An Egyptian Impression of Ethiopia

edited June 2011 in Faith Issues
Greetings to all of my brothers and sisters,

Please do allow me to share with you the following travel-report on Addis Abeba by an Egyptian brother. I would be glad to hear your opinions on some of the most interesting (to me) pieces of the report, concerning „Christian Symbols“ „Church microphones“ Would you agree with the opionions o the author?

Thanking, and wishing His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III  for a speedy recovery!

Here are some of the quotes:

„I noticed a weird thing.. That Christianity in Ethiopia has lots in common with what happens with Islam in Egypt! For example you find beggars begging on the name of some saints.. or one hold a picture of St. Mary while asking for money.. You find many Taxis, cars, buses has pictures of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, or any of the saints, and verses from the Holy Bible in Amharic Language..“

„The most vexing thing is microphones of religious organizations! In Egypt you find each and every mosque putting microphones in many directions, with a ‘high’ volume somehow, (although this has lessened to a great extent)! But here in Ethiopia, you find that Churches do the same way! Which can be really annoying, specially for those inhabitants around such organizations.. It is not good, nor healthy, whether from this side, or from the other side.. Spiritual teachings or prayers are not to be forced on people.. Even God doesn’t force Himself over people..But He puts His commandments for them, and you have the choice to obey or refuse them..“

„I noticed also that when you talk to someone, if he/she asked about my religion, I tell them “Christian”, they tell me: Then how come you don’t wear a cross?!  As if religion is limited in clothes or symbols!  Not degrading of symbols, but just to stress on the point that it is not religion, but merely part of it.  So I show them a Holy Cross tattoo on my hand..“


  • Dear Melchoir

    I was born and raised in Ethiopia from Eritrean parents. As a result, I would say I have something to say about Ethiopia and Ethiopians hoping to clarify some misconception.

    I found Ethiopians to be very hospitable and candid. They ask you questions such as “where is your cross” not with the intention of discriminating against you if you are not Christian but because that’s what they know – an Orthodox Christian wears a cross around his neck.    
    Ethiopians are deeply religious but by no means fanatics. The visitor mentioned that churches in Ethiopia have microphones and but you find the same thing if you go to a mosque. One of my memories living in Ethiopia was mosque near my house which we used it’s the prayer calls to tell what time it was.

    I hope the visitor is not advocating for a communist style secularism which Ethiopians have suffered under for 17 years. Maybe it is with the enjoyment of their new found freedom that they wear their faith on their sleeves and display it publicly. The amount of religious expressions might be shocking for one visiting from the USA or other Western nations that are embracing a militant version of secularism that banishes God from the public arena (remember the cry to take the phrase “in God we trust” from the dollar).  

    I am not trying to say Ethiopia is a religious utopia – where one can find a perfect religious harmony. Though for the most part its history had been peaceful it had some violence which in some way has come back to hunt Ethiopia.

    Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia had suffered a massive persecution by Muslims in the 16th century with the backing of the Turkish Empire. This has lead to the Islamization of parts of southern Ethiopia. More recently, in the last five years, Islamic militants have burnt numerous churches with some retaliation by Christians. Another face of Ethiopian religious dynamics is the recent upsurge of Protestantism. Such recent developments might be the reason the visitor drew a hasty parallel between Egypt’s ever polarizing societies. Yes, Ethiopia’s social fabric might be beginning to tear along the lines of religious fractions but it’s too early to say for sure.

    I have raised a lot of issues without giving an in depth analysis in order to show the complexity of the issue. It is naïve to visit a country for a brief period and brand its people as “weird” without considering its history, geopolitical position and global influences that don’t spare Ethiopia.

    P.S Feel free to ask me if you have any questions, I won’t be offended  ;)

    In Christ
  • Theophilus, thank you very much for your insights. I come from an area with a large Habesha community (relative the length of time they've been here, anyway; I'm only 28 and I can remember when they first started getting their own cultural centers, restaurants, etc.), and what you say is definitely familiar to me.

