Religious faith and the Oromo struggle
This piece of work reflects solely a personal feeling and shall never been considered a scholarly article. The Article is intended to provoke discussion among scholars and religious thinkers on sensitive subjects such as this. The benefits of religion may outweigh its negativity but the article is not about comparing its pros and cons. Religious faith is also both a matter of individual and public domain. Due to the social nature of this public good, my opinion is jut to target the social realm of faith otherwise I have no any vested interest to attack individual believers.
Now days we have often heard shocking news about the ever polarizing nature of Oromo differences. Among several possible factors, I believe, Oromo fragmentation is principally caused by the differences harbored by religious ideology. Even though the early Oromo world view was shaped by its indigenous belief, the introduction of aliens’ faith had changed things for good. By design we happened to intake various religious prescriptions. Christianity has outlawed the “Waqeffannaa”1. Islam has become the most competing force against Christianity to further conquer and scramble the Oromos. In due process the Oromo society have seen unparalleled and inconceivable deconstruction to its entire foundation of the social structure. As the home grown social system was abolished and replaced by the foreign one, the Oromos had lost the wisdom of their appealing tradition. “Oromummaa”2 was at stake and faced incomparable danger from these forces of foreign evils.
In those good old days Oromo “Gada” system was the hallmark of the entire Oromo life. Egalitarianism, communality and mutual cooperation were the sources social order, ultimate peace, security, harmony and Oromo democracy. “Waqqeffannaa” had promoted understanding among various Oromo groups; it capitalized on their common values, shared vision and vitalized tolerance and resilience. In this sense of harmony and unity, Oromos used to pray to the supreme “Waqayyo”3 in search of answers in times of major challenges and catastrophes. “Waqayyoo” was answerable and had never let them down.
There was a real love to one another; the fraternity and sorority that existed was based on unfettered greed and there was not ideological corruption. Through their unity and strength the Oromos were able to defend their country; they protected the national interest and defeated their common adversaries. They had never emphasized on significance of religious belief, and not on any particular clans and tribes either rather they centered their conviction on the underlying concept of “Oromummaa”. “Orommumma” was equally felt and applicable across the entire Oromo Land and the faith had ruled over their collective universal interest. In general, there was a genuine human face of “Oromumma” than any other pursuit of opportunistic and divisive group curiosity.
In any given circumstance, diversity in religion faith breeds different values and vision. The space is so limited for these social groups to come to common denomination while promoting different religious ideology. They are mostly characterized by a deficit of common vision and are less likely to appreciate their opponent’s faith. They usually eye animosity and see each other as threat to one another rather than cooperating partners. At times religion is a source of conflict and contention and can be a dangerous one. For instance, “at the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.”4
Religion shapes the way we perceive the world around us like how we view others, cooperate with others, socialize, customize, build and capitalize on our identity. When it comes to synchronizing the very foundation of Oromo identity, however, the diverse nature of Oromo faiths have made it difficult if not impossible. By their very polarizing views these characteristic features of religious faith is less active utmost and staggeringly dormant at all among the contemporary Oromo society.
Based on their religious denominations, I would like to categorize the contemporary Oromo society in to two primary groups. These categories are the ‘Born’ and the ‘Made’. The first class /“Born” Oromos are those who have stick to their original religious belief and who uphold the original values of Oromo indigenous system. To me this group is a genuine believer in the primacy of Oromo identity who put “Oromumma” before any thing else. They value authenticity than artificial cosmetic makeover in their being Oromo. They have more devotion to their origin, see wider and bigger picture in “Oromummaa’ and maintain strong affiliations to the pioneering value of Oromo democracy and Gada system. They demonstrate strong social cohesion and solidarity that can inspire and promote trust among the members. This group of the Oromo society is few in number and that is why we see a small minority in the contemporary times.
On the other hand, the second group, “Made”, Oromo are those groups, which happened to be the majority, have been forced to abandon their original faith of the home grown Oromo religious belief. They have been artificially engraved in the images of their religious masters and have deviated from their precedes’ religion due to exposure to foreign religious domination. These constitute two categories. One is the Christian group who had been subjected to religious slavery by the European colonialists and missionaries. In this group falls domestic colonization that devastated the way of Oromo life by forceful conversion to Orthodox Christianity. The other category is Muslim. Like that of Christian group this category is also the victim of religious domination by their Arab masters who were able to convert a massive number of people in the Oromo society.
