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Ethiopia - Relgion

The 2007 census estimated 44 percent of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), 34 percent is Sunni Muslim, and 19 percent belongs to Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups. The EOC is predominant in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara and also present in Oromia. Islam is most prevalent in the Afar, Oromia, and Somali Regions. Established Protestant churches are strongest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR); Gambella; and parts of Oromia.

Statistical data on religious affiliation, like those on ethnic groups, are unreliable. No reliable statistics exist on religious affiliation in Ethiopia. Still, clearly, by far the largest faiths are Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Each is thought to constitute perhaps 40 to 45 percent of the population. According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), which is predominant in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara. Most Orthodox Christians are Amhara and Tigray, two groups that together constitute more than 40 percent of the population. When members of these two groups are combined with others who have accepted Orthodoxy, the total Christian population might come to roughly 50 percent of all Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the churches that does not accept the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon on the nature of Christ. It was the state church under the monarchy but has lost this position. Catholic presence goes back to the 16th century, and Protestant missions arrived in the 20th century. The largest non-Orthodox church is the World of Life Church (Evangelical), followed by the Mekane Yesus Church (Lutheran and Presbyterian).

Thirty-four percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, of which the majority is Sufi. Muslims have been estimated to constitute 40 percent of the population. There is a growing presence of conservative/orthodox Muslims, but they remain a tiny fraction of the Muslim population. Islam is most prevalent in the east, particularly in the Somali and Afar regions, as well as in many parts of Oromiya. The largest ethnic group associated with Islam is the Somali. Several other much smaller Islamic groups include the Afar, Argobba, Hareri, Saho, and most Tigrespeaking groups in northern Eritrea (see Ethiopia's Peoples, this ch.). Oromo also constitute a large proportion of the total Muslim population. There are also Muslims in other important ethnic categories, e.g., the Sidamo speakers and the Gurage. In the far north and the east, and to some extent in the south, Islamic peoples surround Orthodox Christians.

In 2012, the Muslim community in Ethiopia was introduced to new religious teachings known as Al-Ahbash. The Ethiopian government considered the teaching to be modern and began trainings in the fall of 2011. However, it encountered stiff resistance from some Muslims uncomfortable with the new teachings. Students walked out of classes in protest, and demanded a change of teachers appointed by the government. Silent protests and sit-ins at mosques followed, and the members of a 17-person committee selected to represent students were arrested and charged with extremism.

The only people (variously estimated at 5 to 15 percent of the population) who have had little if any contact with Orthodox Christianity or Islam live in the far south and the west. Included among adherents of indigenous religions are most of those speaking Nilo-Saharan languages and many of those speaking Omotic and Cushitic, including sections of the Oromo, such as the pastoral Borana. It is among these peoples that the few converts to missionary Christianity -- Protestant and Roman Catholic -- are to be found.

In a 1944 decree, Haile Selassie forbade missionaries from attempting to convert Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and they had little success in proselytizing among Muslims. Most missionaries focused their activities on adherents of local religions--but still with only little success. In the 1960s, there were about 900 foreign missionaries in Ethiopia, but many were laypersons. This fact was consistent with the emphasis of many such missions on the education and vocational training of the people they sought to serve. One obstacle to the missions' success in the rural areas may have been the imperial government's insistence that Amharic be used as the medium of religious instruction except in the earliest stages of missionary activity. There was also some evidence that Ethiopian Orthodox priests residing outside the Amhara and Tigray heartland, as well as local administrators, were hostile to the missionaries.

Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups constitute 19 percent of the population. Established Protestant churches such as Mekane Yesus and Kale Hiwot are strongest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Regional State (SNNPR); western and central Oromiya; and in urban areas. In Gambella region, Mekane Yesus followers represent 60 percent of the population. The Evangelical Church Fellowship claims 28 denominations under its religious umbrella throughout the country.

There are small numbers of Oriental Rite and Latin Rite Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), animists, and practitioners of indigenous religions.

