By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 26, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – In a new show of discontent over what they allege is the government’s meddling towards religious affairs, thousands of Ethiopian Muslims on Friday staged protest rallies in Addis Ababa’s two Mosques.
Following Friday prayers, protesters turned out in large numbers at Grand Anwar mosque, condemning the arrest of their fellow Muslims and calling for a stop to government interference in religious affairs.
"We are gathered here to call for the release of Muslim leaders and followers arrested in the pretext of terrorism”, a protester told Sudan Tribune on condition of anonymity.
When police later arrived at the scene, protesters were seen throwing stones, causing damage to public and government properties.
A police source confirmed to Sudan Tribune that some protesters were arrested, but declined to give an exact figure.
"We will continue to fight against marginalisation of Muslims in Ethiopia and the protest will continue until our religious rights are reclaimed”, organisers said.
The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied of intervening in religious affairs and associates the Muslim protests with Islamic extremism.
Some government authorities claim the "Muslim movement” has a hidden political agenda and is more than it appears to be.
However, critics say Ethiopia’s crackdown on Muslims in recent years has fuelled tensions between the Muslims and government.
Attempts by Sudan Tribune to contact Ethiopia’s communications minister, Shimels Kemal, for comment were unsuccessful.
The Horn of Africa nation, which is fighting Islamic extremists in Somalia, attaches great concern to a possible birth of extremism on its soil and sees the issue as one of national significance.
Opposition groups have warned that the government’s continued hard-line stance on Muslims will eventually inspire foreign extremists to enter the country and join the insurgency.
Ethiopia, a secular state, is a majority Christian nation, with Muslims making up about 36 % of the country’s 84 million population.
Ethiopia was the first country to give refuge to followers of the Prophet Mohamed, who had fled their home to escape persecution.