By Ibsaa Guutama*
Oromo are one nation. They had democratic past from time immemorial. Historically, Oromiyaa had one religion. That religion did not interfere in the affairs of the state. In the same manner, the state did not interfere in exclusively religious matters. That did not mean that there was no support for each other. Both political (Luba) and religious (Qaalluu) institutions had areas of cooperation in cultural and ritual matters. But, secularism had given the nation an overall guidance in times of peace and war. True, Oromo did not only respect religion, but was also known for its tolerance of difference in thoughts. Discussing our heritage helps us understand our present. So, we should not lend our ears to evil wishers who intend to divide us.
With time, we will certainly find the way that suits all of us. The more we inquire and look at our surrounding critically, the more we develop consciousness about ourselves and the world we live in, then we realize the value and love we owe to our fellow Oromo with whom we have common country and common kaayyoo of liberation. Then, we also come to understand in depth the essence of Oromummaa. Oromiyaa is a land of many religions. Therefore, it has no better alternative than adopting secularism, if the nation has to survive in unity. Following, we shall try to see what we mean by it, and the advantage it can have for Oromo society.
By secularism, we mean noninterference of religion in the affairs of the state – be it administration, public education or other political affairs. In the same token, the state has no business to interfere in individual activities of religious concern. In short, it means faith is one’s own while the state belongs to all in common. That is based on the principle that the country belongs to all people under the state irrespective of what religion they prophesy. And, each individual has freedom of thought and is subject to his or her conscience alone. If one religion is entertained as a state religion, the state can have bias against all others. That, in turn, affects all rights of individual citizens.
During the days of emperors of Ethiopia, the Tawaahidoo religion and the state were inseparable. The state provides the arms, and the church the guiding ideology. For its service, the church was given a third of the land. That means, it was a shareholder in the stake of the country. After the emperor, the church and the state were separated, and more or less, the privileges of the church were stopped. But, the interference of the state in church affairs continued to this day. The influence the state had in firing and appointing heads of the church can be cited as an evidence. Though the state declared itself a secular state yet, it has extended its intrusion to other religions as well. First, it banned the association of Waaqeffataa. Now, interfering in the Muslim religion, it has provoked unforeseen protest ever.
Many Ethiopianist activists seem to bring to memory the old maxim, “Christian island in a heathen and Muslim sea.” Their problem is inability to integrate history and democracy. Some still take the Orthodox Church, the tricolor banner, and the Habashaa state as their sacred institutions. For this reason, they failed to develop a different outlook from that of their fathers. For non-Habashaa, the Habashaa “sacred” are symbols of their downfall, carried by the colonizer when marching to subdue them. To push them forward at this time helps only to widen the gap between peoples rather than breaching it. The church and the state together oppressed and exploited farmers who were their kin. They later together colonized free people to their south and mercilessly robbed them. A formation of secular state after the revolution of 1974 was thought to give some hope. The church is now a private spiritual institution run by believers supposedly, not a partner of the state. The church, instead of remaining a partner to the state, started to depend on contributions of those who followed it on their own free will. Previously, it lived on forced contributions of other believers. That has to be remembered.
The concept of modern secularism was probably introduced in western Christian countries. It seems that it originated from shortcomings of divine laws in responding to demands of developments in knowledge and technology. When discussing secularism, one has to bear in mind that it does not mean atheism. All citizens, including rulers, have freedom of thought and the right to worship in any manner they like. State law protects that right without discrimination.
That will be possible only if the state does not entertain any religion in particular. The state sanctions no religion; that means, there is no state religion or the state does not become religious. Religion has to be kept out of governance in a multi-religious state, but should be protected for individuals. Freedom of association is the right of all groups, including religious groups.
Inhabitants of a country face several problems in their worldly life. They need to solve such problems together. Advancement in technology, environmental developments, protection against disease, hunger and the elements require worldly methods like scientific researches. Religious tools are different for different religions, and are for advancement of individual spiritual well-being. They are not common to all inhabitants of the land. Therefore, for people’s material life difficulties, a common – all encompassing – method is required. Secularism advocates good for the advantage it gives to all members of society on this earth without any exclusion. In religion, good is advocated more for the benefit it has for the life after death. Therefore, to claim our country together, to develop common economic life, language and culture, we have to have laws common to all of us.
