If I listed the things that I admire about the people in Ethiopia, religion would most certainly be at the top. People openly observe their religion and follow their beliefs there. In America, a person’s spiritual beliefs are often listed as an “optional” questionnaire response. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to keep our religion a secret. In America we tend to keep everything secret; our age, weight, religion, and income are all taboo subjects that we tread softly around, and avoid if possible. It doesn’t make sense to me, though. For many people, religion is a big part of who they are. It shapes much of what they do and become in life. It is for me. I can’t explain who I am without talking about how I worship and what standards I live by. It has made me the person I am. Another point to consider is that most religions teach to be not ashamed of what you believe. Ethiopians live that. They openly worship and practice their religion without shame or embarrassment.
In Ethiopia, religion is neither taboo or avoided. In fact, many times it is easy to know which faith a person belongs to by their appearance. Often, Christians would wear a black string around their necks, or they would wear a cross. The most common cross that I saw was very unique and beautiful. Crosses are seen all over the country – in the clothing, in jewelry, and in many of the handicrafts they make. It was also very common to see women with head coverings or scarves on as they walked to church or in their worship. White is the most common color used in the religious scarves, and it was very beautiful.
Islam is the second most-widely practiced religion in Ethiopia. Many women wore a burqa or hijab.
There was never a moment that I spent in Ethiopia that I didn’t see a reminder of some sort of religion or worship. Many times we would see people praying or kissing the gates of the church grounds. I loved it. It didn’t bother me that not everyone believes the same as I do, nor worships in the same way. Anytime a religion helps people draw closer to their God and become better, it blesses the country and her people.
Ethiopia has a wonderful religious history, and because it is the only country in Africa that was never colonized, much of that history has been preserved. Many of the religious sights are still standing, and are used for religious worship.
The eleven rock-hewn churches in Lalibela are some of the greatest Ethiopian architecture. They were listed as the eighth most incredible historical sight in the world by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). The churches in Lalibela are used for regular worship, and thousands of Ethiopians gather there during the religious ceremony of the Ethiopian Epiphany.
The Ark of the Covenant is another piece of history from Ethiopia. According to Ethiopian history, the Queen of Sheba, who ruled over Ethiopia, had a relationship with King Solomon that resulted in a son. The Ark of the Covenant was said to have been brought to the country by Menelik who claimed to be the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It is said that the Ark of the Covenant rests in a small chapel in the Saint Mary of Zion church in Aksum. The Ark of the Covenant is very important in the Orthodox Tehahedo Christain faith. Aksum also hosts the archaelogical remains of the palace of the Queen of Sheba, tombs of many kings, and the stunning Stelae (obelisks).
The country of Ethiopia is mentioned thirty-seven times in The King James Bible. The Christain religion has deep roots in the country.
However, Christianity is not the only religion with history in Ethiopia. Islam history dates back to 615 when the Muhammed counseled some followers to flee to Ethiopia from Mecca to avoid persecution. That was the very first hijrah (or migration). Harar is listed by UNESCO as the fourth holiest Muslim city with 82 mosques and 102 shrines.
So much amazing history rests in the country, and the people are proud of it. They don’t hide it or keep it secret. It’s such an important part of their lives. The history of religion and the unrestricted way that they worship is certainly a beautiful thing.
***Celese Sanders is a wife, mother of three, and a syndicated columnist. Please feel free to write to her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.