Reconstruction of Ethiopia's Collective Memory by Rewriting its History: The Politics of Islam

T. Nega Angore

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

2056 Downloads (Pure)


The dynamics of constructing collective memory in relation to the politics of Muslim identity form the subject matter of this research. It explores how the state and the Muslim activists agitate and reinforce a meta-political narrative among Ethiopian Muslim communities to harness collective memory. By examining the self-narrative of Ethiopian Muslim identity rhetoric reveals the process of forming collective memory and the politics of Muslim identity, it fills the empirical gap that how the state and the Muslim activists have used the historical repository to form and maintain certain kinds of collective memory that have utility for the present. Besides collective memory, super diversity and informal institutions are also used.

The overarching narrative of the Muslim activists is that of the religious marginalization of Ethiopian Islam in both Ethiopian politics and Ethiopian history due to three intertwined elements, namely, the monopoly of non-Muslim historians that biased the historical accounts, the dominance of the Christian perspective, and the heavy reliance on Christian sources for historical reconstructions. The overall goal of the activists is to provoke sympathy and charging the Muslim communities with positive energy. The early 1990s friendship stance of the state in courting the support of the Muslim communities has changed in the mid-1990s as the state started to list Islamic fundamentalism from the neighboring Muslim nations as security threat. Between 2001 and 2005 the state attempted to purge the leadership of the Ethiopian Muslim communities in order to curb the growing intra-religious conflicts and the interreligious polemics. From 2006 until 2008, the state promoted interfaith dialogue as a legitimate precept of Christianity and Islam that promotes religious tolerance. Since 2009, however, the state has actively taken preemptive measures intended in a way to domesticate Islam and contain the influences of radical interpretations.

The siding of the state with the majority Sunni Sufi interpreters with the conception that there is only one mainstream Islam is ill informed. It would have been better to recognize the existing diversity within the Muslim community and mediate the process in a neutralist stance. The exclusivist stance of the state that discredits the Salafi-Wahhabi interpretation forgoes the potential benefits of an inclusive approach. The state holds a cynical view that the religious fall prey easily to extremism. A more positive view of the religious adherents, as partners in the identification and combating of extremism, would create a grassroots strength that champions religious freedom and equality as democratic ideals. The problematic characteristics of the recent Islamic activism are a failure to be ready to accept a gradual solution to the perceived problems, the desire to dominate the formal institutions, and unwillingness to negotiate in the presence of the other that they consider religiously deviant. The mutual exclusion of the other from the religious community and framing it as anti-Islamic made the Islamic religious space a hostile ground. Changing hostility would require nurturing a religious dialogue that accepts theological differences as alternate expressions of Islam within the Muslim communities. In the context of diversity, a sense of openness and willingness to accommodate the needs of others in order to live peacefully in a shared space is required. The selective use of scientific knowledge, the avoidance of historical nuances, praising one’s own religious tradition and being critical of the other, framing disagreements as irreconcilable, and failing to present our opinions as tentative conclusions are also not helpful. There is also a need to look into one’s religious traditions from a critical distance.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Beck, Herman, Promotor
  • Van Der Aa, Jenny-Louise, Co-promotor
  • Abbink, G.J., Member PhD commission, External person
  • van Beek, Wouter, Member PhD commission
  • Blommaert, Jan, Member PhD commission
  • Douwes, D., Member PhD commission, External person
Award date4 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Reconstruction of Ethiopia's Collective Memory by Rewriting its History: The Politics of Islam'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this