Sheik Salahadin Wazir was born and grew up in the city of Dire Dawa. He attended primary and secondary school there. Then, he went abroad to attend higher education at undergraduate and post graduate levels. He has worked with the US State Department and other areas in the country. He has lived abroad for about three decades and now serves as a Diaspora Representative to the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council of Ethiopia. He is an imam of a mosque in the United States, where he currently resides. Taking advantage of his visit to Ethiopia lately, The Ethiopian Herald had a stay with him and discussed issues revolving around religion and other related matters. Excerpts:
Let’s begin with introducing yourself to our esteemed readers.
I was born in Dire Dawa and attended elementary and high school there. Then after I attended higher education in Beirut and in the USA to obtain my first degree and masters degree. I have worked for the State Department overseas session and I can speak about nine languages. I also worked for the state government of Washington. Currently, I also have my own business as an agent for DHL and UPS FedEx. I am a father of two and have currently been living in the state of Georgia, in the United States since the last 30 years. But I frequently come to Ethiopia for various tasks.
In relation to religion, when we see the current media in the world, Islam is tied more with terrorism and fundamentalism compared to other religions. Do you know why, please?
There are some Western media houses that have associated Islam with radicalization and terrorism. For instance, when Timothy Makbay blew up Oklahoma city a few years ago, it was reported in the media by his name with any attribution to his religion. They did not say that a Christian terrorism blew up the city. When it comes to a Muslim, when an individual with a Muslim name commits such a crime, they do not only use his name but also use the term “a Muslim terrorist,” in reporting the incident. This is completely improper. Many of the media that are trying to demonize Islam are being taken to the court. We, the Muslims, have to take this issue very seriously. Islam is the religion of peace and there is no such magnitude of problem that can be associated with it. It is the religion of peace, love and compassion to human race. Because of what a few insane and politically motivated people or groups of people do, we should not attribute terrorism to Islam. They are committing the crime against not only the non-Muslims, but even most of the time against the Muslims themselves. We are feeling the pain and the terrorists have no people to lean on. We should disassociate terrorism from the peace loving people of Islam. The terrorists should be singled out and held accountable.
There are many sects within a single religion including Islam. Some people say that the Muslims are becoming more intolerant to the sects within themselves compared to those of the previous times. What is your reflection in this regard?
I do not think this is a realistic view. Islam is the most tolerant religion. We have mainly four schools of thought in our religion. There is a scholar called Sufian Al-Thouri and he has his own school of thought. There is also another school of thought pioneered by Imam Al-Awzay and was in place for several hundred years. The wife of the Prophet, Aisha, also had a school of thought. Now we have four famous schools of thought. We are facing sects and sub-sects not schools of thought. Wuhabism is a critical problem both to the Muslims and the rest of the world. During its inception, the western powers played a role in financing and providing this group with various kinds of support. It was aimed at dividing the Muslim and weakening it. But it has become a grave problem both for themselves and the other section of people in different parts of the world. We are paying the price for the mistake they did many years ago.
The teaching of the religion has no any problem in itself. The problem is being spread by the new teachings of wuhabism, to which a true Muslim could not subscribe. We have a fundamental theological difference with them. Wahabism gave birth to Salafism. They shifted to this naming for two reasons. Salafi refers to the golden years of Islam and they are trying to hide themselves under this to the darkness created when they acted as Wahhabi. Literally speaking, one cannot claim to be a Salafi, which refers to the first three hundred years, while you are living today. Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups emerged from this sect.
If the teachings of Wuhabism are against the basic teachings of the Koran, how did this sect succeed to get acceptance almost in all the continents of the world and expand in a very short period of time?
Their existence in various areas of the world did not happen over night. It was founded about 250 years ago. It should have attracted more followers when we take the period it was established into account. But they do not have that much followers. Even in Saudi Arabia, where it is established and there are about 35 million people, they have had not more than two million followers. We know that they do not have more than 200 thousand followers here in Ethiopia. What is making them look big is money and only money. According to the US investigation, they have spent about 70 billion dollars to export wuhabism to different parts of the world. Of that sum, a few billions of dollars are pumped into different African countries including Ethiopia. They are aggressively using money, media channels and the social media to expand themselves. They are also exploiting contemporary technological advances to convey their messages in different ways.
Herald: When we see all religions in general, they are about peace, love and compassion with one another and each other. But hundreds of millions of people have died in the name of religion in the 20th century alone. What do you think should be done to reverse this scenario?
In general, religion is all about the relationship between humanity and the creator, Almighty Allah/God. For instance, in our religion, Islam, no one is allowed to interfere in any form of worship of the religion. Religion faces a problem when a person or group of persons twist the word of God to fit their hidden and narrow views and goals. When one tries to impose his view on others, they have caused havoc. This is the source of the problem. The deficiency is not in the religion of Islam, it is rather in the people who shortfall in properly understanding the commandments of Allah. In terms of Christianity also there are narrow minded tendencies in countries like Uganda, where there are fighters who claim they are fighting for the Lord and slaughtering innocent people. There are also people who slaughter people who are not Christians in the United States. In general, there are Christian terrorists though the media is not reporting as it is supposed to be as the way they are magnifying it like that of the Muslim world. People need to wake up and see the whole picture. The political leadership around the world should leave religions alone instead of targeting them. Using the umbrella of religion to stay on power is one of the problems witnessed throughout the world.
