By Hibret Selamu
When Emperor Haile Selassie was approached by Saudi Arabia for permission to build a mosque in Axum, a city where one of Ethiopia’s holy Christian sites is located, he had a perfect response for them. New York has now been requested by some entities to build a mosque in the vicinity of the 9/11 massacre. The symbolism of such a daring act cannot be lost on anyone! There is no doubt that His Majesty’s wisdom would be useful for the authorities of New York as well as the government of USA in general.
First: a bit about Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia. According to the bible, the Acts, chapter 8, verses 26-39, Christianity was accepted in Ethiopia soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, the historic records of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church state that the first Ethiopian (the then Minister of Finance) was baptized in the year 34 AD. In addition, it should be stated that Ethiopia is mentioned in the holy bible over 40 times.
It is also a matter of public knowledge that Ethiopians are a tolerant society. When the first Muslims were being harassed by the then idol worshipping Arabs, Prophet Mohammed directed over 100 of his followers including his daughter Rockeya as well as her husband to migrate to Ethiopia where they were welcomed and lived in peace for 15 years before they returned to Mecca. It should be stated, in this respect, that Arabs have always been familiar with Ethiopia as it had a great deal of influence in their region. As an example of this, mention can be made of the chapter in the Quran, entitled: “The Year of the Elephant” which relates the Ethiopian army’s occupation of Mecca in the seventh century. During this period, parts of Saudi Arabia as well as the whole of Yemen were under Ethiopian occupation. Compare that with present days’ Ethiopia from where refugees flock to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region due to the grinding poverty and oppression prevailing in their own country!
Christianity as well as Islam were accepted in Ethiopia peacefully unlike religious wars including jihad that had forced other countries to convert to one religion or another. Ethiopian Christians and Moslems coexist peacefully despite destructive fundamentalist provocations such as the burning of churches in Kefa and Illubabor a couple of years ago. Such provocations are known to have been initiated with financial help from fundamentalist Muslim countries.
Coming back to Emperor Haile Selassie I’s wisdom, his response to Saudi Arabia’s request was that he would be willing to approve the construction of a mosque in Axum, a city that contains one of Ethiopia’s sacred Christian sites, as long as Saudi Arabia permitted a church to be built in Mecca. Saudi Arabia never responded. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and US authorities may make a similar, simple request to facilitate the spread of Christianity and Islam in a reciprocal manner.