Religion in Ethiopia


According to thesciencetutor, in 2019, Ethiopia had a population density of 97 residents per km2. Especially the plateaus of the central and northern highlands are densely populated, and it is estimated that about 2/3 of all residents live in areas that are 1,800 meters above sea level or more. Over 80 percent of the total population lives in the countryside.

Some redistribution of the population from rural to urban has occurred since the Italian occupation in the 1930s, but the general view is that the 1974 revolution through land reform and administrative restrictions today has reduced the extent of urbanization. The largest cities in 2016 were Addis Ababa (3.3 million residents) and Nazret (324,000). In the 1980s, migrations took place from the northern and central highlands to southwestern Ethiopia and to the border regions towards Sudan. When they were of a compelling nature, they were often controversial both for political and social as well as ecological reasons. In Ethiopia, there are estimated to be more than 150,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia but also from Eritrea and Sudan.

According to Countryaah data, Ethiopia’s population consists of a large number of more or less clearly defined ethnic groups of varying sizes. At the 2007 census, some 80 were discerned, but the diversity is greater than that. The Amhara people (20 million) make up 27% of the population and are mainly farmers.

The former livestock but now largely agricultural farming community (25.5 million) is Ethiopia’s number of largest peoples and makes up 35% of the population. It has since expanded into the Sidamo province since its 16th century and now constitutes the majority population of the modern Oromo region, but is also found in regions such as Afar, Amhara and Somali. The Oromo people are divided into two major groups that fall into a series of clans. Half are Christians, but there are also a considerable number of Muslims among the Oromo.

Southwest of the capital is 1.9 million gurage, a collective term for loosely composed groups. The number of Cushitic speaking apes amounts to 1.3 million. They live as herdsmen in the Northeast region bearing their names. In the north there are 4.5 million tigray (tigrinja), which also dominates in independent Eritrea.

The livestock and nomadic Somalis (5.1 million), mainly from the clan family, are the second largest population group in the Somali region. Along the river Omo in the southern part of the country, a large number of livestock and farming people live. Some of them, e.g. dasenech (48,000), utilizes the river’s seasonal floods to make use of irrigated land. There are also nomadic mursi (8,000) with their own religion of origin and Hammer (74,000), a Muslim shepherd. The Nueras (150,000) are found in the Gambela region on the border with Sudan. Like many other Nilotic peoples in western Ethiopia, they combine livestock management with fishing and mill farming.

People in Ethiopia

In the Amharan region, a few thousand so-called falasha (beta Israel) still live. They are largely dependent on crafts and practice a form of Judaism. About ten thousand Falasha were transported to Israel from the camp in Sudan in 1984–85. Later, emigration continued and in a new campaign in 1991 another large number was moved to Israel, where the majority are now found.

There are also a number of smaller groups living in different forms of friendship among Ethiopia’s larger ethnic groups. They usually have some form of throwaway craft specialization, such as tanneries, blacksmiths, potters or hunters. Among the more famous are watts around Lake Tana. Another group is fugue, where the women are potters and the men hunters and tanners. Of birale or ungota, another hunter group on the west bank of the river Wejtos, only a few individuals remain.


The languages ​​in Ethiopia belong to two different language families: the Nilo-Saharan and the Afro-Asiatic. The latter is represented by three branches: Semitic, Cushitic and Omotic. The Semitic languages ​​dominate culturally: Amharic is the official language of the country, Tigrinese is spoken in the Tigray region, harari in the city of Harer and languages ​​from the gurage group south of Addis Ababa. To these comes the Fornetiopian, geez, who is still the language of the Church. Among the Cushitic languages ​​are the most important Oromo, Afar and Somali. Among the unmotic in the southwest is the wolaitto. Of the Nilo-Saharan languages, anyuak is the most important.


Christianity was introduced in Ethiopia in the 300s and today (2012), it is estimated that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its main strongholds in the provinces of Tigray and Amhara in the highlands of northern Ethiopia, comprises about 40% of the population. The Ethiopian Orthodox Churchis one of the oldest church organizations in the world and served as a state religion until the fall of the kingdom in 1974. led the incoming Socialist-inspired government to declare the country atheistic. Today, the country is secular. Islam was introduced in the 6th century and today covers about 35% of the population. Islam, especially Sunni Islam, is spread throughout the country, but with strongest attachment in more remote areas and especially in the eastern lowlands. Most Muslims follow the Shafi’ite law interpretation. The traditional learning center of Islam is the city of Harer. A local pilgrimage site, Shek Husen, traditionally named after the first Muslim missionary who came to Ethiopia, competes with Mecca for the Ethiopian pilgrims.

Islam has never had the same high status as Christianity. To improve this somewhat, Haile Selassie I, who reigned in Ethiopia in 1930-74, provided audiences for Islamic leaders and during the Derg regime (1974-87) and Haile Mariam Mengistu (1987-91) did even more to make the two religions equal. Nevertheless, many Christians see Ethiopia as “a Christian island surrounded by an Islamic sea”.

Traditional African religion of an animistic nature is covered by both Christians and Muslims. The widespread czar cult is of Cushitic origin. A small group of people (falasha) in northwestern Ethiopia encompasses Judaism, but these are constantly decreasing in number, mainly due to emigration to Israel.

Ethiopia has not been colonized to the same extent as other African countries. Only in the years 1936–41 was the country an Italian colony. This could possibly explain that just over a percent of the population is Catholic, while Protestants amount to 17%. Just under 3% are said to belong to independent Christian churches. Approximately 8% are assumed to include domestic traditional religion. The country also has small groups of Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and Mormons.

The Constitution and other laws guarantee religious freedom, which also works in practice. According to the constitution, religion and state are separated, which includes means that neither public nor private schools are allowed to conduct confessional religious instruction. On the other hand, the Sunday schools of Christian churches and the teaching of the Koran by mosques are permitted. Religious slander and encouragement of religious violence are prohibited by law. Religious organizations must register to obtain legal status, which means they can open bank accounts and fully participate in litigation and apply for land for buildings. The government offers some religious groups free land for churches, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, but schools and hospitals run by religious organizations can be closed by the government at any time and the land seized.

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By law, religiously based political parties are prohibited. In 2011, there was some state involvement in, among other things. EIASC (Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council) leadership and its activities. Conflicts between Christians and Muslims occur but are rare, and in most regions both marriage between Muslims and Christians as well as conversions from one religion to another are accepted. In recent years, however, the moderate majority of Sunni Muslims, represented by the EIASC, argue that Wahhabites and Salafists work to increase tensions between Christians and Muslims.

Ethiopia Religion