Ethiopian Orthodoxy (43.5%)
P’ent’ay (Protestant) (18.6%)
Traditional faiths (2.6%)
Ethiopia has close historical ties with all three of the world’s major Abrahamic religions. In the 4th century, the Ethiopian empire was one of the first in the world to officially adopt Christianity as the state religion. As a result of the resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 the miaphysites, which included the vast majority of Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia, were accused of monophysitism and designated as heretics under the common name of Coptic Christianity (see Oriental Orthodoxy). While no longer distinguished as a state religion, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church remains the majority Christian denomination. There is also a substantial Muslim demographic, representing around a third of the population. Additionally, Ethiopia is the site of the First Hegira, a major emigration in Islamic history. A town in the Tigray Region, Negash is the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa. Until the 1980s, a substantial population of Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) resided in Ethiopia.
According to the 2007 National Census, Christians make up 62.8% of the country’s population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%. This is in agreement with the CIA World Factbook, which states that Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in Ethiopia. The ratio of the Christian to Muslim population has largely remained stable when compared to previous censuses conducted decades ago. Sunnis form the majority of Muslims with non-denominational Muslims being the second largest group of Muslims, and the Shia and Ahmadiyyas are a minority. Sunnis are largely Shafi’is or Salafis, and there are also many Sufi Muslims there. The large Muslim population in the northern Afar region has resulted in a Muslim separatist movement called the “Islamic State of Afaria” seeking a sharia-compliant constitution.
The Kingdom of Aksum was one of the first polities to officially embrace Christianity, when Frumentius of Tyre, called Fremnatos or Abba Selama (“Father of Peace”) in Ethiopia, converted Emperor Ezana during the fourth century. According to the New Testament, Christianity had entered Ethiopia even earlier, when an official in the Ethiopian royal treasury was baptized by Philip the Evangelist.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is part of Oriental Orthodoxy. It is by far the largest Christian denomination, although a number of P’ent’ay (Protestant) churches have recently gained ground. Since the 18th century, a relatively small Ethiopian Catholic Church has existed in full communion with Rome, with adherents making up less than 1% of the total population.
Islam in Ethiopia dates back to the founding of the religion in 622 when a group of Muslims were counseled by Muhammad to escape persecution in Mecca. The disciples subsequently migrated to Abyssinia via modern-day Eritrea, which was at the time ruled by Ashama ibn-Abjar, a pious Christian emperor. Also, the largest single ethnic group of non-Arab Sahabah was that of the Ethiopians.
A small ancient group of Jews, the Beta Israel, live in northwestern Ethiopia, though most immigrated to Israel in the last decades of the 20th century as part of the Israeli government’s relocation missions: Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.
According to the 2007 Population and Housing Census, around 1,957,944 people in Ethiopia are adherents of traditional religions. An additional 471,861 residents practice other creeds. While followers of all religions can be found in each region, they tend to be concentrated in certain parts of the country. Christians predominantly live in the northern Amhara and Tigray regions, and are largely members of the non-Chalcedonian Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Muslims in Ethiopia predominantly adhere to Sunni Islam and generally inhabit eastern and northeastern areas; particularly the Somali, Afar, Dire Dawa and Harari regions. Practitioners of traditional religions mainly reside in the nation’s far southwestern and western rural borderlands, in the SNNP, Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambela regions.
Human rights groups have regularly accused the government of arresting activists, journalists and bloggers to stamp out dissent among some religious communities. Lengthy prison terms were handed to 17 Muslim activists on 3 August 2015 ranging from seven to 22 years. They were charged with trying to create an Islamic state in the majority Christian country. All the defendants denied the charges and claimed that they were merely protesting in defence of their rights.