The Government of Israel finalized immigration of the remaining Falash Mura community in August 2008. Many additional individuals claiming to be Falash Mura were also seeking to immigrate to Israel. The Government was screening remaining applicants individually at the end of the reporting period.

The 1955 constitution stated, "The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, founded in the fourth century on the doctrines of Saint Mark, is the established church of the Empire and is, as such, supported by the state." The church was the bulwark of the state and the monarchy and became an element in the ethnic identity of the dominant Amhara and Tigray. By contrast, Islam spread among ethnically diverse and geographically dispersed groups at different times and therefore failed to provide the same degree of political unity to its adherents. Traditional belief systems were strongest in the lowland regions, but elements of such systems characterized much of the popular religion of Christians and Muslims as well. Beliefs and rituals varied widely, but fear of the evil eye, for example, was widespread among followers of all religions.

Officially, the imperial regime tolerated Muslims. For example, the government retained Muslim courts, which dealt with family and personal law according to Islamic law. However, the imperial authorities gradually took over Muslim schools and discouraged the teaching of Arabic. Additionally, the behavior of Amhara administrators in local communities and the general pattern of Christian dominance tended to alienate Muslims.

The revolution brought a major change in the official status of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and other religions. In 1975 the Mengistu regime disestablished the church, which was a substantial landholder during the imperial era, and early the next year removed its patriarch. The PMAC declared that all religions were equal, and a number of Muslim holy days became official holidays in addition to the Christian holidays already honored. Despite these changes, divisions between Muslims and Christians persisted.

The Government interprets the constitutional provision for separation of religion and state to mean that religious instruction is not permitted in schools, whether public or private. Schools owned and operated by Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, and Muslim groups were not allowed to teach religion as a course of study. Churches are permitted to have Sunday schools; the Qur'an is taught at mosques; and public schools permit the formation of clubs, including those of a religious nature.

In most regions, Orthodox Christians and Muslims generally respected each other's religious observances, and there was tolerance for intermarriage and conversion in certain areas. However, there were some highly publicized religious conflicts that heightened tensions and precipitated government intervention. Additional reports of physical and verbal harassment aimed at religious officials and church members led victims to seek protection from local authorities.

Ethiopian Muslims

Ethiopian Muslims are adherents of the dominant Sunni, or orthodox, branch of Islam. Shia are not represented in Ethiopia. The beliefs and practices of Ethiopian Muslims are embodied in a more or less integrated amalgam of three elements: the Islam of the Quran and the sharia, the worship of saints and the rituals and organization of religious orders, and the still-important remnant of pre-Islamic patterns. Islam in the traditional sense is dominant only on the Eritrean coast among Arab and Arab-influenced populations and in Harer and a few other towns.

In general, the most important practices of the Islamic faith, particularly regular prayer and fasting during the month of Ramadan, are observed in urban centers rather than in the smaller towns and villages and more among settled peoples than among nomads. Records of the pilgrimage to Mecca by Ethiopian Muslims are scarce.

Under Haile Selassie, Muslim communities could bring matters of personal and family law and inheritance before Islamic courts; many did so and probably continued to do so under the revolutionary regime. However, many Muslims dealt with such matters in terms of customary law. For example, the Somali and other pastoralists tended not to follow the requirement that daughters inherit half as much property as sons, particularly when livestock was at issue. In parts of Eritrea, the tendency to treat land as the corporate property of a descent group (lineage or clan) precluded following the Islamic principle of division of property among one's heirs.

In Ethiopia's Muslim communities, as in neighboring Sudan and Somalia, the faithful are associated with, but not necessarily members of, specific orders. Nevertheless, although formal and informal attachment to Sufi orders is widespread, the emphasis is less on contemplative and disciplined mysticism than on the powers of the founders and other leaders of local branches of the orders. Most believe that these persons possess extraordinary powers to intercede with God and have the ability to promote the fertility of women and cure illness. In many cases, these individuals are recognized as saints. People visit their tombs to pray for their help or their intercession with God.

