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'You've lost Islam': Ethiopian PM recounts snub to Abu Dhabi crown prince

'We need to learn Arabic quickly, so we could better understand the religion and teach it to you, and return you to it'
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses his country's diaspora, the largest group of Ethiopians outside Ethiopia, in Washington, US (Reuters)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said that he shunned an offer by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to build an Islamic centre in the east African country by telling him that he had "lost" his religion.

Ahmed recalled the conversation with bin Zayed, who is considered the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, in a speech to members of the American-Ethiopian Muslim community in the US state of Virginia on Friday.    

"We will help you with many things. We will teach you,” bin Zayed allegedly said in a private conversation with Ahmed, who said he replied: “We don’t need to learn the religion from you. You’ve lost the religion. What we need is to learn Arabic quickly, so we could better understand the religion and teach it to you, and return you to it.”

When bin Zayed asked him why, Ahmed said that Islam is about peace, unlike what is happening in the Middle East.

“You have lost the religion,” Ahmed said he told the crown prince.

“The Islam that does not look like true Islam has begun spreading amongst you, and you have forgotten peace and how to forgive."

Ahmed did not say when the conversation took place. Ahmed met bin Zayed last Tuesday during a visit to Abu Dhabi with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, following the agreement of a peace deal between the former antagonists.

According to the UAE's foreign ministry website, the pair were presented with the Order of Zayed medal "in recognition of their efforts to end the conflict between their countries and open new horizons for cooperation and coordination, and in appreciation for their role in strengthening cooperation with the UAE".

Bin Zayed (C) met with Ahmed (L) and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki last week (

In his speech, Ahmed said that Ethiopian Muslims alone, who represent 40 percent of the population, outnumber the Muslims of the United Arab Emirates and its Gulf neighbours Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Ethiopia is Africa's second most populous country, with nearly 108 million people.

Ahmed, 41, was born to a Muslim father and Christian mother. He has been credited for instituting a number of immediate political reforms following his accession to power, such as releasing political prisoners and signing a peace deal with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbour, after two decades of conflict.

Ahmed arrived in the US on Friday in his first visit since assuming office in April.

He met US Vice President Mike Pence, who praised “historic reform efforts” by Ahmed aimed at “improving respect for human rights, reforming the business environment, and making peace with Eritrea”, according to a White House statement.

Ahmed's speech was translated into Arabic by an Ethiopian Arabic-language Twitter account and Al Jazeera. Middle East Eye has not independently verified the translation. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.