The Ethiopian government has angered millions of Muslims in the country by arresting at least 17 prominent Muslim leaders following weeks of peaceful protests against attempts to impose a foreign Islamic ideology upon them. .
The brutal crackdown and mass arrests, since July 13, came after hundreds of thousands of Muslims joined huge demonstrations took to the streets calling for the government to stop interfering in their religious practices .
The Christian dominate government has set upon a course to drive the Ahbash teachings, classified as deviant, amongst Muslims identified as the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.
“They founder of the Ahbash is an Ethiopian sheikh,” Najib Muhammad, from Bilal Communications – an online Islamic broadcaster told Cii. “This sect is deviant by all standards of Islam. The Ulema of Al Azhar and other Islamic countries have all proclaimed them to be deviant.”
In the interview conducted with Cii, Muhammad exposed the Ahbash and in particular their leader, Abdullah Al-Hariri. “The majority of their group are Lebanese. They followed him and promoted him in Lebanon and parts of Syria. He was working against the interests of the Sunnis in these countries as well. He follows eclectic madhaahibs [schools of jurisprudence]. He says he follows Al-Ashari and Ash-Shafee’i, but he also violates what Ash-Shafee’i (RA) says. He violates all the norms of Islam.”
According to Muhammad, the Ethiopian government has intended to use the group to dampen the increasingly active Muslim population. “The rise of Islam is a phenomenon around the world. People are coming to Islam and even Muslims are trying to know their deen and practice it. What the government does not want is for Muslims to be aware of their religion and their rights. They want us to stay as second class or third class citizens because Ethiopia has been ruled by Christians.”
Leading positions in the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs have been handed out to clerics of the Ahbash sect despite strong opposition from mainstream Muslims.
Last month, several marches took place in the country where up to one million Muslims protested peacefully against the government’s interference in their religious affairs.
Their actions have met a harsh and brutal response from the Ethiopian authorities.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, several witnesses testified that on July 13, as hundreds of worshippers gathered at Addis Ababa’s Awalia mosque to prepare for a July 15 awareness-raising event, federal police forcibly entered the mosque, breaking doors and windows, and fired teargas inside.
“They beat people gathered there, including women and children, and made numerous arrests. A witness said that police beat a disabled woman, forcing her to the ground and then continuing to beat her. One man said teargas was fired directly at him inside the mosque before the police beat him.”
It went on to note: “People at the mosque sent out an appeal for help, leading scores of people to converge on the mosque in the Gullele financial district. Police forces encircling the mosque and its compound assaulted the people approaching the mosque, beating and arresting many of them. A witness described seeing blood-soaked victims by the roadside on the way to the mosque. Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw scores of men and women being loaded into separate trucks. Many appeared to have broken bones and other serious injuries, apparently inflicted by the police, the witnesses said.”
Police also broke up several subsequent gathering violently and arrested large numbers of people.
HRW reported that the majority of those arrested between July 13 and 21 have since been released.
However, 17 prominent Muslim leaders, have been kept under notorious prison conditions and refused access to a lawyer.
HRW called for a thorough investigation into reports that the police and other security services beat and otherwise mistreated the 17.
The Ethiopian government denied repression. “There is no crackdown. There are people who are legally apprehended, legally pursued, and this is within the legal bounds, the constitutional bounds, of the government,” government spokesman Bereket Simon said.