The 1955 constitution stated, "The Ethiopian Orthodox
Church, founded in the fourth century on the doctrines of
Saint Mark, is the established church of the Empire and is,
as such, supported by the state." The church was the bulwark
of the state and the monarchy and became an element in the
ethnic identity of the dominant Amhara and Tigray. By
contrast, Islam spread among ethnically diverse and
geographically dispersed groups at different times and
therefore failed to provide the same degree of political
unity to its adherents. Traditional belief systems were
strongest in the lowland regions, but elements of such
systems characterized much of the popular religion of
Christians and Muslims as well. Beliefs and rituals varied
widely, but fear of the evil eye, for example, was
widespread among followers of all religions.
Officially, the imperial regime tolerated Muslims. For
example, the government retained Muslim courts, which dealt
with family and personal law according to Islamic law.
However, the imperial authorities gradually took over Muslim
schools and discouraged the teaching of Arabic.
Additionally, the behavior of Amhara administrators in local
communities and the general pattern of Christian dominance
tended to alienate Muslims.
The revolution brought a major change in the official
status of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and other religions.
In 1975 the Mengistu regime disestablished the church, which
was a substantial landholder during the imperial era, and
early the next year removed its patriarch. The PMAC declared
that all religions were equal, and a number of Muslim holy
days became official holidays in addition to the Christian
holidays already honored. Despite these changes, divisions
between Muslims and Christians persisted.
Data as of 1991