(From August 2011-January 2012)
By Ubah Abdusalam Seid
In the last six months, The Ethiopian Supreme Council for Islamic
Affairs (in short called “Majlis”) is trying its best to mold all of the Muslim
citizens of Ethiopia according to the beliefs and doctrines of a newly arriving
politico-religious faction called “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects”
but whom the public know as “Ahbash” (the “Abyssinians”, a term denoting
Ethiopia where Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harari, the founder of the faction, was
born). The campaign of enforcing the new belief on Muslims, called “Ahbashism” by the citizens, is supported by
the government of Ethiopia. Both parties (the Majlis and the government) claim
that “The new campaign is undertaken to eradicate religious extremism from the
country which a radical Islamist movement called ‘Wahhabiyya’ was sowing in
every direction for more than a decade”.
The wide majority (over 85%) of the Ethiopian Muslims believe the
Ahbsashism campaign to be unconstitutional and illegal blow aimed at
suppressing their religious rights. Since they see the beliefs of Al-Ahbash as
a deviant and heretical one which can never fit the thoughts of the true
beliefs of Sunni Islam, they were resisting it in all possible ways.
In this short essay, I deal with the backgrounds of the Ahbashism
campaign taking place in the country, the features of the campaign, and the
resistance of the Muslim population. In my presentation, I tried to be free of
bias and subjectivity. However, in any case, all of the thoughts and
descriptions discussed here express my view only.
of the Campaign
The Ahbashism campaign is an extension of the works carried out by the
past Majlis leadership. Most of the Muslims are aware that the Majlis lead by
persons like Elias Redman was performing to its maximum to revive the ritual
activity of shrine visiting which was highly prevalent in Ethiopia before two
decades but diminished by the awakening efforts of young Muslim preachers who
taught such act was a “shirk” (polytheistic). To this end, the old “Majlis”
undertook many projects aimed at rehabilitation of infamous shrines (eg. that
of Sheikh Hussen in Bale). The Majlis believed those projects could empower the
old Islamic cult and its followers, and it would expose and silence opponents
like the “Wahhabi” sect (the term in which the proponents of old Islamic cult
call any Muslim who opposes their non-Islamic actions like shrine veneration).
Elias Redman’s amazing letter written to USA embassy in Addis Ababa (the
financer of the projects) shows that the Majlis was going to wipe up those who
were “Wahhabi” and the Wahhabi ideology itself. Accordingly, the Majlis is one
of the main parties who collaborated in designing the current Ahbashism
On the other hand, the USA was so concerned about the changes in the
Muslims attitude and practice of Islam. And it thought that the source of this
change is a growing influence of “Wahhabism”. According to the analysis of one
US cable released by wikilieaks, the source of the growing wave of “Wahhabism”
was the Gulf Region. It further stated that the finance to construct new
“Wahhabi” mosques and madrasa was coming from the oil rich Wahhabi dominated
gulf countries. They reason US linked all of the awakening efforts in the
Muslim society to external influence (in her word “Wahhabism”) is unclear. But
the way she analyzed her claim was very poor. For example, in the same cable
released by wikileaks, US diplomats thought that all Muslim women who wear
“niqab” (face-veil) are influenced by the “Wahhabism” of the gulf region. But
this is very far from being the truth. (click the following links to get acess
to the wikileaks cables http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09ADDISABABA1674.html
Why USA was so concerned is evident. We know that since the tragic
incident of September 11/2001, USA has been saying the source of extremism in
the Muslim world is the “Wahhabi” version of Islam which is emanating from
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. So it’s pressuring all Arab and Islamic
governments, clerics, groups etc to suppress the movements, teaching sessions
and institutions thought to be influenced by the so called “Wahhabiyya”. One
way of doing this is cultivating, reinforcing and institutionalizing groups
like Ahbash who have fierce enmity with the “Wahhabi” sect. So according to my
thought, USA is another force which has big role in designing and financing the
Ahbashism campaign currently being implemented in Ethiopia.
