Tolerance: Harmony in difference
By Pawlos Belete
Though Ethiopia's religious tolerance and diversity over the past was appreciated, a panelist warned of its fragility. A half day forum which highlights the importance of cultural co-existence and mutual understanding was organized by Ethio-Turkish International School (ETIS) in collaboration with Inter- Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE) and the Ministry of Federal Affairs at the new Conference Center of the African Union on May 26, 2012.
"Business as usual is not the way forward for matters concerning our religion. It is no more the case. Changes are inevitable. I am so much touched by the peaceful coexistence of Ethiopians. The lesson I took from Ethiopia is the peaceful nature of coexistence in the country which is little known in the place where I live. I am deeply touched by the beautiful social fabric of Ethiopians. It is a beautiful way of harmonizing social fabrics among different sects of culture, religion and ethnicity. I wish America would have known this beautiful way of living in harmony and learned from it. But I have to warn you to not take this beautiful picture for granted because it has not been tested yet. It will be tested as Ethiopia becomes more and more prosperous. As Ethiopia opens up to the global community, it will be challenged through different realities of the world. Mali was a peaceful place; Nigeria was a peaceful place until they found oil. In the Middle East and Indonesia; Sunnis and Shias, Christian and Muslims were living peacefully for millenniums. The political leadership there was not able to prepare its citizens for the global test to come and the rest is what we are witnessing at the present," argued Dr Adulla T. Antepi the Muslim Chaplain of Duke University in UK.
"Even though religion which preaches peace and love is central to human thought and action, it was not able to prevent the bloodshed our world witnessed in the last century. Our peace loving religion was taken as a force to endorse violence. It was encouraging bloodshed. So as a religious community of faith or as a community without faith, we have to learn how to live together in peace and love," he added.
Religious tolerance is a condition in which one respects or permits others' religious beliefs and practices which disagree with other beliefs and practices, argue religious experts.
"Tolerance is harmony in difference. As long as incompatibilities exist, we have to enter into an agreement that solve our central problems and accept each other have continued existence as people and to cease violent action against each other. We have to be able to experience a diverse society to pass through the reconciliation process from a divided past in to a shared future. This should be an inclusive, broad and deep process that involves changes in our attitude, emotion, aspiration, feelings and even beliefs," argued Pastor Zerihun Degu, General Secretary of IRCE.
IRCE envisions a developed Ethiopia where religious freedom and equality based on peace, love, tolerance and mutual understanding prospers. ETIS was established in Ethiopia in 2004 to promote mutual relationships between Ethiopia and Turkey. It operates four schools in Addis Ababa at present. The forum gathered more than 2,000 people. Most of the participants were Muslims.
Respect and tolerance is recognized and across many international and national covenants. For instance, the UN Alliance of Civilization, the UN Human Rights Charter and national constitutions of different countries around the globe. However, poverty and ignorance are eroding the very nature of peaceful coexistence, argues the panelists.
"The problem of intolerance, radicalism and subsequently terrorism arises from a group of people that are not related with religion but a politically motivated group only. Our constitution embraces all citizens as any other democratic constitution around the globe. Our constitution ensures freedom of religion, equality of religions, and clearly separates religion and state. The constitution guarantee declares non interference between religion and states," said Dr Shiferaw Teklemariam, Minister of Federal Affairs.
"The mismatch arises when the constitutional provisions are broken as a means to achieve an end forbidden by the constitution itself. Breaking the three democratic principles under the cover of religious movement is illegal and defined as radicalism for any practical purposes. That is intolerant attitude and mismatches with our asset of coexistence and mutual understanding. Above all it is against our constitution," concludes the minister.