ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopian Muslims have used the prayers of `Eid Al-Fitr, which crowns the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, to express anger at government interference in their religious affairs.
"The people want the Majlis to step down," chanted thousands of Muslim worshippers following the prayers, referring to the umbrella Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs.
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The worshippers used the mass prayers to step up protests against government attempts to interfere in their religious affairs.
"Let our voices be heard", "Free our representatives" and "Let's hold Majlis election at mosques" were among slogans chanted by the worshippers.
Similar colorful demonstrations also took place in Jimma and Adama in Oromia, and Dessie in Amhara Regional States.
Muslims accuse the government of spearheading a campaign in collaboration with Majlis to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
The government of Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Muslims also accuse the Ahbash of launching an "indoctrination program" in predominantly Muslim areas, forcing people to attend "religious training" camps or risk police interrogation and possible arrest.
Founded by Ethiopian-Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, Ahbash is seen by the West as a "friendly alternative" to Wahabi ideology, which the West sees as extreme and militant.
Muslims say Ahbash imams are being brought over from Lebanon to fill the Majlis and teach Ethiopians that Wahabis are non-Muslims.
Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia's population.
Muslim worshippers have complained of security restrictions during the `Eid prayers.
Sources told OnIslam.net that almost every worshipper was searched by Federal Police forces, which set up a checkpoint on the road to the stadium as well as at gates.
Prior to the prayer, Muslim worshippers have successfully prevented officials of the Addis Ababa Islamic Affairs Council from delivering speeches by shouting aloud Takbira (Allahu Akbar) that fully dominated the speech.
It was customary in the past years for Federal and City Majlis officials as well as the Mayor of the Addis Ababa City government to deliver speeches before `Eid prayer.
Ahead of the prayers, activists have rallied to mobilize Muslims to protest against government interference in their affairs.
"The `Eid al-Fitr is an important occasion in which we shall show the government and the nation that we won't give up on our legitimate demands and we are united in our cause," read a message posted on a popular Facebook page called Dimtsachin Yisema! (Let Our Voices Be Heard!).
"We shall send a strong message for our government to hear our collective voices."
Last week, the Human Rights Watch called on the Ethiopian government to release Muslim leaders detained during protests against interference in religious affairs.
The Ethiopian government should address the grievances of its Muslim community through dialogue, not violence, Ben Rawlence, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net.The security forces should be upholding the law, not breaking it.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net