The third big collaborator is the Ethiopian government. Why the
government involved in designing and implementation of the campaign can be
viewed in five ways. First, it might be carrying out the order it received from
USA which asserts “Wahhabism should be reduced at everywhere”. Second, it may
have feared that the growing share of Muslims in schools, local administrations
and the business and commerce would lead them to demand equal share in all
aspects and the total de-marginalization of the Muslim society. Third, the
priestly oriented and radical orthodox authorities in the government might had
thought that “Wahhabism” is influencing the Ethiopian Muslims to resist the
supremacy of Christianity, something that hadn’t been a case in the so called
“Christian Island” for many centuries. Fourth, certain personalities who are
taken as the distinguished experts of the geo-politics of the horn of Africa
may have warned the Ethiopian government about the threat it faced by
“Wahhabism” and the importance of silencing its wave by importing energetic
opponent like Al-Ahbash which claims the same faith as the “Wahhabiyya” itself.
Fifth, the Majlis leadership, which officially introduces itself as
“Anti-Wahhabi”, may have rushed to some influential government authorities and
described about the “abilities of Al-Ahbash to eradicate the evils caused by
Wahhabi” and convinced them to launch on a campaign which can diminish the
growth of “Wahhabism”.
To summarize, the “Ahbashism” campaign was designed, approved and
launched by a group of many collaborators who see the mythological movement
called “Wahhabism” as a threat to each one of them.
Campaign in Action
The Ahbashism campaign was officially launched when the government and
the Majlis prepared a training program in July 2011. Here are the main features
of the campaign.
The first training was undertaken at two
campuses of Haramaya University (Harar Campus and the Main Campus at Haramaya,
East Ethiopia) where 600 people had participated. The training was given by the
Ahbash clerics who came from Beirut. Even though the training was named
“Training on Religious Tolerance”, the courses taught had almost no relation to
this title. Most of the session was occupied by a course titled “Radd Alal
Wahhabiyya” (Refuting Wahhabism). The books distributed to the trainees were
prepared by Ahbash in Beirut. From among them, a book titled “Fadihatul
Wahabiyya” (“the Evils Caused by Wahhabiyya”) was the top ranked. (The cover
page says the book was written by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harari, the founder of
Similar trainings were undertaken in
September and October in the major cities (like Addis Ababa, Harar, Bahirdar,
etc…) and other trainings are on progress. From these trainings, some are kept
very secret (However, the public could know about it easily).
The Majlis planned to train all “masjid”
(mosque) imams and Majlis representatives at different levels (sub-district,
district, zone and region); and it is feared by the public that the “Majlis”
may extend the training session to all Muslims.
The training session was not smooth. In all
sessions, the participants challenged the Ahbash trainers on many of their
stances. For example, many participants boldly denounced the Ahbash clerics
when they ordered them to take an Islamic oath of faith in a new manner. On the
other hand, when the Ahbash trainers were trying to do many mischief in the
name of exhibiting the relics of the Prophet (such as their claim to exhibit
the hair of the prophet- s.a.w), the trainees had challenged them in great
and “Silencing” Activities
Some of the brainstorming activities
undertaken by the collaborators (the Majlis and the government authorities) are
for University students where high government authorities (like Juniedi Sado,
Minister of the Civil Service) briefed the upcoming government stance on what
they called “extreme Islamism” and the government’s strategy of handling
intolerance. These authorities were telling the university students that it is
forbidden to pray in a group in a university compound. The authorities even
went to an extent of saying “What is the use of a big beard for a university
student? What is the use of wearing face-veil (niqab) for girls?”.
universities are applying the new regulation drafted for the higher educational
institutions (which isn’t yet ratified by the house of the ministers). The
university administrators took silencing actions on the students whom they call
“non-respectful for the institution’s directives”. But most of these students
were punished only because of their trial to practice their religious rights.
(Even in some universities, students were prohibited from praying in the campus
in any case, bet it in individually or in groups).
Terrorizing Media Campaign
To deepen the root of Ahabsh in the
society, some government authorities and the Majlis leadership were undertaking
a very terrorizing media campaign. Here are some examples.
