Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wahabism in Ethiopia as "CULTURAL IMPERIALISM"

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/15/2019 
Classified By: Ambassador Donald Yamamoto for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D). 
1. (C) Arab Wahabi missionaries, mainly from Saudi Arabia, 
continue to make inroads into the Ethiopian Muslim community, 
but are meeting increasing resistance in doing so.  Islam has 
existed in Ethiopia since the time of the Prophet Muhammad 
and the mainly Sufi Muslim community has enjoyed traditions, 
customs, and cultural practices that have endured for 
centuries.  Yet this indigenous Muslim culture has come under 
attack since 9/11 by Wahabi missionaries engaging in what 
amounts to &cultural imperialism8 against Ethiopian Islam. 
Prior to 9/11, there was little Wahabi proselytizing in 
Ethiopia.  As a result, Ethiopia's delicate Muslim/Christian 
balance and historic attitudes between the faith communities 
regarding tolerance and mutual respect are being challenged, 
thereby undermining U.S. interests in the region.  Sufi 
Muslim leaders want support from the U.S. to counter this 
pressure.  END SUMMARY. 
2. (C) In the Harar, Bale, and Dessie regions of Ethiopia, 
Arab Wahabi missionaries (and their Ethiopian disciples) are 
directly challenging the traditions and practices of the 
indigenous Muslim community.  As expressed to PAO by members 
of the IASC, Wahabi missionaries are able to use their money 
and &legitimacy8 as native speakers of the language of the 
Koran and their closeness to the holy cities of Mecca and 
Medina, to undermine Ethiopian Muslim customs and traditions 
and teach interpretations of the Koran that promote a far 
less tolerant view of other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 
Because of the financial support these missionaries have, it 
is very difficult for Ethiopian Muslim leaders to counter 
their influence and many imams are not educated well enough 
to argue against these foreign interlocutors.  As a result, 
indigenous Ethiopian Muslim culture is under assault and the 
Ethiopian Muslim community needs U.S. support to counter 
extremist influence that may well generate and promote 
conflicts with the Ethiopian Christian community as well as 
intra-Muslim conflicts as we have already seen happen in some 
3. (C) Ethiopians are sensitive to this issue and readily 
understand the nature of this conflict when it is put in 
&cultural imperialism8 terms.  &Cultural imperialism8 and 
&globalization8 are terms that resonate with Africans 
across the continent.  Ethiopian Muslims, in particular, can 
easily see that Arab cultural imperialism under the guise of 
Wahabi missionaries threatens their centuries-old faith 
traditions and sends a message of inferiority to the Muslim 
faithful.  That message of inferiority is that African Muslim 
traditions (particularly Sufi) are &unislamic,8 that 
Africans who have been practicing Islam for more than a 
thousand years have &strayed form the Truth,8 and that they 
need to purge their culture and traditions of practices and 
rituals that do not conform to their Arab/Saudi/Wahabi ideal. 
4. (C) Since 9/11, according to post's interlocutors, Wahabi 
missionaries have increased their activity in Ethiopia 
greatly.  Prior to 9/11, Wahabis were hardly active in 
Ethiopia.  Since that time, though, they have greatly 
increased their work in Ethiopia, working through NGOs and 
Ethiopian Muslims who lived and worked or studied in Saudi 
Arabia and became Wahabis themselves.  Early on, they set 
themselves up in direct competition with the Islamic Affairs 
Supreme Council (IASC) as being the only legitimate Muslim 
authority in Ethiopia.  Although the IASC initially tried to 
accommodate the Wahabis, they quickly realized there was no 
compromising with them and cleaned house in the last IASC 
ADDIS ABAB 00001674  002 OF 003 
election earlier this year.  Now the IASC is all Sufi and 
they are reaching out to the U.S. and other potential 
partners to help them counter Wahabi influence. 
5. (C) In the Bale district of Ethiopia (southeastern Oromiya 
region near Somalia), in the area around the Sheikh Hussein 
Shrine, Wahabis destroyed more than thirty Sufi shrines in 
the first few years after 9/11.  In doing so, they turned 
public opinion against them and met considerable resistance 
from the local population.  No more monuments have been 
vandalized or destroyed in the past three or four years, but 
Wahabi activists continue to preach and teach against the 
practice of saints, shrines and pilgrimages ) especially to 
the Sheikh Hussein Shrine, which has been a pilgrimage 
destination for Ethiopian Muslims for over 400 years. 
6. (C) In Dessie, in the Amhara region (northern part of the 
country), Wahabis are on the offensive against the practice 
of celebrating Moulid al-Nebi, the Birthday of the Prophet. 
With support from Kuwaiti religious NGOs, Wahabi activists 
actively preach and teach against this practice, which has 
been a popular custom in the larger region for some 200 years. 
7. (C) In Harar city and the Harar region, Wahabis went to 
great lengths to make inroads into this historic center of 
Ethiopian Islam (Muslim since the time of the Prophet and 
considered by many to be the &Fourth Holy City of Islam8), 
but strong resistance by the populace and their leaders 
effectively drove them out.  In the larger Harar region, 
Wahabis in the past tried to evangelize the population, but 
the people in this heavily Sufi area roundly rejected 
Wahabism to the point that Wahabi missionaries finally gave 
up and left.  This has not been the case in other areas, 
however, where cultural identity and religious leadership was 
not as strong and confident as in Harar.  Telling people who 
have been practicing Islam since the time of the Prophet that 
their traditions and practices are &unislamic8 grated 
heavily on the Hararis, own Ethiopian national pride and 
ancient faith traditions that long predate those of Ibn 
Wahab.  When driving through this region of Ethiopia, and 
when walking the streets of Harar and surrounding cities, 
Wahabi veils and beards are so rare as to be virtually 
non-existent.  In fact, a visitor might go an entire day 
without seeing even one. 
8. (C) Ethiopian Muslims, by and large, are Sufis.  As Sufis, 
the Muslim communities across Ethiopia have developed local 
customs and traditions of saints, zikrs (communal prayer 
chants), and pilgrimages, and Ethiopian Muslim writers have 
compiled a significant body of literature on Islam, Islamic 
law, and Muslim spirituality.  With the advent of Wahabism in 
Ethiopia, these practices have come under widespread assault 
and the indigenous Muslim community has grown increasingly 
resentful and outspoken in the face of these attacks by 
foreigners.  Muslim leaders as well have grown increasingly 
bold in their outspokenness against Wahabism and the IASC 
talks openly now of the need to counter their influence. 
9. (C) Given the nature of Wahabi attacks on the Ethiopian 
Muslim community, the picture is becoming increasingly clear 
through discussions with Muslim intellectuals and religious 
leaders that this is, in fact, &cultural imperialism8 by 
Arab/Wahabi missionaries against Ethiopian/African Muslims. 
Wahabi missionaries to not seek to convert Christians or 
non-Muslims, but instead focus all their efforts on other 
Muslims only.  In seeking to &purify Islam8 among the 
larger Muslim community, Wahabis are in fact trying to 
develop a globalized version of the Faith that does not 
reflect the rich diversity of Muslim communities and their 
faith traditions around the world. 
10. (C) Ethiopians are acutely aware that they are the oldest 
independent country in Africa, that they have Africa's only 
indigenous alphabet, that they were never colonized, that the 
Falasha Jewish community in Ethiopia pre-dated the Babylonian 
exile, that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the only 
ADDIS ABAB 00001674  003 OF 003 
indigenous Church in Africa, and that Islam has been present 
in Ethiopia since the Prophet Muhammad himself, among many 
other points of pride.  They are very proud that so many 
Muslims consider Harar a holy city and that so much Islamic 
heritage has been preserved there.  This national pride is 
strong across all faith groups and Ethiopians greatly resent 
foreigners telling them that their faith is wrong, their 
cultural traditions are somehow wrong and need to be changed, 
that their centuries-old practices must be curtailed, etc. 
11. (C) The fact that foreign Wahabi missionaries do not seek 
to convert non-Muslims, but instead focus exclusively on the 
indigenous Muslim community, shows that they are in fact 
trying to change the Muslim culture of Ethiopia by 
questioning their values (e.g., tolerance of Christians and 
other non-Muslims, as well as other Muslim groups), their 
customs (e.g., pilgrimages to saints, shrines), their 
traditions (e.g., Moulids), their style of dress (e.g., black 
Wahabi veils that cover the face instead of the open, 
brightly-colored veils typically worn by Muslim women in 
Ethiopia), and even the writings of Ethiopian Muslim thinkers 
whose views do not conform with Wahabi interpretations. 
12. (C) By recognizing this movement as an aspect of cultural 
imperialism, it becomes clearer how to develop an effective 
strategy to counter this influence.  Part III of this cable 
series will outline a range of cultural programs that post is 
now implementing in Ethiopia that are very well-received by 
the Muslim community and that show promise to further erode 
the impact of Wahabi missionaries in Ethiopia. 


