Today we celebrated Good Friday or as we Ethiopians call it, ስቅለት፡፡
Ethiopia has been a country where religion has played a huge part in the development of the society. Religion has been the driving force in many of the social institutions like education, marriage and health. It rerouted life paths for many, for better or worse, making it, along with tradition, the most influential institution in our country. As we are celebrating Good Friday today, I wanted to remind you of the importance of solidarity between the two largely followed religions of our country, Christianity and Islam.
For those who don’t know, Friday is considered by Muslims as an important day of prayer and congregation. The Holy Qur’an invokes the importance of Friday as a sacred day of worship in a chapter called “Al-Jumah,” meaning the day of congregation, which is also the word for Friday in Arabic. It states, “O you who believe! When you are called to congregational prayer, hasten to the remembrance of God and leave off business. That is much better for you, if you but know.” And one Friday a year, here in Ethiopia, Christians also celebrate a day of prayer and congregation before Easter. The meaning of this particular Friday thus becomes significant.
As a Born and Bred Ethiopian, I have been extremely proud of how these two religions treated each other. For centuries the two communities have resided side by side with love and utmost respect. Sharing public holiday while embracing religious differences and rituals.
In the last few years however there have been tensions in different parts of our country, where churches have been burnt, followers of the respective religions barricaded and treated violently and discrimination based on religion has become increasingly evident.
Imagine being a Christian being raised in a highly Islamic community, where schools encourage you to read the Holy Qur’an. Would you be willing to send your child whom you have raised as Christian? What about if you were a Muslim, raised in a highly Christian society and have to go to a Christian dominated College? Will you be intimidated? Should you be intimidated?
What really worries me is that this is a habit that we have picked up along our growth process. May be through social institutions like school and mosques or churches. Have you ever looked at children playing together? They never see religion as a barrier to play football together, to eat lunch together, to study together, to be friends with. They never see that. But along the way we have been brainwashed to be with our own ‘kind’, to marry of our religion.
All these defies the value our ancestors set. It is Ethiopia who gave Muslim asylum seekers in Arabia who fled from Arabia back in the 7th century. Our then Christian Kingdom ruler accepted them and gave them shelter and food. This is how our relationship began. Since then it has flourished into a mutual respect and love for each other. So why is it so hard now to follow, an example set centuries ago? It is contradictory to say that we have developed as individuals and as a community from our earlier ancestors but fail to continue the good deed they set. We must understand that we must arise beyond religion, beyond ethnicity and we must always bear in mind that we are humans first. Ethiopia has survived this long maintaining this core value. When we come to terms with that, our country will stand a little taller.