Daily News Egypt  /   July 28, 2012  /   2 Comments

How will Muslims celebrate Ramadan in a year when Muslim minorities are suffering oppression in a number of countries worldwide?

The Horn of Africa

This year may be the most miserable yet for the people of the Horn of Africa. Poverty continues to grind and hunger continues to worsen to the extent that many African Muslims don’t know the difference between the Ramadan fast and the remainder of the year. Somalia is one country that suffers from a serious political crisis and severe poverty. Circumstances are possibly worse in Ethiopian occupied Ogaden, a region in western Somalia.

Given Muslim suffering in Africa, it is ironic that the continent was among the first that welcomed Islam. The new religion came to Africa shortly after its foundation, promising to erase distinctions between peoples. The prophet preached that “there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or a white man over a black man, except in piety.” The coming of European colonialism and eventually communism, however, overturned the tables.

Dr. Peter Pham, a specialist in Africa at the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, testified before the United States House of Representatives in 2007, saying that the Ethiopian government imposed “a trade blockade which exacerbated the humanitarian situation of the region’s population which, given their pastoralist economy, is particularly vulnerable.”
Ramadan is, beyond doubt, extremely difficult for Ogaden refugees. There are an estimated one million Ogaden refugees spread out among 21 refugee camps in Somalia and Djibouti. The countries that host the Ogaden refugees are poor and unable to provide adequate support for them. A number of charitable agencies have confirmed that many Ogaden refugees survive only on what they receive from relief organisations, with food and water shortages forcing them to fast day and night.

Ogaden is not the only country in which Muslims’ rights are being violated, but it is one of the most tragic examples. Today, the Ethiopian military continues to impose a complete blockade of the region’s eight million residents. Thousands have been lynched, burned alive, or bombed with whole villages destroyed. Ethiopian forces have even prevented Ogadem Muslims from burying their dead according to Islamic customs, leaving bodies in the streets instead to spread fear and humiliation.

The United Kingdom ceded Ogaden to Ethiopia in 1954. The region is another testament to the fact that Muslim minorities are not trespassers or immigrants, but rather native inhabitants and an integral part of the history and social fabric of the areas in which they live. Ogaden was part of the Islamic Ifat Sultanate, which ruled over the Horn of Africa and parts of Christian Ethiopia in the 13th century. The Ethiopians, however, defeated the Muslims in the end of the 19th century. The region then fell into Italian hands in 1936 before the British gained control of the area and included it once again into Ethiopia, with the exception of Haud. Ethiopia today is unwilling to cede the Ogaden region because it contains large quantities of oil and gas and because of its important strategic position.

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