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An Historical-Anthropological Approach to Islam in Ethiopia: Issues of Identity and Politics

Jon Abbink
Journal of African Cultural Studies
Vol. 11, No. 2 (Dec., 1998), pp. 109-124
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1771876
Page Count: 16
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An Historical-Anthropological Approach to Islam in Ethiopia: Issues of Identity and Politics
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Abstract

The study of Islam and Islamic populations in Ethiopia has been relatively understudied since the great survey of J.S. Trimingham published in 1952. Ethiopian Islam is interesting both because of its antiquity (since the inception of Islam itself) and because of the particular patterns of interaction and symbiosis with an, until recently, predominantly Christian culture. A socio-cultural and historical explanation of patterns of tolerance of Islam and Christianity since the 16th century deserves to be developed. In addition, the relationships between religious and ethnic identification among Ethiopia's diverse populations are not well known and need further scrutiny. In the last decade, new issues of religious identity and communal political identity of Muslims in Ethiopia emerge in the wake of the political and socio-economic reforms in federal Ethiopia and the impact of 'globalization' processes in the cultural sense. While Ethiopians Muslims have in recent years gone through a phase of revivalism and self-assertion, they have remained rather impervious to 'fundamentalist' ideological movements in both a social and political sense. This article gives a brief historical overview of Islam in Ethiopia, its position in the pre-1974 empire and its relationship with Christianity, and the changes under the Communist Mengistu regime up to 1991. Finally some of the major changes since 1991 are discussed, presenting challenges for debate and further socio-historical research on the place and role of Muslims in Ethiopia and on the relationship of Islam (and Christianity) with 'modernity', ethnicity and group identity in Ethiopia.

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