Ethiopia: “Islamic extremism has been growing,” and now churches are being burned down all over the country

Coincidence? Maybe. But “Islamic extremism has been growing in Ethiopia and has been a concern for many analysts in the region. Money from the Gulf region has been pouring into the country building mosques, [Islamic] schools, and introducing the Wahabi form of Islam to Ethiopian Muslims since the early 2000s.”

What is likely to happen when a community that believes that Christianity is a false religion and that they are commanded to fight unbelievers so that Allah may punish them by the hands of the believers (cf. Qur’an 9:14-15) comes into significant money?

“Uptick in church burnings raises alarm in Ethiopia,” by James Jeffrey, GlobalPost, September 16, 2019:

Churches belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) are being burned to the ground throughout Ethiopia — one of the world’s most religious countries, where about 98% of Ethiopians claim a religious affiliation. Church members have also reportedly been killed while trying to protect their churches.

These incidents of arson and murder come at a time when tensions between the country’s ethnic groups — including Oromo, Amhara and Tigrayan — are already high. Since the end of 2015, Oromo people have protested against land encroachment by the government, while the Amhara people have protested over regional integrity threats by their Tigrayan neighbors.

The government and EOTC leaders met recently in a series of hurried meetings to discuss the uptick in threats to the EOTC in the face of huge protests planned in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Sept. 15, 2019, to speak out against the attacks. Authorities did not permit demonstrations in the capital but protesters turned out in massive numbers in Gondar, and other cities.

Since July 2018, about 30 churches have been attacked, mainly in eastern and southern Ethiopia, with more than half of them burned to the ground, according to the Amhara Professional Union (APU), a United States-based diaspora organization that has attempted to track events.

In August 2018, an estimated 10 churches were burned in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region, resulting in 29 deaths, including of 8 priests. This March and April, another two churches were attacked in the Somali region’s capital, Jijiga, resulting in 12 deaths.

In July, five churches were attacked with three torched in the southern Sidama zone — killing three people.

“There have been at least 15 churches that were attacked, three of which were completely burned down,” says Nathan Johnson, Africa regional manager for International Christian Concern, a US-based nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights of Christians and religious minorities around the world. “I have only confirmed two cases in which priests have been killed in Ethiopia this year. It is likely that this number is higher, though, as there are major tensions in the country.”

The attacks, occurring across a wide geographic spread, have gone largely under-investigated and under-reported, leaving some church members to feel that the Ethiopian government has turned a blind eye to the uptick in church attacks over the last year….

“Ethiopia cannot afford a religious conflict at a time when its very survival is [already in] question,” says Tewodrose Tirfe, with the Amhara Association of America, another United States-based organization representing the diaspora’s Amhara ethnic group….

…attacks on Christians have occurred regularly since the 1990s, with a spate of attacks in 2011 — hence concerns that the increase in church burnings since 2018, especially those that occurred in the predominantly Muslim Somali region — could indicate the influence of Islamic extremism.

“Islamic extremism has been growing in Ethiopia and has been a concern for many analysts in the region,” Tirfe says. “Money from the Gulf region has been pouring into the country building mosques, [Islamic] schools, and introducing the Wahabi form of Islam to Ethiopian Muslims since the early 2000s.”

Wahhabism, a more strict and conservative Islamic doctrine and religious movement, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has made inroads in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region in the past few years.

But others note it’s important not to overemphasize the potential influence of Islamic extremism in a highly complex situation.

“Orthodox Christian churches were not the only properties targeted, and nor were Orthodox Christians the only groups who suffered,” Davison says. “Instead, government buildings, hotels and other commercial properties have also been attacked, as were numerous ethnicities, and presumably followers of different faiths. The targeting of Orthodox churches may therefore not necessarily reflect a dangerous rise in religious sectarianism.”…

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