    One thing I have noticed in the process of befriending a few people in this community is that though it can be a little bit difficult to relate to each other (as it would be if I were talking with Egyptians, too), their questions (and reactions to my questions) are not coming from a place of superficiality or coldness at all. I can remember once talking to my friend Hermon (not sure if that's written correctly; it's a woman's name) about languages. We were talking about growing up bilingual and when she mentioned that she's from Ethiopia I asked her "So did you grow up speaking Amharic, or Tigrinya, or Gurage, or what?" Her eyes widened. "WHAT? How do you know about all these things?!" Hahaha. We talked a little more and I asked her about the prospects of someone like me (read: a white guy/ferengi) learning Amharic here (in northern California), and she said she didn't think it would be very likely to work out. Amharic is very complicated and besides you could only use it in a few situations, and you would probably just confuse/amuse Ethiopians in those situations.  :)

    Point taken in every case, but I noticed that she didn't tell me "no" so much as "I don't really understand why you'd want to". That's been more or less my experience with every Ethiopian and Eritrean person. They're not rude; they're maybe a little curious as to what exactly you're up to.  :) I'd like to think that if I came from one of the oldest civilizations in the world, I might be similarly perplexed by the rest of the world's semi-regular "discovery" of what I've been doing forever. I seem to remember hearing that the Copts had a similar reaction to Scottish missionaries who came to evangelize them in c.17th century, that in response to Presbyterian preaching, a Copt answered curiously "We've been living with the Savior Jesus Christ for almost 2000 years; how long have your people known Him?"

    Even on this board I've gotten PM's from Egyptians who want to know if I'm Christian or not. It must seem odd to have a white person interested in your church who isn't marrying into it or just visiting for a day from one of the Western churches. I think this a common trait for all people. If we are similar in some ways, we want to compare customs to see what other people are doing in places that are different than where we are. I am always asking probably dumb questions about the Coptic Orthodox Church because so much of what you guys do either doesn't exist in Western Christianity (anymore, if ever), or has a different name and a completely different expression.

    And I agree with Theophilus that learning about the history of a place is important. I have never been to Ethiopia or Eritrea, but I read a lot about their histories for various reasons, and they're so complicated! Especially the religious dynamics. Before Ahmed Gragn and his raiders gutted the church, things were not at all like they are today. From the histories I've read, 9 out of 10 Oromo (the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia; ~40% of the population) were Christian. Now 9 out of 10 are Muslim. These numbers might be a little off now, since it was from a book published in the 1990s, but the same trends are intensifying, since religion is often used as an identity marker, e.g., I've known some people from "Muslim" ethnic groups who consider it impossible to imagine that Somali Christians exist, or that Christian Arabs are "real" Arabs, as opposed to the descendents of French or Romans who somehow haven't made back to their real homelands yet...that kind of bigoted attitude!
  • @Theophilus 1 & dzheremi

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

    What surprised me hearing the 'microphone' and 'Cross' part of the story, is that these critical comments came, not a secular or atheistic individual, but from Christian -- a Coptic Christian. I am not in a position to judge this brother -- besides, he wrote so many positive and great stories about the church landscape in Ethiopia. But, I thought, if I were in his shoes, and see Churches praising The Lord 8 and more hours a day, I would feel blessed and motivated to do the same. Isn't this "the hard work" our Lord is talking about. I even heard some secularized, brainwashed Ethiopians complaing about Church microphones in Addis. They usually don't seem to be bothered by car noise and pollution.

  • Melchoir, I do not believe a single word you say regarding Ethiopians asking you why you don't "wear a cross". This is very out of sorts for their culture, it certainly is not the norm and you make it seem as if everyone asked you this.

    You say that the loud speakers are a problem, then leave. Ethiopia, for a very long time, has been predominately Orthodox. I was quite fond of it actually and I lived near Medehane Alem and would hear this every morning, while I did not go that early I arose and prayed and went back to sleep. Again if you do not like it leave, the country is probably better off without another nuisance such as yourself degrading their culture and beliefs.

