The Network of Ethiopian Muslims in Europe held its first Conference in Göteborg, Sweden from April 10-12, 2009. During the three days conference, various aspects of the organization, the difficult route it so far travelled and the challenge awaiting it were presented and discussed with participants. We will give here below a brief overview of this historic event that transferred the organization from being an organization of individuals to an organization of communities of Ethiopian Muslims in Europe.
The Network of Ethiopian Muslims was established in response to well coordinated and planned and ever increasing challenges to the very existence of Ethiopian Muslims and Islam in Ethiopia. The years leading to the 2005 Ethiopian National Election were of particular interest in this respect. In efforts to expose the faults of the ruling government, Ethiopian Muslims and their interest were attacked head on. Islam was presented as a threat to the national security of the country. The fact that Muslims started to send their children to school was projected as unprecedented danger. Building of worshiping place, increasing observation of the faithful of their religious duties (attending prayers, observing Islamic dress code, abstinence from celebrating/attending Christian holydays and other habits forbidden in Islam) were taken as signs of increasing extremism among Ethiopian Muslims. The economic implication of a window of extra one hour pause on Fridays and that due to the traffic jam caused by Muslims praying on streets around the hut-sized and thus too often crowded Mosques were analyised. The federal system was challenged mainly for allowing Muslim dominated areas to be governed by Muslims themselves for its being an avenue that brought Muslims to bureaucracy, a sole possession of the Christian elite for centuries. By allowing all these to happen and many similar other ‘crimes’ which directly or indirectly linked to the rights and interests of Ethiopian Muslims, it was argued, the governing system was damaging the historic image of Ethiopia. Allowing Muslims to learn/teach their religion and their history, having the ‘limited’ freedom to pratice their religion were all presented as too divergent, on the part of the government, from the long and accepted tradition of the forefathers and the country’s Christian root. All most all forums (www, radio/TV, Newsletters, magazines) dedicated to Ethiopia, be they political, social or cultural, gave this line of thought extra emphasis and, by far and large, used it as just cause for country loving Ethiopians to stand together and redeem the country before it was late.
While this was happening, Muslims had no any single platform to confront the dangerous propaganda that challenged their very existence. Nor there was any single organization that could represent them and their interest in any forum. It is under such situation that few Muslim brothers rose up and started to represent Ethiopian Muslims, exposing the hard reality about the state of Ethiopia Muslims and Islam in the country beyond fictitious propaganda and calling upon others to join hands and play their role for a democratic and tolerant society to evolve in the country. Since its inception early 2004, the Network has undertaken various activities by its own and in joint actions with other organizations. It conducted various online discussion events and hosted international conferences that articulated the challenges Muslims face in their aspiration to be assertive for their rights and interests, the various forms of abuses they are subjected to under the so-called pro-Muslim government, on the history of Ethiopian Muslims and Islamic history of the country, …. Until April 10, 2009, however, there has not been an opportunity for Muslims from around Europe who heard the message of the Network and stood around its ideals to sit under one roof.
The 2009 NEME conference
| NEME Conference Banner|
Preparation for the conference was started very late and there was no that much intensive advertisement made. It was feared that this might have impact on the number of prospective participants. To the surprise of the Network’s leadership and the host community, the turn out was very high. More than the actual figure, what was rather motivating is the interest shown and active participation made by participants during the three days of the conference. Indeed, the founders of the Network have successfully transferred the organization to its intended owners, Ethiopian Muslims in Europe.
The conference was opened at 18:00 cet with a recitation from the Holy Quran. Br. Abdulkarim A/Rahman, on behalf of the host community, (Ethiopian Muslim in Göteborg, Sweden) and Br. Abiye Y. (Belgium), acting chairman and founding member of the Network, welcome participants. After praising the Almighty, Br. Abiye recounted on the hard reality that made the establishment of an Europe wide Network of Ethiopian Muslims a must and the difficult yet memorable years it left behind. He told the participants that the organization is now in their hand and it is the responsibility of each and every of them to shape it in a way that will enable them advance the common interest of the Umma. It is equally high time that they put in position those leaders they believe will advance the holy mission of the Network and help realize their dreams.
The remaining hours were then given to distinguished scholar and guest of the conference Shaykh Ali Mohammad Ebba from Nairobi, Kenia, alias Babu Mekka, and Ustaz Mukhtar J. from the UK. Their lectures emphasized the essence of brotherhood and unity among the Umma and the responsibility each and every Muslim have in advancing peace, justice, equality and freedom for mankind.
| Partial View of Conf. Attendents|
The Saturday program were by far and large dedicated to discussion on the Network: its missions, its organizational structure and its immediate actions. Br. Nurhussien M. (Sweden) and br. Abiye presented the network and conducted discussion with participants. Br. Nurhussien gave an overview of why there was a need for such a network and briefly touched upon the various activities the Network accomplished during the last five years of its existence. Br. Abiye went into the detail on the missions of the Network, its objectives and structure it has built up to realize them.