Navy Ethiopia has Ground Forces, Air Force, and Police and generally backed by a strong militia. Ethiopia is now land locked following the de-jure independence of Eritrea, hence it has no navy. In 1958 the Imperial Ethiopian Navy became an autonomous branch of the armed forces, operating as a coast guard within the territorial waters off Eritrea. Until 1974 a small contingent of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors. In 1974 Addis Ababa and Oslo signed an agreement whereby Norway organized and trained a modest maritime force. Starting in 1978, Soviet advisers were attached to the Ethiopian navy. In early 1991, Ethiopia's 3,500-member navy remained modest and had seen little combat. Its inventory included two frigates, eight missile craft, six torpedo craft, six patrol boats, two amphibious craft, and two support/training craft. Ethiopia's principal naval bases were at Mitsiwa and Aseb. The base at Aseb included a ship-repair facility. In the past, the navy had cooperated with elements of the Soviet fleet operating in the Red Sea. Soviet naval vessels also made frequent calls at Ethiopian ports to resupply and refit. Moreover, the Soviet Union maintained naval facilities in the Dahlak Islands off the coast of Eritrea. The Soviet Union had an anchorage and stationed a naval infantry detachment there; it reportedly also operated intelligence facilities there. After they were expelled from Somalia in 1977 for siding with Ethiopia, Soviet personnel moved a dry dock they had operated at Berbera in Somalia to Aseb and later positioned it off the coast in the Dahlak Islands. At one time, they also had several Il-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft stationed at Asmera, but by 1989 these aircraft had been moved to Aden because the EPLF had destroyed one of the Soviet aircraft in a daring raid. During Eritrea's thirty-year fight for independence from Ethiopia, the Eritirean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) successfully deployed a hybrid platform and a very effective Maritime irregular warfare (MIW) strategy against the Ethiopian Navy. The EPLF's high-speed gunboat was fashioned by mounting a twin 2 0mm anti-aircraft weapon on a 2 0ft fiberglass hull powered by dualoutboard engines. These boats were then used along the coast for interdiction operations and to support small raids ashore. Unable to purchase MIW specific systems the EPLF combined readily available and low-cost civilian boat hull swith crew served weapons captured in the field from the Ethiopian Army. Although the types of weapons mounted in each boat varied the EPLF was able to develop a rugged, reliable, and very capable unconventional platform bycombining existing off-the-shelf components with other weapon systems on hand. Individually none of the systems that went into building this platform could be classified as state-of-the-art. It was the end product and the way in which it was employed that made the EPLF's hybrid gunboat cutting edge. As of the year 2000 the Army constituted 97% of the uniformed forces. It was organized as follows: Five revolutionary armies 31 infantry divisions 2 tank battalions 8 commando brigades Slightly over 230,000 people 200,000 member people's militia1, 200 T 54/55 Soviet tanks 100 T 62 Soviet tanks 1,000 armored personnel carriers (APCs). Artillery Units possess a variety of Soviet equipment. Air Force 4,500 officers and airmen 150 combat aircraft 7 fighter - ground attack squadrons 1 transport squadron 1 training squadron 79 helicopters. Equipment maintenance is generally poor due to economic constraints and supply of spares for the mainly soviet equipment. The Ghez, or learned language of Abyssinia, is the descendant of the ancient Himyarite language of Yemen. " Abyssinia, from a linguistic and an ethnographic point of view, is inseparable from Southern Arabia," as has been remarked by M. Renan. The Greek geographers couple Yemen and Abyssinia together almost invariably. But it is impossible to decide when the Semitic people passed from Arabia into Africa. The historical literature of Abyssinia does not date from an earlier period than the fourth century of our era ; but, as at that date Abyssinia appears as a better organised monarchy, as in a state of higher cultivation than Yemen, it is probable that the nation had been long settled there. In 525, the Nedjaschi, or King of Abyssinia, invaded Yemen, with the help of the Greeks, and held it for fifty years, and endeavoured to propagate Christianity there.

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Page last modified: 14-09-2016 12:47:27 ZULU