    Something is wrong with you. Of all the beauty in Ethiopia you, like many other swine, choose to find things negative about it, find ways to bring them down for whatever reason. I take offense to your idiocy and your lunacy. Each thing you said was very negative and condescending.

    This is my impression of your impression, and my impression of you.
  • I thought Melchior was reporting someone else's impressions of Ethiopia and asking for our comments on those impressions?  ???
  • He was. Ioannes is just illiterate.
  • Thanks for sharing your experience in my country Ethiopia. As a christian or as any person it is common and good to share experiences, to give critique or suggestions on issues. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is very strong in holding the Christian culture. Every book we take from you, Copts is still in our hand eventhough some of them are making contoversies in our church. 

    When I come to micraphone and having cross. We wear cross as symbolic to be orthodox christians as you might know it is a christian tradition which is started by one of the great fathers whose name I don't remeber now. From then upto now we use it and usually we identify orthodox christians with the cross even though currently most people void wearing cross.

    The micophone is very disturbing as the commentor said but still important. For me who was around the church it had been some times very helpful and sometime problematic. But as general microphone is important to the church because fo the following.

    1. Sermons are given in masses and most of the church's are very small to hold the flock and preacher with out microphone will not be heard
    2. Addis Ababa for being orthodox city, every one is happy to listen songs or any preaching around while at work

  • [quote author=Κηφᾶς link=topic=11560.msg139204#msg139204 date=1307588455]
    He was. Ioannes is just illiterate.

    I misunderstood, I thought he wrote an article and was asking our opinion.
  • About the microphone thing...

    The writer thought the presence of microphone on top of every church building is enforcing one's religion on others. The Ethiopian Church tradition doesn't encourage imposing religion on others; in fact, it is even criticized for its lack of missionary initiative.

    The mics are there simply to help those who stand outside of the church building listen to the service. When there is no one in the church compound (like in the case of mass during lent season on a week day in smaller towns), mics are turned off since it is loud enough for the people inside.

    So, the mics are there because there are several reasons that may prevent people from getting inside. The reasons range from:

    - small size of Church building compared to large number of Christians
    - no entrance inside the building after the liturgical prayer is started (every body is expected to arrive for the preparation prayer just before the mass begines; but, still, many may not make it)
    - if the person doesn't feel clean physically (or sometimes also spiritually)
    - and many others...

    These people GREATLY appreciate the mics!
  • [i][i]Greetings to everyone, thank you all for dropping by.

    Dear Iaonnes, you must have had a bad day to misunderstand my position, I was just paraphrasing an Egyptian Copt who recently visited Ethiopia.

    Well, coming back to the subject, as much as I hate to go after the motives of individuals, I would still be glad to speculate on the reasons why a high-ranking Coptic clergy say what he said about a sisterly church.

    A. Was he jealous of the privileges that the Ethiopian Church enjoys in relation to what the Egyptian church faces in Egypt?

    B. Was he indirectly criticizing the satanic muezzin noises which are polluting Egyptian streets?

    I am still puzzled by the fact that a Coptic clergy would find it strange that preachers in their Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic as loud as they can. I find it very strange, in today's world where the symbolic power is as important as bread and water, a Christian would be lamenting about the display of the most powerful Christian symbol, The Cross.

    What do you guys think, why would a Christian (Orthodox) say something similar?

  • I do not know why he said that but I understand why he is confused
    I'm sure the mosque mics in Egypt were put on to call people for prayers and to help those standing outside here what is being said and same is for the mics in our Churches...not to impose our religion on others
    If you should know we are probably the most peaceful when it comes to imposing things on others which has led our protestant brothers to take our flock...
    We wear crosses on our neck and I personally used to think that every christian did till some time ago. So the question is pure curiosity.
    We have lived in this culture since christianity arrived in 34 A.D (officiated not until the 4th century though) so you might understand why we don't even notice it to bother us.
Sign In or Register to comment.