On a half day workshop conducted at the
Addis Ababa Police Commission assembly hall, the Minister of Federal Affairs
briefed the participants by saying “From now onwards, the government officially
denounces the ‘Wahhabiyya’ as ‘an extremist and unlawful organization which
seeks to demolish the government and establish an Islamic state in illegal and
The Ethiopian Television broadcasted a documentary
blaming an unnamed Islamic group (but believed to be the so called
“Wahhabiyya”) where it said “Members of this extremist group uses Islam
as a shelter to achieve their hidden political target”. All people were
shocked by the way the documentary was addressing the Muslims. The wide mass of
the Muslim society believe that the instigator and co-producer of the
documentary was the Majlis itself.
The Majlis on its behalf used all pages of
the October’s issue of its quarterly organ called “Hijra” (a magazine) to
attack the group it calls “Wahhabiya”. The magazine presented a detail
biography of Sheikh Abdulah Al-Harari (founder of Ahbash) in which the sheikh
was depicted as a champion of Islam whom Allah sent to save His religion from
the “heresy of Wahhabiyya”. (the cover page of the magazine said “Kawarija
is a military wing of the Wahhabiyya movement”).
In the news session and other
programs of Ethiopian Radio, Ethiopian Television and some private newspapers
the Majlis repeatedly accused the “Wahhabiyya” as extremist and un-Islamic
group which strives to take the country to violence. It also defended its
Ahbashism policy by words like “Ahbash is the same as our Sufi version of
Islam. We didn’t bring a new belief. We brought the Lebanese teachers only to
assist us in eradicating the Wahhabiyya and teaching religious tolerance”.
The Resistance of Ethiopian Muslims
to the Ahbashism Campaign
At the beginning, most of the Ethiopian Muslims were not aware of the
Ahbashism campaign. This is because both the Majlis and the government
authorities were deceiving the public in their press conferences. They were
saying “The government is working in close contact with the Majlis to teach
about religious tolerance”. However, when local Muslim presses and foreign based
Ethiopian Muslim radio stations (like Radio Bilal) have brought the issue to
the forefront, “Ahbash” became a discussion agenda in the whole of the country.
Since then, every group of the Muslim Society (men, women, youth, students,
scholars, journalists and many others) are taking in part in the resistance
movement. I will discuss only the main features of this resistance.
press and Radio broadcasts
As I said above, the Muslim oriented free press was the
first to alert the Ethiopian Muslims about the upcoming Ahbashism campaign.
Starting from the first half of the month of Ramadan, newspapers like
“Salafiyya”, Al-Quds, Al-Islam etc were discussing about Ahbash, and the Mjlis
orchestrated Ahbashism campaign. The Radio Bilal (based in Minnesota, USA) has
also warned the public about the campaign at its early stage. However, the
agenda had reached the climax instantly when the August edition of the monthly
magazine called “Ye Muslimoch Guday” (the Muslims’ Affair) was suspended by
intervention of the Majlis and government authorities. Meanwhile, an internet
site called “Nejashi” was reportedly blocked in Ethiopia during the same time.
(“Ye Muslimoch Guday” magazine was later published, and it was the best sold
issue since its foundation).
At the start, with the exception of a pro-Majlis newspaper
called “Ethio Muslim”, all Muslim oriented press had the same stance against
Ahbash, Majlis and the Ahbashism campaign. However, from the month of December
onwards, the newspaper called “Al-Quds” (the oldest one but filled mostly by
untrustworthy stories, non-literary mythologies and self-exaggerations) is
distanced itself from the majority and started talking in favor of Majlis.
Unconfirmed reports say that the Majlis had bribed the editors of Al-Quds
Newspaper. The rest of the presses have continued denouncing the Ahbashism
campaign until now.
Some Muslim writers even extended their anti-Majlis and
anti-Ahbash articles to the wider private media. For example, many articles
were published on “Awramba Times” newspaper and “Inquu” Megazine”.
The Majlis has done its best to silence the press. For
example, three journalists of “Ye Muslimoch Guday” magazine were detained on
false accusations of the Majlis. However, they were released after four days
without being charged for unknown reason. The wide section of the public
believes that they were released in relatively short time because the
government had feared the escalating anger of the Muslim society.
