Very recently, when one of our famous artists has posted his photos on the social media that display his religious belief, some friends of mine started reflecting their different views. One of them said that what the artist did could be offensive to his fans who have different religious background while the other friend took diametrically opposite position stating, "The artist has the right to pursue his own religious practice, his fans ought to respect that."
It seems that the former view lacks proper tolerance to accommodate the differences while the latter one allows religious freedom. Well, the choice can be left to the fans themselves but to me, it is proper to develop the attitude that can recognize the differences.
On the other hand, the question is that if peoples' perspective about the issue, extremism, goes that much to a personal level, how are we to keep the historical togetherness with diversified cultures and religions that we brought through many other challenges?
It is obvious that extremism and radicalization have become major issues and causes of destruction around the globe as terrorist groups are widely using them to imposing their failed political ideologies in the name of religion. The consequences are also spreading fast in different parts of the world and affecting different countries whose unity in diversity has been celebrated and made exemplary for many years.
Even though Ethiopia is enjoying stability and peace since the fall of the Derg regime, it is one of the countries who seem to have become vulnerable to such dangers due to its geopolitical position. Ethiopia's Constitution, Article 27 guarantees religious freedom and it also ensures the independence of the state from religion.
According to M. Zuhdi Jasser Council on Foreign Relations, Ethiopia has had a long history of religious tolerance in practice. However, there are some critical factors that are affecting this value, according to him. "First, there is the matter of geography. Ethiopia is situated in an increasingly volatile region of the world. It borders Eritrea, Somalia, and both Sudan and South Sudan. In both Somalia and Sudan, violent religious extremists pose a danger to Ethiopia. Second, within its own borders, Ethiopia remains concerned about the growth of Wahhabism as a potential threat to the country's stability and security."
Zuhdi Jasser also mentioned some policy related issues and the limits on foreign funding for human rights, democracy promotion, and conflict mitigation as factors affecting religious tolerance in the nation. This implies that even though there are long-standing tolerance and the statement of secularism in the constitution which can simply be understood as they are guarantees for the continuity peace and stability in the country, there are indeed threats to this exemplary practice and they are foreign to the government's policy.
"Ethiopians are well known for living in unity with diversity, supporting one another economically; they have been using religions as solutions for various types of internal conflicts," says Mesud Adem Ethiopian Inter Religious Council Public Relations and Documentation Directorate Head.
However, "such values of the nation have faced certain impacts from the ever changing ways or endeavours of extremist ideologies under the cover of religion. There have been some few situations caused by radicalization and extremism frequently in some parts of the country. And of course they have left some wounds on human life and damage on property. Such situations that have been observed in 2007EC necessitates the establishment of the Inter Religious Council in the nation," added Mesud.
According to him, religious institutions promote similar values and tasks in the country. "Fore instance, peace is one of the values that any religion cannot overlook its significance. We all stand for peace. On the other hand, we have to sustain our peace with development."
He added the council believes that all religious institutions and leaders should teach the faithful particularly the youth the right religious doctrines and the values of peace. But it also has the responsibility and take the first step in identifying the common principles that all religions can share.
Therefore, the council has prepared a teaching document that contributes for building the values of peace. The document is combined with various proverbs collected from the Holy Bible and Quran which could be used as common references of the teaching.
"It is a great step forward for the council and significant achievements have been made. We have confirmed this from the feed backs received after we engaged in trainings using the document."
According to the Head, there are enabling conditions that can support the effort in building the values of peace and tackling the destructive impacts of extremists. For instance, the awareness raising tasks that have been held recently in collaboration with the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs, religious institutes etc. have resulted in a great commitment among the religious leaders in different parts of the country. This means they are fully aware of the dangers of extremism and the individuals who could be operating from behind. As a result, they are able to alarm the faithful about the issue. "When the awareness expands, the faithful or the public itself will expose extremists and their destructive agenda," he concluded.