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Religion has always been a major influence in Ethiopia. Certainly no other Country in sub-Saharan Africa can trace its origins as far back.

Legend has it that the emperor Menilik I, the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum, where he settled and established one of the world’s longest known uninterrupted monarchical dynasties.

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox devotees, the Ark of the Covenant is still in Axum St. Mary Zion Church sealed and secured from outside influence.

The Ethiopian version of the story details an affair between King Solomon of Israel and Makeda, supposedly the name of the Queen of Saba, or Queen of Sheba. The coming of the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia and establishes Ethiopia as a new covenant nation. For the devotee, at least, Makeda-who supposedly ruled over a very small area in modern-day southern Eritrea—made a long pilgrimage to Jerusalem to visit a king famed for wisdom.

As far as the history of Islam is concerned, the first Muslims in Abyssinia (aka) Ethiopia was immigrants from Mecca, persecuted by the ruling Quraysh. They were received by the ruler of Ethiopia, whom Arabic tradition has named Ashama ibn Abjar, and he settled them in Negash, located in the Tigray Region. Negash is the historical center of Islam in Northern Ethiopia and parts of East Africa. The Quraysh sent emissaries to bring them back to Arabia, but the King of Ethiopia refused their demands. The Prophet himself instructed his followers who came to Ethiopia, to respect and protect Ethiopia as well as live in peace with Ethiopian Christians.

In Ethiopia, Still, clearly, by far the largest faiths are Orthodox Christianity followed by Sunni Muslims. Christianity was first introduced to Ethiopia in the first century (34A.D.) and was accepted as a state religion in about 340 A.D. Thereafter, it slowly spread southward from Axum into the northern highlands.

Islam was introduced in the 7th century by immigrants from Mecca, merchants from Arabia to peoples along the Red Sea coast, spreading thereafter into the center and south. Orthodoxy is most strongly represented among the Tigray and Amhara, Islam among the Somali, Afar, and Oromo, particularly those in the southern highlands, Gurague, and Sidama in the southwest. Merchants in major towns also tend to be Muslims.

Protestants and smaller groups include Roman Catholics (about 500,000), Eastern Rite Catholics, and Ethiopian Jews (Felasha). A large number of foreign missionaries are active, especially in the south and southwest borderlands. Some Ethiopians still adhere to traditional religious practices and beliefs.

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