Radio broadcasts of Foreign based Ethiopian Muslim community
organizations have also took their part in awakening the Muslims against the
Ahbashism campaign. These include Bilal Radio, BBN (Badr Broadcasting Network)
and Nejashi Radio.
Since the time the Ahbashism campaign was launched, the
Ethiopian Muslims are using internet as a big weapon to move the public against
Majlis and its plan to enforce the Ahbash ideology on the mass. To this end,
internet sites like www.badrethiopia.com , www.ethioislamicart.com , www.nejashionline.com etc… are shouting
loudly for the rights of Ethiopian Muslims. Blogs like www.notoahbashinethiopia.wordpress.com and www.ethiomuslims.blogs.com have been opened
for the same purpose. Non-Muslim owned networks like Addis Neger Online (www.addisnegeronline.com ) are reporting
the Ahbashism campaign and the resistance of the Muslims continuously.
The most effective and efficient cyber based activities of
combating the Ahbashism campaign have been executed on facebook where many of
the Ethiopian Muslims familiar with internet are expressing their views and
commitments to save Islam and Muslims in their country. Here, the Muslims
established groups (forums) and discuss each and every Ahbash related moves of
the Majlis and the government authorities. They share with their group members
news on any illegal activity aimed at empowering Ahbash that was happening in
their locality. They teach each other about the heresies and deviances of the
Ahbash cult. They undertake fierce arguments with the Ahbash members on many
topics. They even expose strange conspiracies circulating around the Ahbash
which id officially called “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects”.
For example, the young Muslims who founded a facebook group called “Anti-Ahbash”-
the United Voice of Ethiopian Muslims on Hertic Groups” exposed that
Ahbash is a member of a coalition formed by a huge Jewish Organization called “Anti-Defamation
Leage”. The list of the coalition members shows that “Al-Ahbash” is the
only “Muslim” organization registered with many Jewish organizations to form
the coalition. Further, there are also gay and lesbian rights groups in the
coalition. (You can get access to the list on this link http://www.adl.org/philadelphia/coalition.asp)
The youth of the facebook groups have exposed the crimes
done by Majlis leadership against the interest of the wide mass (example: they
exposed an amazing letter written to US embassy in Addis Ababa by Sheikh Elias
Redman, the former Deputy President of the Majlis). Further, due to their
active attendances of the facebook forums, they could turn the demonstrations
of Aweliya students into a strong mass movement of expressing opposition in a
peaceful and legal way.
The Ethiopian Muslim facebook attendants are now leading
their peaceful struggle through two groups designed for the purpose namely
“Anti-Ahbash” -the United Voice of Ethiopian Muslins
Against Heretic Groups (http://www.facebook.com/groups/ethioagainstahbash )
Wake Up! Against Political Ahbashism in
and Audio Videos
Another front of counter Ahbashism campaign was opened
through literary works and audio-visual productions. A book called “አሕባሽ ከየት ወደየት” (“Ahbash From where up to where”) was written by Ahmed
Mohammed in November. A documentary film called “Conspiracy Against Ethiopian
Muslims” was produced by an unknown scholars and distributed free of
charge. (Reports show that the
documentary had reached as far as Ilubabor in Oromia region, Jijjiga in Somali
Region, and Asaita in Afar region).
On the hand, some audio productions were produced on the
subject and distributed to the society. And the video and audios are uploaded
on internet networks like www.youtube.com, www.diretube.com etc…
Muslim scholars and preachers arranged and undertook many
Da’wa programs on the deviances and heresies of Al-Ahbash and the constitutional
rights of Ethiopian Muslims. The Da’wa programs are still going on throughout
The aftermath of launching of Ahbashism campaign made many
Muslims to group themselves in a small social clubs and held discussion on Ahbash,
the rights of Ethiopian Muslims, and the way to resist the Ahbashism campaign.
Students use their social group to produce and distribute different pamphlets
to warn the society against the beliefs and habits of Ahbash cult.
