Religion is central to the human family but it has its limits. Its extreme practice makes it hard for us to coexist peacefully. If we stretch an elastic band, it will stretch up to a certain limit. If we stretch it too much it tears apart. That is what we call in Amharic ‘siker yibetesal.’ The same is true for religious extremism. If we are determined to practice our respective religion in its extreme form, it will tear us apart.
The Ethiopian religious temperature has been rising in the past decade. In present day Ethiopia religion and politics seem fused together and sometimes it is hard to distinguish a religious leader from a political one, other than the way they dress. Rather than preaching religious thoughts, they prefer to preach pure politics. Though, the governing law of the land, the constitution calls for secularity. When they are representing their followers they should remain out of political activity. However, individually they are able to be involved in politics. It seems unclear, however, where the line between representing themselves or their institution, is drawn.
Religious extremism does not just exist between different religions but among different sects the same religion as well. If you are a good observer, you can find such a divide within one sect of a major religion. Public servants both in the private and public sectors, separate themselves based on which sect they belong to. Even employment patterns follow such a trend. However, the supreme law of the land stipulates that a citizen should not be discriminated against based on their religion, ethnicity, political view, or gender. The practice is becoming familiar for renting a home and employing a daily laborer too. Think of what the consequences of actions like this mean in the long term for our nation. Such a practice will trickle down to inequality in all aspects of life. In the history of our planet, discrimination becomes a means to justify an avoidable destruction.
In the university, I witnessed the stratification of students in to different institutionalized groups. When a student is fresh, they are evaluated to see what group they belong to. The same is true for sharing information, educational material and the like. If you happen to be a free thinker, you might not be welcomed by any of these groups. You might not be allowed to share information and educational materials with the so called groups. If such conditions are allowed to continue in our institutions, the logical question that comes to my mind is where are we heading?
For me, that is the question every citizen of the country needs to answer. I don’t personally think destruction is better than construction; though it is easier to tear down the ‘other.’ It is true that we do not all think alike and that at times the few try to impose their ideas on the majority. So how do we handle diversity and find common ground.
Government is the institution in place to provide the public with common needs such as security and development. Religion also serves many social and spiritual needs but when they become obstacles to the common good government should take proactive action.
In places like Jimma it seems there has been more putting out fires than proactive action. We are all at the core born human beings. No one is biologically Christian, Muslim or any other religious view. The same is true with ethnicity. No one comes into the world as Afar, Amhara, Oromo,Kemabata, Welaita, Somali, Tirgre, Arab, Hutu, Tutsi. We are labeled and taught these things after birth. We need to respect that and abide to it after all. However, we don’t need to destroy our mutual existence because of it.
The government needs to transform itself from post crisis management to preventing crisis from happening. As the Amharic adage goes ‘sayikatel bekitelu’. Since Ethiopia is a heterogeneous country not only in terms of religion but also ethnicity, we need to take in to account the issue of religious extremism and its consequences seriously. That is why measuring religious tempo is of paramount importance. This will only build on what we have achieved already. Otherwise, we run the risk of destroying it.