The Eritrean Ulama’a League (Rabita-i Ulama Eritriye), a Muslim organization that is seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, opened an office in Istanbul on Jan. 5, 2019.
The inauguration was attended by Yasin Aktay, chief advisor to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as keynote speaker.
The Eritrean Ulama’a League is supported by the Erdogan government, which has been pursuing a global campaign to woo various Muslim groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Among the guests were Abdul-Hamid al-Ani, director of information at the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI).
In February 2017 Sheikh Burhan Said, president of the Eritrean Ulama’a League, came to Istanbul and visited the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a charity group that has been identified as an arms smuggler to jihadist groups in Libya and Syria and was previously reported by Russia to the United Nations Security Council for links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The IHH, backed by the Turkish government, works closely with Turkish intelligence agency the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
In a televised interview last year, Erdogan aide Aktay advocated a caliphate vision for Turkey, calling the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami Turkey’s soft power proxies.
Aktay was deputy chairman of the ruling AKP responsible for managing the AKP’s foreign relations and served as party spokesperson. He is known to be an influential figure in shaping Erdogan government policies in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Abdul-Hamid al-Ani, director of information at the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI), attended the event.
Background from Awate 2015
An Initiative To Form An Eritrean Muslim Council
Gedab News learned that a group of Eritrean sheikhs and scholars are in a three-day conference in Turkey; they are expected to form an Eritrean Muslim Council. Many Eritrean Muslims do not recognize the Dar Al Iftaa that was assembled by the Eritrean ruling party and which is headed by Sheikh Alamin who was appointed by the PFDJ regime.
Traditionally, the Eritrean Muslim Mufti was elected by the congregations of the mosque based on a Muslim consensus. The last formal Eritrean Grand Mufti was the late Mufti Ibrahim AlMukhtar who died in 1969.
The Eritrean government curtails the freedom of religious institution which are under the control of the Eritrean government which administers them through the government’s Religious Affairs Department. The interference in religious affairs is so pervasive that in 2007 the government forcefully dethroned Abuna Antonios the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and appointed Abuna Deskorios in his place. The dethroned Abun had protested the interference of the government in church affairs and demanded the release of Christian prisoners.Abune Antonios, who was born in 1927, is still held under house arrest since 2006. The Abun was enthroned on March 2004 as the Patriarch of Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Eritrea in a ceremony presided by Pope Shenouda III, the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. The appointment of Abuna Dekerios is rejected by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III who “refused to recognize [it] as a canonical act.” Several Oriental Orthodox Churches and an overwhelming number of Eritreans Orthodox Christians also reject the appointment of Abune Deskerios.
The other Eritrean churches also do not fare any better; the Catholic Church had its publication stopped and some religious sects are denied any government service rights due to their conscientious objection to carry arms or get involved in political affairs. Many are languishing in unknown prison locations.Eritrea is mainly composed of Christians and Muslims. Christianity entered the region in the third century AD while Islam entered it while the Prophet of Islam was still being chased out of his birthplace, Mecca.
At present, while their Christian brethren have synods in the Diaspora, Eritrean Muslims do not have a council that airs their voice or attends to their religious affairs. In the past, several efforts to create a council that represents Eritrean Muslims failed and its absence left the matter in the hands of individuals and political groups.
There are great expectations among Muslims to see the creation of the Council succeed hoping that it will attend to their religious matters and provide them with spiritual guidance. An Eritrean elder told Gedab News, “The absence of such guidance has resulted in the fragmentations of Muslims and weakened their resolve; the vacuum is exposing our youth to the risks of religious fanaticism.”
A handful of Eritrean-European Muslims have fallen prey to fanatic forces like ISIS. Several people contacted by Gedab News had cautious views about the Turkey meeting. Most of them expressed fear that it might dwell and reflect inter-Muslim sectarian issue of jurisprudence while at the same time hoped the council adopts a moderate, uniting outlook similar to the one that Eritrean Muslims had under the leadership of the late Mufti Ibrahim Mukhtar.In recent years, Turkey has taken the lead in reviving and promoting the forward looking traditional Islam. The meeting in Turkey is expected to issue a press release.