The Culture of Accommodation and Tolerance: Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia

TRANS, Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, No. 17, 2010

Posted: 25 Apr 2010

See all articles by Mag Jerusalem W. Negash

Mag Jerusalem W. Negash

Äthiopisch-Österreichische Frauensolidarität

Wondwosen Teshome-Bahiru

Forum für Sozialwissenschaften Forschung

Date Written: April 25, 2010


Ethiopia’s history has been marked by mutual respect and tolerance between Christianity and Islam, except a brief, but major conflict in the 16th century, and other minor incidents in the past ten years. The two main religions in Ethiopia, Orthodox Christianity and Islam have co-existed since the time of Prophet Mohammed. Christianity became the official religion of Ethiopia in the 4th Century A.D., and Islam had come to Ethiopia at the beginning of the 7th Century A.D., when a group of persecuted Muslims fled to northern Ethiopia from Arabia. The persecuted Muslims got a safe-haven in Christian Ethiopia and remained there until their country became peaceful enough to make their return possible. In the latter years, Ethiopia maintained its direct contact with the Muslim world through trade. Through time, many Muslim settlements emerged in Ethiopia, mainly along the trade routes. At present, Ethiopia’s population is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Moreover, one of the holiest cities of Muslims, Harrar, is founded in the eastern part of Ethiopia.

The successive governments of Ethiopia was promoting this accommodation and resisted the politicization of religion in the country, contributing for the survival of the nation despite its poverty and the presence of more than 80 ethnic groups with different languages and various ethnic clashes. For many centuries, the primary focus of both Christian and Muslim Ethiopians was to maintain the nation’s independence and territorial integrity.

The paper tries to investigate how Christianity and Islam were introduced into Ethiopia and examines their past and present relations in the context of the current situation in the world.

In this paper, some examples of both aspects of the relations (peaceful coexistence and conflicts) will be examined critically. The paper suggests that a broad and thorough investigation has to be conducted in order to understand fully the core of this tolerant culture and the contributions of the mainly peaceful, Christianity-Islamic relation in Ethiopia, so that it could serve as an example for the rest of the world, which is threatened by so-called “clash of civilizations” at present, particularly after the incident of September 11, 2001.

Keywords: Ethiopia, Christianity, Islam

JEL Classification: N47, Z00

Suggested Citation

Negash, Mag Jerusalem W. and Teshome-Bahiru, Wondwosen, The Culture of Accommodation and Tolerance: Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia (April 25, 2010). TRANS, Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, No. 17, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Mag Jerusalem W. Negash

Äthiopisch-Österreichische Frauensolidarität ( email )


Wondwosen Teshome-Bahiru (Contact Author)

Forum für Sozialwissenschaften Forschung ( email )


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