The Majlis was able to impose its campaign in most of the
regional states. However, the Somali and Afar regional states didn’t recognize
its stance as legal and authoritative. The authorities of the Somali region
event went to an extent of detaining the regional Majlis leaders for corruption
cases while the latter were trying to undertake the Ahbashism campaign. Reports
from the two regions indicate that despite the instability of the areas, the
authorities never tolerated the attack on Islam and Muslims (the authorities
themselves are Muslims who share the feeling of the wider public in many ways
if not all in all). They have been resisting the Ahbashism campaign jointly
with the Muslim society. And still now, Majlis has no full control over its two
unites of Somali and Afar.
In the last six months, whenever the Majlis and its
adherents try to take possessions of mosques and madrasa and install its Ahbash
branded people in those institutions, the local Muslim communities haven’t
allowed them. Reports show that the Majlis adherents couldn’t take the
leadership of any mosque and madrasa except those they had before the new
Ahbashism campaign. However, this had never happened without a cost. Many
imams, scholars, preachers and community leaders have been detained. Some of
them are still imprisoned at different places.
In the last six months, Ethiopian Muslims living in
different places had demonstrated against the unjust actions of the government
and Majlis. Some of them are mentioned here
Demonstrations held in Washington DC in November: It was a very
successful though the number of participants was small.
Demonstrations of Aweliya Student: When the Majlis had deposed the
teachers and students of Aweliya Islamic Institution, the students were very
angry. They gathered themselves at once and demanded the Majlis to allow their
teachers and spiritual leaders back. They demonstrated continuously for about a
week. But thereafter, they decided not to leave the compound of the institute
unless they got satisfactory solution.
They passed three nights in the compound. On
the third day, which was a Friday, they were joined by the large mass of the
Muslim people. The Majlis, fearing the public rage, allowed the imam of the
mosque and the teachers back on their usual service. However, the incident had
laid a base for the biggest movement of the Muslims that had never been seen in
the last two decades. (Discussed below)
Demonstration of Dessie Muslims: In the afternoon of January 23/2012, the
Federal Majlis sent its delegates to take control of the Zonal Majlis offices of
Dessie and the “Shewa Ber Madrasa”. Hearing that, the Muslim population
gathered at once in the zonal Majlis and shouted against the actions of the
delegates. They clearly stated that they won’t allow an imposition of any new
ideology or unelected leadership on their faith.
On the next day, they gathered in large
mass at the zonal Majlis office and then, marched for a big demonstration in
the streets of the city against the Ahbashism campaign. Seeing this, the zonal
government authorities requested the Majlis delegates to lift up their demands
and return to where they came from.
The strongest of all anti-Ahbashism resistance movement is
the peaceful public demonstration being held weekly at Aweliya Islamic Institue
. The start of the movement was the small demonstration undertaken by Aweliya
students about a month ago. Now, it became a movement where about 100,000
Muslims pray the mandatory Friday Prayer (Salatul Jum’a) together and speak
against the Ahbashism campaign in one voice. The participants come from every
corner of the city of Addis Ababa. And both genders (males and females) attend
it in large masses. The call for the meeting have been done mostly on the
aforementioned facebook groups, the cell-phone sms services and social clubs.
In the last three weeks, the public had exerted considerable
effort to save their religious right. Among the main activities conducted are
The petitioning against Majlis and its
Ahbashism policy (records show that over 40,000 people have petitioned until
The establishment of a provisional
committee of 16 people that will speak on the behalf of the Muslim public.
The committee had taken appointments from
different government authorities in the last week. But when it tried to present
the demand of the public on Wednesday, February 1/2012 (on the day of the
appointment), they Majlis had played a malicious game and delayed the meeting.
And it is postponed for 13/ 2012. (It was said that the Majlis leaders came to
the meeting place and said “It is wee who can represent the Ethiopian
Muslims so that we must be present on the meeting”).
In this short report I tried to show the start, extents and current
status of the Ahbashism Campaign in Ethiopia and the challenges it has been
facing from the Muslim society. The main question is now “What will be its
As a Muslim, I can’t say many words about the future trends. But I
definitely say neither of the collaborators (USA, Ethiopian Government and the
Majlis) can meet their demands in any illegal and unconstitutional method.
Allah Knows better.
, February 6/2012