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Radical Muslims Attacked Christians in South West Ethiopia

10/31/07 Ethiopia (International Christian Concern)In mid October 2007, radical Muslims attacked houses belonging to Christians, burned down a church and vandalized farm land belonging to Christians in south west Ethiopia. Most of the attacks that occurred against Christians in Ethiopia in 2006 and 2007 have been occurring in the south west part of the country. This article gives background information to the region as well as details of the attacks that occurred in mid October 2007.

Islam in Jimma

The majority of people in the south west Ethiopia are Muslims out of the 3 million estimated people in Jimma region; only 2% are evangelicals while 90% are Muslims. Islam has a long history in this region and Muslims living around the area have been strongly connected to Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia , Pakistan and others.

Islamization of Jimma occurred during the reign of King Aba Jifar who was also the last King of Jimma. The province was later absorbed into Ethiopian state in the beginning of 20th Century and that reduced the influence of the king and finally the Kingdom was abolished. But still Aba Jifar’s family has a lot of sway in the province. The descendants of Aba Jifar who live in Arab countries as well as in the West are continuing to influence the growth of Islam in Jimma area.

Muslim fundamentalists and radicals are now taking deep root and are persecuting the churches of Christ. Last year alone, they burned over 800 churches and houses and killed hundreds of Christians. Besides in March 2007 they killed Evangelist Tadesse in broad day light in Jimma town. It is puzzling that no one has been brought to justice for killing the evangelist.

Evangelism in Jimma

No matter how enormous the challenges are, the gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading like wild fire among Muslims in Jimma. Contextual evangelism was launched three years ago by a visionary man of God who had a burden to reach Muslims for Christ. Soon the vision was taken up by an evangelical church which is using it effectively to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in the Jimma region. So far Muslims are flocking to Christ in great numbers, responding to the calling of the Lord, with 1,100 converting to Christianity and 261 being baptized.

The unique thing about this movement is that it focuses on contextual evangelism than the usual method of evangelism. These converts worship the Lord in the house called “Ruh -Allah Mosque”, meaning – The Spirit of Allah that directly refers to Jesus Christ in the Quran. So basically the meaning of their place of worship means the house of the Lord. There is neither Crescent nor Cross on the place of their worship.

They sing in their own context although they sometimes sing like evangelicals do. They are encouraged to pray in their own context as well. The contextualization aspect is attracting more Muslims to easily come to Christ and identify themselves with these true followers of Christ. It is also noted that there are some Muslim leaders who are following Christ with their whole heart but not yet come out and identified with these group. They are teaching their people from the Quran about the Son of God , who is the light, Spirit of Allah, word of Allah, creator, righteous, sign, born, died & rose again, etc.

Christian ministries are also sending students on short and long term mission basis and God’s love is continued to be known and touching many Muslims in the area.

Persecution against Christians

The radical Muslims are infuriated due to large number of conversion of Muslims to Christianity and are reacting violently as seen recently in Buyo locality in Jimma. The locality is found in Seka province which is 15 Km away from Jimma town. Nearly two hundred converts from Islam to Christianity live in the village where 95 % of its residents are Muslims.

The violence began on the 14th Oct, 2007 in midnight when the Muslim extremists set a fire to Mr. T’s house. Then Mr. T fled to Jimma town to report to the government officials about the incident. The next day, another house was burnt down. This house was the place that used to serve the Christians as their gathering place and it belonged to the missionary named Mr X.

As the Christians in this place were newly converted from the Islam, the radical Muslims were threatening them for the last two weeks saying like, “You can’t live here being Christians; we are going to prove it to you very soon

Then again fives house were set on fire although they were not completely burned down as some people came out and put it off. Yet the houses became out of use as they were damaged severely. Some other houses were also broken into and totally 13 families became homeless and all the Christians, nearly 200, in this village became victims of this violence in one or the other ways. Then 25 people who were targeted in a special way fled to Jimma town and the brethren in Jimma town are providing them with food, shelter and clothing.

Although the Seka province government officials were aware of this violence, they kept quiet until the federal police from Jimma town interfered and commanded them to take actions. It has to be known that the officials in Seka themselves are Muslims and sided with the perpetrators. That is why the victims had to come and report to the federal police when they could have gone to the Seka town Police.

Pressured by the federal police, government officials in Seka town put 13 of the perpetrators in Jail for only one day and released them without taking their case to the court. They held three days meeting with the residents and tried to settle things unfairly. They spoke to the people about religious freedom in Ethiopian constitution and promised the Christian minority that they would be given a plot of land where they can build their church.

In spite of the official’s advices and meetings with the people, the Muslim extremists again burned down one house after a week and continued threatening the Christians. The Muslim extremists have continued to perpetrate such acts because there have not been any measures taken against them for their past actions. Mr Y, one of the victims said, “The perpetrators are even getting ready to take a worse action against us provided that the opportunity avails itself.”

It was not only their houses but also their properties were severely damaged. Coffee trees, Avocado trees, Mango trees, banana trees and some other trees that have been the main sources of income were cut down. It takes at least 3 -4 years to get back them in place. This means the Christians have to rely on aid for long time.

This incident is yet another proof that religious freedom is being curtailed in Ethiopia , a country where government alleges that its building democracy and rule of law. The prevalent situation makes it difficult to worship freely in some areas of south western Ethiopia . It is unacceptable that Ethiopian authorities fail to bring perpetrators of such horrible acts to justice despite their constitutional obligation to do so.

Now thirteen families along with their children are with out houses. They are sheltered by friends and relatives not having something to eat and put on by their own.

One of the victims, Mr A, who used to be a famous robber before coming to Christ stated that, “I was running to and living in the bush hide myself from authorities who would arrest me for my crimes. However, when I became a good man and citizen due to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you burned down my house. Well, don’t worry, now for the sake of the gospel, I can still go to the bush and live there. The burning down of my home can’t make me turn back from Christ.”

Another victim Mr B said that, “Standing up on the ashes of the burnt home, I proclaim the gospel of the grace of God”

When asked by their Muslim relatives to leave their husbands and come back to Islam, the women in one accord said, “Forward, Ever! Backward, Never!”

When asked about if they are already getting support from brethren in Jimma & surrounding Mr Z, said, “It breaks my heart that the Christian community here is not fast enough in responding to our situation“.

Mr Z, commented on the persecution and said, “What the Muslim extremists are doing to us is making the moderate Muslims to hate Islam and come to Christianity. This in turn continued to annoy the extremists and multiply their attack against us.”