Debre Tabor, which translates as “Mount Tabor,” is a town and district in north-central Ethiopia. According to the 2007 national census from the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA), this town had a total population of 55,596, with 27,644 males and 27,952 females. The majority of the population practices Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 96.72% identifying as such, while 2.54% identify as Muslim.
In Ethiopia, Faith to Action Network has been collaborating with the Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECS SDCO) to provide interfaith dialogues to discuss peace in the context of freedom of religion and belief (FoRB). ECS SDCO has been engaging with government leaders, religious leaders, women, and indigenous leaders.
Data gathered during the dialogues shows that Orthodox believers and leaders in Debre Tabor discriminate against other religions, including protestant Christians. Discrimination against Muslims on the other hand, was exacerbated by their advocacy and lobbying of government bodies to refuse to grant any piece of land for Muslims to build a mosque, as a means of eradicating Islam from the area. In fact, all of the local government officials are Orthodox religion followers.
To improve interfaith collaboration, there was need to resolve this issue. Various exercises were conducted during the dialogues to encourage participants to see each other as equals. To begin with, Orthodox believers were encouraged to see their Muslim colleagues as opportunities rather than threats. This was accomplished by encouraging participants to write down the positive qualities that Muslims possess, in accordance with positive inquiry theory, which encourages participants to discover existing strengths, advantages, or opportunities in their communities, organizations, or teams.
Secondly, the participants’ perspectives on resolving conflicts within different groups had to shift. Previously, peaceful conflict resolution among the various groups was nonexistent, but they were made to understand that peace dialogue is possible and issues can be resolved peacefully, allowing the various groups to coexist in harmony. One of their concerns was the lack of a neutral body to bring them together and create a conducive environment to have a safe dialogue.
The Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECS SDCO) saw this as an opportunity to help various religious groups gain regular peacebuilding skills through trainings and peace dialogues. Following two sustained peace dialogues, the peace-dialogue groups decided to advocate for Muslims to be given land on which to build a mosque in town. This concept was inspired by Orthodox religious leaders who pledged to continue advocating for peaceful dialogues among religious groups, as well as other Orthodox religious leaders.
The peace dialogues have been instrumental in teaching the community that if there is a conducive environment for issues to be discussed peacefully, opposing groups can resolve conflicts in harmony and peacefully.
This activity falls under the purview of the Joint Initiative for Strategic Religious Action (JISRA). Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECS SDCO) is collaborating with Faith to Action Network to combat (religious) violence and discrimination in four regions of Ethiopia: Eastern Oromia, Western Oromia, Amhara region, and Addis Ababa region.