As the Constitution of Ethiopia has clearly put it, religion should not interfere in the affairs of the state and the state should not interfere in the affairs of religion, too. But this does not mean that there is no need of interfering when peace and stability is at stake as a result of what is happening in religious institutions. If that is not the case the people will slaughter each other in a day light. It is the responsibility of the government to keep law and order, no doubt.
The Ethiopian Muslim community is known for living in mutual tolerance and peace within themselves and other religious congre gations. But since recently, gaps have been observed among the Muslim community themselves and their ties with followers of other religions. What should be done to well bridge these gaps and bring back the previous scenario?
When you go to the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the problem before it prescribes the medicine for your disease. But the issue we are discussing is hard to come up with analogous figure along this line as the problem with Ethiopian Muslims is in one way or the other resulted from foreign intervention. There are some countries who always wish to see Ethiopia descending on the path of chaos and instability. Even some others want Ethiopia to be part of their global movement to create an empire. For instance, the ISIS wants Ethiopia to be the 14th part of its caliphate. That is why Wuhabism and other fundamentalist groups are trying to create their presence in Ethiopia. Especially from the area of Bale, some Ethiopians are given scholarship and studied abroad to propagate their mission here in Ethiopia. It is very important to preserve the old peaceful and stable Muslim culture and prevent it from ill-intended missions of extremists. The expansion of the narrow minded caliphates and the Wahhabi is becoming a critical problem not only for our country but also to the neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa. The invasion of these doctrines in many worship centres should be completely terminated.
Today, many countries in the world have banned wahabism officially. Algeria, after the death of about 280 thousand of its citizens, has officially banned the worship of this sect in its territory. Egypt has followed the same course by banning Muslim Brotherhood after they suffered a lot due to its effects. Morocco and Tunisia also banned them and even the latter burned all of their books. Libya, Kenya and Nigeria are now suffering a lot from the movement of these narrow minded groups. Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world has also banned them. The world has become aware of the cancerous effect of this ideology and is rejecting them from being expanded to more areas. Hence, we have to follow the same way. We are facing the challenge from these groups at an alarming rate than any time ever and we have to wake up.
Egypt and Algeria are collecting and burning their books. The ideology of Wahabism has no mercy to humanity. They believe they will go straight to heaven if they kill anyone who does not believe in the way they do. There is no way to live with them peacefully and in a tolerant manner. We do not need to take the same measure that they are taking on humanity but to tell them just that they are following a completely wrong interpretation of the Islam. They have to make up their mind and go back to the right way to live in peace with the Muslims and the non-Muslims alike.
The Imams in each mosque play a great role in shaping the minds of the faithful. There are rumours that in some mosques they are using the venue to convey the views of the Wahabbis. What are the efforts the Islamic Affairs Council is making to prevent this?
A month and half ago we have had a very good annual convention where we gathered all the leaders and the imams of the Council. The Council has a total number of about 180 thousand members from all over the country. We had a very productive three-day convention that we clearly discussed and agreed for a zero tolerance upon wahabism. We also reached a consensus that any imam who is trying to be a proponent of wahabism or any other fundamentalist group has to relinquish his power and is to be replaced by another. The document constituting this has been signed by all the representatives of the council. This is going to be implemented in Addis Ababa in about 320 mosques. We estimate that about 25 to 30 of them are in the hands of the wahabbis. Of the 600 mosques in the Afar State, about 200 are estimated to be in the hands of them. Most of the mosques in the Somali State are under the control of these extremists. The same goes in Dire Dawa and some of the mosques in the southern parts of the country are still under their influence. The group is reluctant to accept this change we are struggling to root them out and bring the old peaceful and tolerant Sufi teaching back to our mosques. The imams who are going to replace them are chosen by the people, not by the government.
If you have any message to convey to the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the rest of the world, you are welcome.
My message for fellow Ethiopian Muslims is that they have to open up their eyes and clearly watch what is happening behind them and their worship centres. They have to be careful of whatever they listen to in the name of Islam. Specifically, we have to be careful of the presenters on the Africa TV, on which the teachings of Wahabism are being presented in such a way that attracts the audience but are not true to the teachings of Islam. There is no question that Africa TV is the channel of the Wahabis to lure Africa towards them. Of course, I can understand that there is a need to work on the alternative. We have to protect our children and the family members from the hidden agenda and the misguiding messages of such TV channels.
The Ethiopian Muslim community is by far better than what it used to be in the past. However, I am not saying that everything is thoroughly perfect. There is still a wider room to improve. But we have to capitalize on what we already have. My message for the non-Muslims is that they should not point their fingers on the Muslims as a whole because of the wrong deeds of a handful of Muslims. Do not label the Muslim religion or its followers as terrorists due to the acts of some of them who do not represent the religion at all. People should not try to influence the basic worship systems by, for instance, banning women from wearing the hijab in schools and other public areas. This is not a cultural issue, it is rather a matter of faith. Allah has ordered Muslim women to cover themselves and that is why people should respect it even if they do not like it. We have to be considerate of the needs of our Muslim brothers and sisters. The other thing is that the non-Muslims should not try to peak a verse from the Koran and interpret in the way they like it. You are not supposed to say so as you are not taught and qualified to have such an interpretation. Like the Muslims, the Christians also have to prevent themselves from any fundamentalist tendency. The government has to safeguard the country from any possible form of extremists infiltration.