The Culture of Accommodation and Tolerance: Islam and Christianity in Ethiopia
Wondwosen Teshome B. (Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna) and Jerusalem Negash W. (Äthiopisch-Österreichische Frauensolidarität, Vienna)
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Ethiopia’s history has been marked by mutual respect and tolerance between Christianity and Islam except a brief, but major conflict in the 16th century, and other minor incidents in the last ten years. The two main religions in Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity and Islam have co-existed since the time of Prophet Mohammed. Christianity became the official religion of Ethiopia in the 4th Century A.D., and Islam had come to Ethiopia at the beginning of the 7th Century A.D, when band of persecuted Muslims fled to northern Ethiopia from Arabia. The persecuted Muslims got a safe have in Christian Ethiopia and remained there until their country was peaceful enough to return. In the latter years, Ethiopia maintained its’ direct contact with the Muslim world through trade. Through time, many Muslim settlements emerged in Ethiopia, mainly along the trade routes. At present, Ethiopia’s population is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Moreover, one of the holiest cities of Muslims, Harrar, is found in the eastern part of Ethiopia.
The successive governments of Ethiopia had been promoting this accommodation and had resisted the politicization of religion in the country, contributing for the survival of the nation despite its poverty and the presence of more than 80 ethnic groups with different languages and various ethnic clashes. For the last many centuries, the primary focus of both Christian and Muslim Ethiopians was maintaining the nation’s independence and territorial integrity.
The paper tries to investigate how Christianity and Islam were introduced into Ethiopia and examines their past and present relations in the context of the current situation in the world.
In this paper, examples of both aspects of relations (peaceful coexistence and conflicts) will be critically examined. The paper recommends that broad and thorough investigation has to be conducted to fully understand the core of this tolerant culture and the contributions of the largely peaceful, Christian–Islam relation in Ethiopia so that it could be an example for the rest of the world, which at present is threatened by the so-called “clash of civilizations” particularly after the incident of Sep. 11, 2001.