Posted by: Lister | May 14, 2007

Dese and Jima

When Muslims were persecuted in Mecca, Mohammed sent some of them to Ethipia since it was ruled by a Christian king under whom “no man was wronged!”

wiki quotes contradictory statistics on how many Muslims live in Ethiopia — a third of the population to more than half. The WPost says about half in this article: Ethiopians Fear for Their Interfaith Oasis.

After violence in Jima, lasting several days and killing 19, burning 5 churches and 600 houses… A video was distributed with the heading “Look at what they are doing to us”….

The rumors followed: The next religious battleground would be Dese, a long, narrow city of a thousand rusted roofs situated in a crevice in the grassy Tossa mountains.

In many ways, Dese is a hodgepodge of a place, where streets are framed by arched doorways built by Arab traders, striped awnings hung by Italian occupiers, and boxy lacquered mini-malls with cafes where large-screen TVs are tuned to al-Jazeera and Randy Travis songs occasionally drift out of open doors.

Above all, though, Dese is a symbol of Ethiopia’s peaceful religious intermingling, a characteristic that is found to varying degrees across a country where nationalism or ethnicity or even devotion to soccer tends to trump religious fervor.

For centuries, Muslims and Christians here have lived in the same neighborhoods, celebrated each other’s holidays, intermarried and blended religions with indigenous beliefs. Relationships are cemented through such Ethiopian institutions as the idir — groups of neighbors, often religiously mixed, that raise money to pay for funerals.

In Dese, it is easy to find someone like Zinet Hassen, a Muslim woman wearing a long, black burqa who said, nonchalantly: “My uncle converted to Christianity but there was no stigma.”

It is a kind of coexistence that has endured despite the fact that Orthodox Christians have historically had the upper hand in Ethiopia, politically and economically. In the 1880s, for instance, Muslims in Dese were forced to convert to Christianity, an edict the emperor issued as a means of consolidating power.

Under the socialist Dergue government of the 1970s and ’80s, religious expression was discouraged, and it became difficult to acquire land to build churches and mosques. The situation changed dramatically when Meles took power in 1991 and lifted those sorts of restrictions.

Since then, mosques have been springing up across the country, many funded by Saudi or Yemeni financiers, along with a kind of competition with the Orthodox church, and to some extent, evangelical Christian churches, which receive funding from U.S. religious groups.

[…] Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the competition has been heightened as a strain of more fundamentalist Islam has woven through Ethiopian society and, in Dese, taken hold in some mosques. One mosque in the city now barricades the area at prayer time. Some young men have begun growing their beards long, and more young women are wearing burqas, sights that were once rare.

Imam Omar Adam, for instance, complained that a man was ridiculed by some Muslims for worshiping trees, which is forbidden by Islam.

Even some idirs have separated along religious lines. And here and there, friendships have fallen apart.

Helen Alebachew, a Christian, said she and a Muslim woman grew up playing at each other’s houses but hardly even look at each other anymore.

[…] And so when the violence erupted in Jima last October, the news arrived in Dese amid a changing atmosphere.

With rumors swirling, the mayor — whose first name, Jemal, is Muslim and last name, Kassahun, is Christian — called a meeting of the city’s religious leaders, including a Muslim sheik who has a Christian uncle, and a Christian pastor who has a Muslim grandfather.

“There were these confused people, Christian-to-Muslim converts, who tried to instigate people,” the sheik, Hadji Mustafa Mohammed, said about the rumormongers. “But we took measures and brought it to a halt.”

The leaders agreed that the violence in Jima must have been the fault of outsiders, or motivated by an Ethiopian political group trying to use religion to destabilize the area, which a government investigation also concluded.

Via Progressive Muslima




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