We can learn from history on how theocratic states persecuted the minority for heresy or apostasy. And, also how many scientists and philosophers ended on the stake or beheaded? We do not want that to be repeated. Under a secular democratic state, individual and minority rights are protected. Advancements in science and other fields of knowledge are encouraged. There will not be discrimination for creed, gender, race or color. Everyone has the right to be treated equally without discrimination and pursue any trade, religion or discipline of one’s choice.
Coming to Oromiyaa, it is hoped that all nationalists will be on the same page in their struggle for independence and against tyrannical rule. Together, they will make sure that all individual and group rights, including those of religion of fellow nationals, are not interfered with by any external or internal force. The abuse of individual rights should be taken as an abuse against the written and unwritten constitution of the nation.
Except Waaqeffannaa, all Oromo religions have people of the same faith outside Oromiyaa. Groups may try to enroll the external help for internal discordance. If that happens, it could lead to unending international tag of war that can be catastrophic for the survival of the nation. Therefore, it is incumbent with each national to act responsibly in matters of national integrity and sovereignty. Their innocent utterances could be misinterpreted and open a loophole, through which saboteurs could sneak in. They may even require to study in depth what their faith teaches. To borrow from the words of the Bible (Mathew 22:15-22) “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” A similar version is cited from Hadith (en Wikipedia.org, Islam and secularism) “If a question relates to your worldly matters, you would know better about it, but if it relates to religion, then to me it belongs.” Those are said to be words of the Holy Prophet. Some analysts smell sanctioning of secularism in both quotes.
Theoretically, all those that prophesy religions that originated in the Middle East are said to be brothers, and no boundary line should separate them. In reality, no country has spared another because they had similar religions. Evidences are the history of European and Arab countries. The Arabs would not have attacked another Arab country in coalition with Christians. The same with Europeans. For all, national interests came first. Nationalism has so far overcome even the most aggressive internationalism of the communists that promised good life for all working peoples of the world. Our national interests to live in a stable peaceful environment, and maintain control over our resources and defending our sovereignty should be our common primary objective. Only Oromummaa will be our guide to achieve that.
Present Oromiyaa, we said, is the land where there are different faiths. No faith is superior to the other. The Oromo have struggled for their birth rights since they were colonized. They were denied their human rights, which include individual, civil and political rights. Their religions were relegated to second-class or to nonexistent. Their relentless struggle has forced the Ethiopian state to accept secularism in which there is no state religion or a religious state. For a nation, to live in peace is indispensable to be stable. In Oromiyaa, their rallying cry for freedom and independence is Oromummaa. Oromummaa is the Oromo world outlook of liberation that takes all human beings as equals, and takes no any group as superior to any other. The Oromo society, like many others, has different groups – be them social, religious, tribal or ethnic. To administer all these with justice, equality and without discrimination, there must be a body of laws that governs them separate from their religious dogmas and group ethos. For that, the secular method is a panacea.
Now, at a time when we are struggling for our independence and when all odds are against us, to raise a sectarian debate is no less than a distraction, for that matter, a sabotage. It is not only being denied our legitimate rights to implement our right to national self-determination, but our rights of worship and expression are being muffled by the enemy. Be them rights of individuals or groups, all belong to our people, and to protect them is our common concern. No right denied to a citizen makes freedom of the nation complete. Therefore, we have to condemn together the interference of the empire state in citizens’ right of worship. We also oppose any suggestion that takes this as a pretext and try to mess up with our national integrity. Let it be also known that any utterance that refers to the Oromo nation as a “gosa” is taken as contemptuous and so unfriendly. The recent solidarity meeting in Minneapolis for our compatriots struggling back home has to be appreciated. For this writer, the speech made by the young Oromo Jawar Mohammed is appropriate for the occasion. But, different people may give different interpretation to any speech or writing; all are entitled to their opinion. But, any comment should have addressed the issues, not the person. In that way, we can learn from each other’s strong and weak points. These issues have far-reaching consequences and must be handled without any bias or idiosyncrasy. Unless the speech is evaluated line by line, point by point, and is based solely on an unbiased stance against the speaker, it could lead one to a mistaken conclusion. Let all have genuineness and tolerance towards each other. Let us give priority to our beloved Oromiyaa’s interest. Our struggle for an independent homeland and free people shall continue. Hand in hand, till victory, with Oromummaa!
* Source: Gubirmans Publishing