Religions should not stand by as predatory individuals take advantage of the vulnerable.

A close friend recently shared with me the scariest moment in his life.

“My sister had breast cancer,” he said as his voice shook at the end of the sentence, as if he was saying it as much to himself as to me.

She was the closest person to him in this world. The idea that she was under all this pain and that he may lose her was something he was not ready to face.

As he began sorting her doctor’s appointments and learning about the experiences of others, he became aware of the limited resources available to support cancer patients in Ethiopia. His sister, having traveled to Addis Abeba to find more suitable care, was still struggling to find the appropriate support.

The importance of faith to Ethiopians is undeniable.

It was a long and tiring road, but she finally found the opportunity she so desperately needed. But on the day of the scheduled surgical appointment, his sister informed everyone she would not undergo the procedure, because she had been healed.

He was devastated and then angry at learning that his sister was being taken advantage of by preachers. She had been informed that, through their prayer, she had been healed.

This is not isolated to one religion or another. Recently, I heard of a woman that had dug up the corpse of her young son, because she was told he could be brought back to life. This is an injustice being perpetrated on people that find themselves in a moment of desperation.

These are people that should have gotten the help of the state. Instead, religious figures are taking advantage of them. It is the vulnerable groups of society, those in the lower income-class, that are disproportionately affected by this.

My friend’s sister, whose cancer had spread while she procrastinated, was finally convinced to go back to the hospital. If she had not finally been able to go to the hospital, she would have died.

Who would have been held responsible had the worst happened?

I am old enough to remember in 2006 the destructive role played by religious figures when HIV/AIDS prevalence was at its highest. Many were preaching their cure. They promised to offer miracle cures and if the person did not recover, it did not mean that it did not work. It was just that the person did not believe in the divinity of the cure enough. It was a scheme. Their “cure” had no scientific basis whatsoever, and when it did not work, it was blamed on the victim.

The problem is complicated by the fact that religion is one of the most important pillars of identity. In fact, Ethiopia consistently ranks very high on the list of countries with a high percentage of citizens who say that religion is very important in their daily lives. We are usually in the top five list, even higher than countries that have a state religion.

The importance of faith to Ethiopians is undeniable. Religion for many provides answers that science still cannot. This is not necessarily bad and is not intended to harm others. Beyond faith, religious institutions have provided an undeniable service in the preservation of culture, history and language.

These institutions also have immense power. They have large followings, and through them have accrued large resources. It is hard to insist that they can be without flaw, but the proliferation of forces within these religions using their power to prey on the vulnerable is unacceptable. There are those that are cloaked in a facade, whose only aim is personal gain.

Should states not take measures to protect citizens?

It is the government’s and communities’ responsibility to hold a light to those entities manipulating people using their faith. Corruptibility is a human trait; that is why institutions are necessary. To keep those with power in check.

The existence of these kinds of groups or individuals does not sully the whole faith. But each religion needs to condemn such acts. They should not stand by as predatory individuals take advantage of the vulnerable. The longer government and religious institutions ignore this, the worse it is going to get.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 25,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1030]

Hanna Haile is the founder of Zellan Creative & Cultural Center. She can be reached at (

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