The second group (“Made”) of Oromo society has many things in common. They both may not possess the true spirit of the original Oromo after all. They are victims of colonizers who have been incarcerated to grab the prescription of their colonial masters at the cost of trading their own minds and spirit. The Christian denomination pursues the values of the western ideological divide. The Muslim group models the Arab world and capitalizes on the values of Islam. Both place their religious faith before their Oromo Identity and they are short of common denomination with home grown Oromo world view if they have any at all. They are less likely to promote cooperation with different faith groups except within themselves. They dream different Oromia and see different vision instead of aspiring for the indigenous Oromo social system. Both the Christian and Muslim groups tend to mainly identify themselves most commonly with their colonial masters than they have with the Oromo people5.
Once ethno-identity is compromised against religious identity the fracture is so wide and powerful. Like a broken glass assembling it would be a very difficult and awkward task. I hold a firm belief that this is among the principal sources of disintegration among the Oromo. And also the same factor might have played a greater part in crippling the Oromo freedom movement for liberation and social justice.
Let me use a simple example to make a point. Ask a devoted protestant or a Muslim about his/her preference of ethno- national identity versus religious belief. While I should not expect 1000% response rate, I can be 100% sure that religion would be the most single important factor in building solidarity and strong social cohesion in any society. In similar circumstance, ask a person if he or she value their Oromo Identity more than their religious denomination. I wouldn’t be mistaken he or she tell you religion is more important, crucial and an essential part of their life than the Oromo identity.
The Arab world comprises “1.75 billion Muslim populations.” What make them earn the common term the “Arab’? Be it the Shiite, Sunni or any other denominations, whatever its form may be, they share ‘Islam’ as ideological divide and Islam as religious faith shapes their way of thinking around common good. Each Muslim nation has its own race or ethno national identity, be it the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Indonesia to mention a few. Indonesians, or Iranians and or Saudi Arabians, for instance, are predominantly Muslim and described as Muslim Nations. Indonesians never identify themselves with the Philippines even though they have much in common in terms of race, social status, geographic location and so forth. However, for Indonesians and Saudi Arabia the bond is so powerful because they all are assembled around a very powerful common denomination- Islam. The Hajj pilgrimage is the best example that brings millions of Muslim together world wide annually.
On the other hand, Christianity is also an indisputably powerful force that indoctrinates and assembles billions around common objectives. What would be the primary interest of an individual priest of Ethiopian origin to associate himself to a vulgar white protestant German or a Catholic American? The former is a desperate poor, black and uncivilized whatever his socioeconomic status may be. The latter is a white, affluent, extravagant, and modernized. Even though they both maintain their distinct identity, there is a fundamental fact we would not afford to deny. They both claim one thing in common because they belong to same category, Christianity.
My argument is not to talk about the sheer religious diversity in any particular context. However, I attempt to argue that religious diversity in a given society is a divisive force when it comes to rally society around common goals. At the same time, the stark reality is that faith is a powerful and an essential ingredient of identity formation compared to any particular source of identity. Therefore, religion plays a very decisive role in bringing desired changes among various social groups and its effect on winning the sole and mind of individuals for any particular cause is so enormous. In any circumstance, religion is unparalleled by any factors such as race and ethnicity when it comes to enslaving its devout followers. We Oromos have been severely infested with this syndrome that undermines our unity and costs us the fundamental value of self-possession- Oromo Identity. Do you understand that we do not really own ourselves?
“Religion continues to influence social and political values at the foundational level. Take the Catholic Church for instance one can hardly separate it from the evolution and governing ideals of Western nations. Even if subtle or ingrained, faith and spirituality are a part of identities at many levels of society”6. Even though, I believe in the separation of state and religion, I am still convinced that religious belief is the core component of nation formation and nation building. Let us assume Oromia will be free and autonomous, in any form, sooner or later. And which dominant religious ideology should it pursue then? Christianity? Islam? Waqeffanna? I do not think the Oromos will come to consensus when it comes to nation formation on the core values of religious belief. Because Oromos have been subjected to the polarizing establishment of religious faiths, it may instigate conflict against one another and further aggravate the differences. Each group would push for an acute form of religious fascism. Christianity would be considered a legitimate imposition on their converts. Islam would fight hard to expand and maintain the status qua.
