahead, but if the Muslims stand together purely and solely as Muslims, there is no doubt that they will be successful, for such has been the promise of Allah in His Generous Qur’an. Furthermore, I am also convinced that the youth among the Muslims—those under 35 years of age—will be the leaders. Believe me, there are many learned Muslim youth in Ethiopia these days. They have the knowledge and the youthful stamina to lead an “Ethiopian Spring” against the tyranny that stands in front of them.