Virtue of Secularism for Oromiyaa

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 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 that 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 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 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 Tawaahidoo religion and state were inseparable. The state provides the arms and church the guiding ideology. For its service church was given a third of the land. That means it was a share holder in the stake of the country. After the emperor church and state were separated and more or less the privileges of the church were stopped. But interference of state in church affairs continued to this day. The influence the state had in firing and appointment of heads of the church can be cited as evidence. Though the state declared itself a secular state yet it has extended its intrusion to other religions as well. First it banned association of Waaqeffataa. Now interfering in 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 the failed to develop different outlook to 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. Church and state together oppressed and exploited farmers that 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 partner to the state started to depend on contributions of those that followed it on their own free will. Previously it lived on forced contribution of other believers. That has to be remembered.

Concept of modern secularism was probably introduced in western Christian countries. It seems that 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 does the state become religious.  Religion has to be kept out of governance in a multi-religion 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 decease, hunger and the elements require worldly methods like scientific researches. Religious tools are different for different religions and are for advancement of individual spiritual wellbeing. 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 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 secular democratic state individual and minority rights are protected. Advance 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 external help for internal discordance. If that happens it could lead to unending international tag of war that can be catastrophic for 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 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 interest 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 interest to live in 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 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 Oromo world outlook of liberation that takes all human beings as equals and takes no any group as superior to any other. 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 govern 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 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 bias against the speaker it could lead one to mistaken conclusion. Let all have genuineness and tolerance towards each other. Let us give priority to our beloved Oromiyaa’s interest. Our struggle for independent homeland and free people shall continue. Hand in hand till victory with Oromummaa!  

Ibsaa Guutama
June 2013

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