In any case the nation will not be formed and built on a single fundamental religious value when it is basically fragmented on several fronts. An attempt to unify the population on a common ground would also be that hard to achieve. This is basically what we are witnessing at this particular time in point. To my understanding, the unproductive and ineffective Oromo struggle reflects, in part, this fundamental reality. I challenge you to critically examine your self and come up with your opinion to share with your fellow citizens.
Even though the essential destiny of all major world religions is preaching love, peace and eternity, among many other intractable religious values, Oromians are deeply divided among themselves pursuing different religious ideologies to uphold those sacred values. When the division is so obsolete and irresistible, religion eats them in and out very hard. It erodes their internal strengths; consumes the tolerance needed to understand one another; deeply disconnects one group from the other and provides an ideal condition for conflicting interests while breeding confusion, illusion and ultimately resulting in irreconcilable identity crisis. Religion subjects individuals to slavery by degenerating self-confidence and taking away their consciousness to a particular cause other than the consciousness needed to advance the destiny of eternity.
Generally the lethal force of religion makes its victims so weak and dependent by enslaving their reasoning power and corrupting the intellectual judgment to a skewed and a single side of reality. Religion after all is a coercive instrument primarily designed to control their victims and inherently a necessary evil. “Religion controls billions of people using concepts not based on reality. It tells people how to think, and what moral guidelines to follow. It undermines the most basic concepts of reality, and becomes the entire foundation for one’s thinking.”7
I am not prescribing a remedy for every single Oromo individuals to abandon their religious belief. I have no any intention to target and attack a single faith for that matter and describe the negative or/and downside of any religion in the Oromo society. In fact, any religion has its own positive merits and downside. And I also have neither moral authority nor professional ethics to make such a sweeping recommendation. My message is simple and clear. The more society is divided along various religious faiths the less likely that it finds a common ground and shared vision particularly when it comes to the very sensitive and delicate pursuit of identity.
My fellow citizen, my appeal is to try to provoke an open dialogue about the very nature of our division along various religious ideologies. Constructive engagement and discussion among us would unfold the potential for understanding reality and challenge the obstacles contributing to the making of our own failure. Open dialogue will give us strong resilience for self awareness and fight our illusion so that we may be able to find a common ground in pursuit of “Oromumma” and confront the horrifying oppression in that empire state. Keep your religious faith as personal and private matter and stand united to defend the truth cause of “Oromummaa”. Put your Oromo identity foremost before any thing else and battle the religious prejudice imposed on you by unimaginable force of evils.
As a society we all have made a greater stride to a clear and unambiguous historical route towards building “Oromumma”. Our religious faith came far later after we had formed “Orommumma” as a common denominator. However, we have terribly lost a greater momentum against our conquerors fighting an agonizing, senseless and shameful war among ourselves. Those lost years of internal chaos, confusion and skirmish must come to an end for the common good. Now “Oromummaa” is in a desperate need of renaissance and unity than ever before. Stop the present status qua as a sleeping giant and wake up to step up your self-consciousness and advance the cause of freedom, human dignity and social justice. A protracted and further failure to unite toward our collective cause would leave us in an absolute, never-ending suffering, and pains of slavery under the brute force which we all describe as our common enemy.
1 . “Waqeffannaa” is an Oromo word meaning belief in God
2 “Oromumma” is an Oromo word roughly translated into Oromo Identity
3 “Waqayyoo” is an Oromo word which means God.
5 Note that my opinion focuses on the religious institutions rather than individual believers. And also not every Christian, Muslim and or Waqeffata are self-conscious of their being belonging to an Oromo identity and not all Christian and Muslim are in identity crisis. Millions from every single faith are out there are proud of their identity.
6 www.pulse-berlin.com, Religion and Identity, As much bad as good? By Erin Wilson
7 www.groups.google.com: How religion makes you weak. Thinking men cannot be ruled. – Ayn Rand