The Network is membership based organization with legislative and executive bodies. Unique to the Network of Ethiopian Muslim in Europe, there will be a Shura Council with the power and privileges bestowed to the General Assembly in the network’s Constitution. The General Assembly is the highest and legislative body of the Network. The Shura Council shall have an Amir who is also the Head of the Network. The Executive body with is various standing departments will be responsible for the actual management, implementation and execution of the network’s activities. The Network have further caretaker and advisory bodies as board of trustees, board of auditors and board of advisors. Following such detailed presentation, an open discussion was held with participants which then led to the unanimous approval of the presented structure as a workable framework that would allow full participation of members while providing flexibility and harmony for its various organs to function properly.
The Saturday afternoon session started with an emotional and eloquent lecture by Ustaz Mukhtar J. He spoke over the need for organization and how to establish a strong and viable organization that would serve advance the common dreams of the Umma. He challenged participants to demonstrate their determination to have the type organization he just described. Participants responded to the challenge by raising about 20, 000 euro right on the spot.
Br. Seifulislam M. (UK) presented an activity report of a special committee setup to manage the Child sponsorship program of the Network. According to the report, the Network fund the education of more than 120 Yetim (children who has lost their parents) and Miskin (children from poor families and who are unable to bear the costs by themselves) and planning to diversify its involvement in projects dedicated to the prevention of HIV and support its victims.
| Conf. Participants discussing issues of priority in small groups|
After a short coffee break, participants were divided into small groups of 10-15 people and urged to deliberate on the immediate actions the Network should embark on. It was a breath taking moment. After the discussion groups presented the result of their discussion to the bigger audience. The issues raised were indicative of the sort of priority the Network should give as it prepares its short and long term action plan. Uniting the Umma under the banner of La Illaha Illa Allah Muhammad Rasul Allah (There is none worthy of Worship but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), strengthening the Network and assure its organizational and financial sustaintability, Marriage and education, Mass media and information exchange, bridging the Umma back at home and in the diaspora, empowering local Muslim Communities, … were some of the many burning issues that the participants felt urgent. This session is believed to have given the Network’s upcoming leadership a clear direction and useful input for its immediate engagement.
As was the case for the Saturday program where the Network and its working was scheduled to be discussed in depth, participants were eagerly awaiting for the Sunday program. As per the schedule, the Network was to get its legitimate leaders for the first time and for this the program was started with great enthusiasm. The Election Committee, a standing committee in the structure of the Network for organizing election to various posts, took its place and the Chairman, Br. Muhaba J. (Sweden) went through the tasks of the committee and the process it had to pass through in selecting the best candidates for the various position in the various bodies of the Network. He briefly mentioned the different positions and the type of quality each and every one demands. Finally he presented the nominees and invited participants to approve or disprove them. Participants approved all the nominees for their the various posts identified without any remark. Accordingly, Ustaz Mukhtar J. was elected as Amir of the Shura Council and thus Head of the Network. Br. Muhammad H. from Germany will head the seven strong men Executive body of the network for the next term of three years. Herewith the Network got its legitimate leaders who all are proved to be dedicated and able to dispose their responsibilities entrusted up on them by the Umma. Alhamdulillah!
During the three days of the conference, participants enjoyed the presence among themselves of the young and eloquent scholar Shyakh Ali Muhammad from Kenya. It was a unique chance for many of us who have known the Shaykh for being a man of great learning and wisdom but never had the chance to attend his live lectures, except online dawa’a he conducts almost every day. He is a hope for Ethiopian Muslims and indeed we are fortunate to produce such a well versed scholars who are up to the challenge of time and circumstances. Alhamdulillah!
|Conference Paltalk Manage, |
Br. Seid (Sweden)
Before concluding the Conference, interested communities for hosting the 2010 NEME conference were called up on to present their candidacy. For reason of visa requirements, the UK and Norway Jama’a withdrew their candidacy after strong show of interest. The Negashi Ethiopian Muslims Jama’a (Stockholm, Sweden) and Luqman Ethiopian-Belgian Muslims Association (Belgium) presented passionately their case why they should host the next conference and persuaded participants to give their support. Negashi claimed superiority in the number of its members and being the first established Ethiopian Muslim community in Europe, it should be given the privilege to host the conference. Luqman argued that the Network has to demonstrate its being Europe-wide Network by holding the upcoming conference in the capital of Europe, Belgium. It told participants that the Network is registered in Sweden and for that reason its first conference was organized there. It is a logical reasoning that the next conference be held in Belgium, the seat of the EU and EC. Participants were divided in their support of the two Jama’a. The Norway Jama’a gave its full backing for Negashi. The UK Jama’a stood firm on the side of Belgium Jama’a. It was thus not possible to decide right away to choose one over the other. Ballot had to decide! Insha Allah, Luqman Ethiopian-Belgian Muslim Association will host the 2010 NEME conference to be held in Belgium. The UK and Holland Jama’as will be partners. The whole process was full of fun and one that demonstrated the will of the Muslim Jama’a in various counties to join hands and work under the umbrella of the Network of Ethiopian Muslims in Europe.
All the three days conference program was broadcasted online through various paltalk discussion forums to attendants from the world over, including Ethiopia. This is one of the sort of mediums the Network needs to exploit well as a means to get its messages across horizon.
May Allah bless the initiative, all those who served as causes for it, and those who are determined to work further and advance the cause of the Umma. Negashi OJ uses the opportuntiy to wish the new leadership a successful term.