  1. oh man you kill us; what was the US action? I know westerns come after the people died.

  2. The wahibis came to "purify" indegenous islam in Ethiopia. This strategy is adopted from the western secular protestants who came to " purify" the indegenous christains (orthodox), Now the Eastern Islam is going to take us (Ethiopians) to intolerant and barbaric version of Abdulwahib's Islam where as the western protestant is taking us to secular morally decayed "christian in name" society that ordains gays and lesbians. So we are the battle ground. The US is the one who developed the strategy of undermining our indegenous church through financial support to their surrogate sons and daughters in Ethiopia. The wahibs are doing the same thing. So what ? Shedding corocodile tears, hahahah

  3. I have question please? There are government supported muslims in Ethiopia named Ahbash (Habash). To which group do they belong ? To wahabists or sufis? I will appreciate someone who give the right/true answer for this question. The answer for this question helps us to know the role of Ethiopian government behind the interest of this conflicting groups Wahabis and Sufis!

  4. Amazingly,the enemies of islam waste their time how it will be destroyed,
    Alhamdulilah(all praise is due to Allah) ethiopian muslims become one,such dream of sect formation is failing,inshaalh it will failed nearly,peace social interaction between ethio muslim and christian also will continue forever,b/c islam is peace although western media and their tail propagate the reverse.
    let I finish my comment from the verse of holy Qur'an, "Their intention is to extinguish Allah´s Light (by blowing) with their mouths: But Allah will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it).(Qur'an,chapter 61 verse 8)
    It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, that he may proclaim it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest (it).(Qur'an,chapter 61 verse 9)

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