Ethiopian Religious Practices

Ethiopia has a long historical and cultural connection to both Christianity and Islam. Beside these dominant religious practices, there are also other religious institutions that are practiced by large number of society.

The cultural force of the Ethiopian Orthodox 'Tewahedo' Church is particularly notable. Many Ethiopians are proud of the fact that their people were following Christianity before many Western nations were exposed to it. They are also often keen to point out that they are one of the only African nations that were not introduced to Christianity by European colonists. Indeed, Ethiopia was one of the first countries to pronounce Christianity as the official state religion in 333 CE.

Ethiopia is a deeply religious society. and there is a broad tolerance and respect of religious diversity in general. In parts of the country where there are large populations of Christians and Muslims (such as the capital city), churches and mosques are often situated within close proximity and relationships are peaceful.

Ethiopian Orthodox 'Tewahedo' Christianity:

The Ethiopian Orthodox 'Tewahedo' Church is one of the oldest and earliest Christian bodies in the world. It is generally considered to be the traditional religion of the land, and is closely correlated with the national identity. For most Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, faith is deeply important to their day-to-day life as well as their identity.

Like all Christians, Orthodox Ethiopians believe in the Holy Trinity (sellasé) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They also observe typical Orthodox rituals and practices - the Feast of Epiphany (Timket) and the Eucharist being the most important celebration and ceremonies. Ethiopian Orthodox services generally involve lots of dancing and singing to traditional gospel music (mezmur).

Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity involves many rituals and practices that are common to Judaism. For example, followers are expected to observe Sabbath, circumcise their sons and follow strict dietary laws. There is a strong focus on orthopraxy, demonstrated in the practice of fasting. There are between 200 and 250 days of fasting in the Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar, including every Wednesday and Friday, during which people are expected to abstain from meat and animal products. Observant Christians tend to fast for 55 days before Easter during Lent (arba tsom). It is estimated that 62.8 percent of Ethiopians withdraw from meat products on an average of about 250 days of the year due to this religious belief.

Churches are treated as very sacred spaces. Be aware that a person may not be permitted to enter some Ethiopian Orthodox churches on fasting days if they have not abided by fasting rules. It is respectful for women to cover their body and hair with a long dress and scarf before entering churches. Many churches and mosques have separate entrances for men and women.

Islam in Ethiopia: Islam was introduced to Ethiopia in the early 600s ACE. It is the traditional religion for the Somali, Afar, Argobba, Harari, Berta, Alba and Silt'e ethnic groups.

There are also many Muslims among majority ethnic groups such as the Oromo, Amhara and Gurage. The vast majority of Ethiopian Muslims follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Some people may be partially literate in Arabic because it is used in formal religious contexts (such as recitations and the call to prayer).

The Ethiopian practice of Islam shares many informal and formal attachments to Sufism (a mystical branch of Islam). For example, Menzumas are a popular form of worship for Ethiopian Muslims. These are a type of dzikr - repeated devotional chants that praise Allah. In Ethiopia, these chants often involve clapping and tongue trilling.

Protestantism in Ethiopia: Protestantism is a recent religious movement in Ethiopia. Indeed, some Ethiopians may not be aware of the churches' presence as many people convert whilst living in surrounding African countries. Four major denominations have gained popularity.

Traditional Beliefs: There is a common traditional belief in the evil eye (Buda) among both Christian and Muslim Ethiopians. This is the belief that one's misfortune is caused by another's envy, sometimes taking the form of a curse. For example, people may believe that too much admiration of a child can cause the evil eye to become jealous and curse it, making the baby sick.

Ethiopian Christians may also believe in divine healings, exorcisms and direct revelations from God. Demons are often thought to be the cause of illness or ailments; therefore, spiritual healing is an important treatment for many Ethiopians. This can involve holy water ceremonies, and meditation and reflection over a fasting period.

In 2010, a study by the Pew Research Center found that 74 percent of Christians in Ethiopia claim to have experienced or witnessed an exorcism. These beliefs are not to be confused with those of animist African traditions.

There are many traditional belief systems that are specific to tribal groups. For example, the traditional religion of the Oromo people is called Waaqeffannaa. It involves the belief that there is a spiritual connection (ayanna) amongst everything and an overall creator, known as Waqa.

Most Ethiopians' belief systems involve the idea that spirits can possess people and that all living things possess a spirit or life force. In a 2010 poll, 11 percent of Ethiopians reported that they believed sacrifices to spirits or ancestors could protect them from bad things happening. Today, many Oromo practice Waaqeffannaa in conjunction with Christianity, seeing it as more of a cultural practice than a religious practice.



More From: Ethiopian Herald

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