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Thursday night, the Ethiopian community in held a candlelight vigil Clarkston, Georgia. The event was in remembrance of Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS in Libya over the weekend.
Safi Ahmed is Muslim. He’s speaking to the crowd of 200 to 300 people gathered for the vigil. You don’t have to understand Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, to hear the passion in his voice.
Afterwards, he loosely translated his words.
“I was mentioning the way they [were] killed,” he said. “I also mentioned Libya and also, finally, I mentioned South Africa.”
Ahmed is talking about recent violence toward immigrants in South Africa which resulted in several deaths. That bothers a lot of people here — as much as the Libya killings.
But they’re also bothered by the stereotype that Christians and Muslims can’t live harmoniously.
Abdella Ahmed is also Muslim. He says ISIS, or the self-named “Islamic State,” has hijacked his faith.
“Islam is not about killing,” he says. “It’s about loving, and in Ethiopia for centuries, 3,000 years before, we’ve been living together side by side with our Christian brothers and sisters.”
Solomon Gizaw agrees. He’s a Christian, and he chairs the board of the Ethiopian Community Association in Atlanta. Gizaw says in Ethiopians of different faiths do more than just tolerate each other.
“For instance, if somebody’s going to give his daughter in marriage for another person, and he happens to be a Muslim, he prepares a special dish for Christians coming to that feast,” he says. “And vice-versa.”
That kind of mutual respect seems to exist in Clarkston, a small city in DeKalb County where refugees from all over the world have resettled.
“If Clarkston can do it, where you have so many different Muslim faiths, from 10 different countries, and you have Ethiopians that have Muslims and Christians, and all these other faiths and here we are able to co-exist in one square mile,” says Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry. “That gives me a little bit of hope for the future.”
Despite religious differences, Clarkston’s Ethiopian community is embracing each other as one big family during this time of grief.