"We are afraid that people will begin to fight back," if the indoctrination and smear campaigns continue, he says. "There is a concern that they may create more extremism than they fear."
Leaked US diplomatic cables from 2008 corroborate the Ethiopian government's concerns about a "growing Wahhabi influence." In the cables, American officials discuss programs to combat its influence, such as translating "The Place of Tolerance in Islam" – a book by American Muslim scholar Khaled Abou el Fadl – into local languages.
Activists dismiss the dispatches as hyperbolic, countering that the Islamic council was just fear-mongering to embassy staff. "Money coming from Saudi Arabia or any other country doesn't mean adopting that school of thought," they argue. They claim that council leaders are using a phony battle against extremism to cement their positions.
According to Ahmedin, the problems began ten months ago when the Federal Affairs Ministry and the Islamic council brought in Lebanese preachers from the Al Ahbash sect – which was founded by an Ethiopian but became popular in Lebanon – to deliver training to around 1,300 employees of the council's branches at Haramaya University in eastern Ethiopia.