The Intellectualist movement in Ethiopia, the Muslim Brotherhood and the issue of moderation


Terje Østebø, Wallelign Shemsedin , 25 March 2015

The Intellectualist movement is one of the major Islamic reform movements in contemporary Ethiopia. Informal and decentred in character, it has attracted young students, professionals and urban intellectuals. The movement was inspired by the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, which were critically contextualised and applied to the Ethiopian context. This has entailed avoiding the more political aspects of the Brotherhood, while emphasising the positive role of Islamic virtues in the formation of individual and societal piety. The Intellectualists have also been formative in Ethiopian Muslims’ thinking about secularism, democracy and constitutional rule, and have played a significant role in mediating between various religious actors in Ethiopia, as well as negotiating the position of Islam vis-à-vis the political authorities. Of particular importance has been the way in which the movement has served as a moderating force in a rapidly changing and fluid political and religious landscape. This demonstrates the inherent complexity of the trend commonly labelled as Islamism, and points to the need for nuanced and localised approaches when attempting to understand this trend.