“Fighting for the right to freely practice you religion is not terrorism”
Ever since the beginning of the movement, we’ve organised our protests at mosques. They have never turned violent – all our rallies are peaceful.The protest movement began with a group of students from Awoliya mosque school, where they were made to learn from an al-Ahbash curriculum. They were quickly supported by a majority of Muslims in Addis Ababa. We’re asking for a new “majlis”. We feel that the present council does not represent all Muslims in Ethiopia because they were not elected to their positions. For us, they will always be government puppets. In other parts of the country, Muslims have even set up their own councils because they refuse to be led by the state’s “majlis”.We’re not asking that al-Ahbash ideology be banned. Every Muslim has the right to practice their faith in the way they see fit. What we don’t want is that this one belief system be imposed on all of us, because some believe it promotes heretical ideas.A crowd of protesters outside the Anawar mosque on July 15. Photo by our Observer, Aman.“Our leaders are watched and harassed by the police”As our movement grew over time, the government’s attitude toward us also changed. We named leaders to head up negotiations, who were watched and harassed by the police on several occasions. [Last April, an imam from the region of Oromia was detained by the police. According to many in the Muslim community, this was due to his support for the protest movement. The government, meanwhile, accused him of preaching radical Islam.] Young activists have also been detained and physically abused, and a woman from my neighbourhood was beaten by security forces and left for dead in another part of the city.“The government systematically uses the threat of terrorism as a weapon against its opponents”About a month ago, state television began broadcasting new programmes on peace and tolerance among Ethiopia’s different religious communities. The overall message was that the sense of cohabitation and acceptance that has always characterised Ethiopia is now threatened by extremism in all its forms, in particular by Muslims from the Awoliya mosque. The government now systematically uses the threat of terrorism as a weapon against its opponents. The moment someone doesn’t conform with the government’s political line, they are labeled a terrorist. Fighting for the right to freely practice your religion is not terrorism. We should not be treated like terrorists!Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia have always lived side by side. Even Christians recognise that all of this is government propaganda. We have always been neighbours, friends and often members of the same family because of inter-religious marriages. I have two aunts and an uncle who are married to Christians. I think the government hopes to ensure its own survival by trying to divide us.