Ethiopians Fear for Their Interfaith Oasis

May 13, 2007

Author: Stephanie McCrummen

Source: The Washington Post

DESE, Ethiopia -- Rumors were spreading up and down the narrow streets here, in front of the Noah pharmacy and Millennium Cafe, through the rectangular mosques and domed Orthodox churches of this northern Ethiopian city.

Muslims were said to be training to attack Christians. Christians were said to be stockpiling weapons for an assault on Muslims. Fears of an all-out religious melee became so rampant last year that the archbishop of the Orthodox Christian church sent spies to a mosque thought to be harboring Islamic fighters.

"They were saying through the loudspeakers that 'the soldiers of Allah are brave' and telling Muslims to take action," the archbishop, Abba Athanasium, said recently.

But then something unusual happened across the rolling green mountains in this part of Africa so defined by its volatility: nothing.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, concern about Islamic extremism has been rising across the Horn of Africa, and notably in Ethiopia, a country where Orthodox Christianity is often associated with national identity but whose population is nearly half Muslim, according to Ethiopian demographers and U.S. officials.