Ethiopia’s religious divides flare up in Muslim attacks on Christians
The hollow chants of “Allahu Akbar!” reverberating from a distance seemed innocuous at first for Abera Gutema, who ventured home quietly from his shop just a short distance away. Moments later, a large, angry mob of machete-wielding Muslim youths descended on his family’s dwelling and chased him out, before burning and looting his property.
Abera, a Christian, escaped through a back door, clutching his infant son Eyoel in one hand. By the time the smoke cleared, all that remained of his hard-earned belongings had been reduced to rubble, not to mention the theft of 100,000 birr — his lifetime savings.
“They were our friends, our neighbours with whom we shared everything,” said Abera, his eyes watering with tears. “I never thought that this day would ever come.”
Abera was one of more than 4,000 members of local Protestant denominations displaced by a rare bout of religious violence earlier this month when Muslims staged a week of attacks in an area about 300 km (200 miles) west of the capital. According to official figures, Ethiopia is about 60 percent Christian and 30 percent Muslim, with smaller faiths making up the remainder.
Local imams say the incidents were sparked when word came out that Muslim labourers working at a construction site at a Protestant church claimed to have found pages from the Koran used as toilet paper. Despite appeals for restraint, they say an angry mob quickly gathered as calls for attacks blared from the loudspeakers of nearby mosques.
A total of 69 churches, a Bible school and an office were eventually burned to the ground, and one Christian was killed.