The people of Eritrea, whose unity is rooted in a long tradition of peaceful and harmonious coexistence and was reinforced by the People’s Front (PF), are one of the most unified people in Africa and in the world. The prevailing peace and stability in Eritrea is the result of harmonizing policies of the PF and the relatively progressive, receptive, and tolerant culture of the Eritrean society. During the armed struggle and after independence, Eritreans achieved considerable victory against their mighty and many adversaries.
During the armed struggle, the EPLF created a forum of struggle in which all Eritreans desirous of independence could participate regardless of their religion, language, ethnicity, region, and gender. By doing so, it enhanced Eritrean nationalism and prepared the ground for national unity by overriding all divisive and sub-national attitudes.
The government of Eritrea was established in a way that ensures unity and equality of the people of Eritrea. From the onset it rejects all divisive attitudes and activities and holds national unity above everything. The secular and nationalist Government of Eritrea adopted a policy of nationhood that turns the diverse cultures of Eritrea into a source of beauty, potency, and unity.
Mark Twain described man as a religious animal. Human beings are the only animals that have religion. He continued to say “man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn’t straight.” Religion has its own irreplaceable special functions for human life in society. The problem occurs when religion becomes politicized to address the interest of few opportunists. History tells us that the most monstrous and the cruelest crimes have often been committed under the cover of religion. There was a time in history when religion ruled the world, known as the Dark Ages. Countless wars have been waged and a lot of people killed in the name of religion. The gloom actuality continues in our present day. Religious fundamentalists and radicals have disturbed the peace and unity of families, countries, and the world at large.
Religion as a system of social cohesion and holiness should unite all people. Some contend that if religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred, and division, it is better to be without it. To withdraw from such a religion would be a truly sacred act. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity and that doesn’t respect and protect family values and national morals is not a religion. True religion does not consist only in prayers, sermons, and institutional attendance. All these practices are useless to humanity if they are not accompanied by community service, uprightness, decency, justice, honesty, humanity, and universal love.
Karl Marx defined religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature…It is the opium of the people.” Later on, Lenin added the word anaesthesis, which transformed the sentence to “religion is the opium which anaesthetizes the people.” During European colonization of Africa, religion played a great role by leading and advising the colonial state. Religions provided deceitful justification for colonization. Religion and politics are the two most complex topics that have been connected since long ago to abuse Africa.
After decolonization, the former colonial powers did not leave without leaving behind several time-bombs. Today religion is the only one of the many ways in which the continent participates in a globalized world. Africa has a minimal share of global trade, manufacturing, science, and politics. However, Africa is a testing ground for religious inventions and debates. To date, Africa continues to import not only goods but also ideas, including religious doctrines.
We are in need of importing or creating technology, ideas, and innovation. We do not need an imported religion for salvation. Westernization of local religious life and “rechristianization” or “reislamization” are part of the deliberate efforts made to arrest our ability. The importers of new religion seduce the population, particularly the youth, which experiences a low quality of life and feelings of isolation or a loss of traditional points of reference. Yosef ben Jochannan, in his book African Origins of the Major Western Religions, wrote that “It is quite unfortunate that the Africans are so much underrated by communists and capitalists alike, each believing that his way is the only way to the answer to mankind’s problem, each forgetting that each man, including Africans, can think for himself; and that it was gun power, not Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah, Marx, Mao, or any other god that made Africans slaves for over 400 years” (Yosef 1991: 26- 27).
In modern times, new religions have spread into every part of Africa, including Eritrea. Notably, they often bring new anti-social doctrines. We have problems that demand commitment and hard-work, not prayer or congregation. There is no problem of religion in Eritrea, whose people embraced Christianity and Islam before many other peoples in the world. Waiting and embracing imported religion in the hope of prosperous and peaceful life is like jumping from the log into the fire. Regarding religion, President Isaias Afwerki once noted how “political, economic or social problems cannot be countered with religion. There are other ways and means to deal with them. Religion is not a solution; rather it is a source of consolation or solace for people suffering from all sorts of problems – social, economic, political or otherwise.”
Some people, using the freedom of faith in its distorted manner, have disturbed others’ rights by saying “can I tell you the word of God” or “this is the right faith, join us” or other similar statements. They forced or tricked persons into following the new religion. Our collective response to these false prophets must be “Religion is like a pair of shoes – find one that fits you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.” Freedom of religion is a legally guaranteed right in Eritrea. The position of the PF in religion before and after independence was clear. A literature review of official documents of the PF from “We and Our Objectives” to the new legal codes published in 2015 tell the same story: “religion is private and country is common.” The National Charter of Eritrea (1994) states “The national system should be secular, separate from religion, yet respectful of the equality of religions.” Article 14 of the new civil code of Eritrea also states that “There shall be no interference with the exercise, in accordance with the law, of the rites of any religion or creed by residents of Eritrea, provided that such rites are not utilized for political purposes and are not prejudicial to public order and morality.”
Based on these legal rights, the Government has to protect the individual and collective rights of the society. Freedom that has no limit is not liberty but anarchy. Yes, in Eritrea every person has the right to beliefs, but what if its exercise damages the rights of others, morality and the law? Independent Eritrea, united by values, has never seen division based on beliefs. Thanks to our people, we live a valuable life beyond our diverse nature. The National Charter of Eritrea states “Our vision is for Eritrea to preserve its identity and uniqueness, develop commitment to family and community care.” We must not be passive or an observer when our families and centuries -old social fiber are being penetrated by commercial or imported religions.
The newly-imported commercial religions are often part of a concerted effort made by neo-colonizers to keep the youth of developing countries dreaming away from the reality of their own country and become impotent and passive. We are instructed exactly the same lecture of colonial-era: to “sacrifice our familial and national values for the love of God.” Today, religious fanaticism is one of the greatest threats to the human race…like an atomic bomb.
We are living in times compounded by technology and, yet, we are dominated by medieval dogma and narrow minds. No one demands the extermination of religion as humanity without religion is like a horse without a bridle. Morality is doing right no matter what your religion says. And what good is religion if it causes pain for another, including your father and mother? What good is any faith that leads you to hate your culture and abhor service to your country? A human’s ethical and moral manners should be based effectively on cooperation, consideration, education, and socialization.
Mark Twain once said that “If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – Christian.” Another writer also said “Most sermons sound to me like commercials — but I can’t make out whether God is the Sponsor or the Product.” The advertisements and announcements of many present religious congregations is more commercial than spiritual. The imported new versions of religiosity, if unchecked, will threaten the decent spiritual life of our African societies. Therefore, the government and the people have to bear the responsibility to check the religious escapades that may disrupt the spiritual lives of the people and the national security.
The forces that have been attempting to undermine the unity and existence of Eritrea fail to cease their efforts and continue to hatch new conspiracies. To compensate for the victory they have been denied in military and political fields they are now trying a new avenue. The hands that hold Kalashnikovs and instruments of production in defense and development of Eritrea are far better than the lips that recite a prayer authored by westerners. Every young individual has to construct temples of service, education, respect, moderation, justice, and honesty inside his or her heart. Unity is the foundation of Eritrea’s national security and religious fundamentalism is a chisel to the edifice of our national unity.