The Haven of the
First Hijra (Migration): an African nation is the Muslims’ first refuge
Br. Najib Mohammed
In Islamic history
and tradition, Ethiopia (Abyssinia or Al-Habasha) is known as the "Haven
of the First Migration or Hijra." For Muslims, Ethiopia is
synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.
Ethiopia was a land
where its king, Negus or Al-Najashi, was a person renowned for justice
and in whose land human rights were cherished.
The meaning and the
significance of "Hijra" is embodied in the Islamic calendar. Since its
inception, the Islamic calendar represents a history of perpetual
struggle between truth and falsehood, faith and blasphemy, freedom and
oppression, light and darkness, and between peace and war.
The first migration
[Hijra] of the Companions and relatives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace
and blessings be upon him) to Ethiopia celebrates the birth of freedom
of expression and beliefs, whereas, the Second Migration of the Prophet
Muhammad to the Madinah celebrates the end of oppression.
History has shown
that the first migration to Ethiopia and the second migration to Madinah
have indeed laid down the foundation on which Islam, as a universal
religion, was built. Ever since that experience, the Muslim community,
wherever they settled, shifted from the positive of minority to
majority, from weakness to permanent strength, from tribalism to
universal brotherhood that knows no defined political boundaries.
The Quran says: "O
mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made
you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.
Truly the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in
piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware (Quran 49:13).
With this spirit in
mind, Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian slave living in Makkah, became a
leading companion of the Prophet Muhammad. It was not a coincidence that
his native land, Ethiopia, was the country chosen by the Prophet when
his followers needed protection and freedom form oppression.
"And dispute you
not with the People of the Book, except with means better, unless it be
with those of them who inflict wrong; But say, we believe in the
Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you:
Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow in Islam: (Quran
author of the "Life of Muhammad" said that the Prophet Muhammad trusted
that his followers and relatives would be better off if they migrated to
a country whose religion was Christianity-a scriptural religion whose
Prophet was Jesus son of Mary. He was not afraid that his followers
would convert and give up their faith in favor of any other established
He was more
convinced that Islam would be more protected in its infancy in a fertile
and prosperous land ruled by the Scripture than among the ignominious
pagans of Arabia.
The companions and
relatives of the Prophet were prepared to sacrifice and suffer all sorts
of hardship and alienation rather than give up their own conviction and
freedom. The Prophet gave his companions the following letter to give
the king when they reached Ethiopia.
"In the Name of
Allah, the Most Merciful, Most Gracious, From Muhammad, the Messenger of
Allah to the Negus Al-Asham, king of Abyssinia.
Peace, I praise
Allah, who is the King, the Holy, the Peace, the Faithful, the Watcher,
and I bear witness that Jesus, son of Mary, is the Spirit of Allah and
His Word, Which He cast to Mary the virgin, the good, the pure, so that
she conceived Jesus. Allah created him from His Spirit and His Breathing
as He created Adam by His Hand and His Breathing. I call you to Allah,
the Unique without partner, and to His obedience, and to follow me and
believe in that which came to me, for I am the Messenger of Allah.
I have sent to you
my cousin Jafar with a number of Muslims, and when they come, entertain
them without haughtiness, for I invite you and your armies to Allah. I
have accomplished my work and my admonition, so receive my advice. Peace
upon all those that follow True Guidance."
In view of this
determination, the Ethiopian king, Negus As’ha’mah, undoubtedly
recognized the significance of the Prophet Muhammad as a Messenger of
Allah, and the need to treat the Muslims with kindness and dignity. The
Christian church leaders who listened to the debate between the Muslims
learned the truth about Islam.
Thus, they accepted
the universality of the message of the Prophet based on the truthful
similarity with the Scripture which prophesied the advent of Muhammad as
a Prophet. The Quran describes their belief in these words:
"And when they
listen to revelation received by the Messenger, you will see their eyes
overflowing with tears, for they recognize the Truth. They pray: ‘Our
Lord! we believe; write us among the witnesses" (Quran 5:83).
In the sixth year
of the Hijra, the Prophet wrote letters to different rulers of the world
inviting them to Islam. Among the first leaders to receive the letter
was the King of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). This second letter was sent with
Amir ibn Umayya and reads as follows:
In the Name of
Allah, the Most Merciful, Most Gracious. From Muhammad,t the Messenger
of Allah, to the Negus Al-Asham, king of Abyssinia, Peace is for the one
who follows the right guidance and believes in Allah and His Messenger.
I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. He is one and has no
partners. He has neither wife nor child. And Muhammad is His servant and
I call you to
Islam for I am His Messenger. Accept Islam and you will be safe. O
people of the Book! Come to something which is common between us and
you, that we worship none but Allah; nor associate anything with Him;
nor make any other our Lord besides Allah. If they turn away, then tell
them we are obedient to Allah. If you deny it, the burden of the
Christians, your people, will fall upon you." The seal of Muhammad, the
The king received
the envoy of the Prophet with great respect and showed him all the honor
he deserved, and accepted Islam despite the objection of his family and
The king wrote back
saying"...I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah, true and
confirming those before you. I have given my allegiance to you and to
your nephew and I have surrendered myself through him to the Lord of the
In recognition of
his kindness and when it was revealed to the Prophet that the Ethiopian
king whom he had never met in person passed away, the Prophet offered
the first funeral prayer in absentia in Islam (Salatul Ghaib) for the
king who was named Ahmed Al-Najashi after he reverted to Islam.
Even though the
family of the Ethiopian king, joined by the church, revolted against him
because of his acceptance of Islam, and tried to stop the spreading of
Islam, Islam rapidly and peacefully spread south of the Anunite kingdom.
By the fourteenth
century, there were seven Islamic Sultanates [kingdoms]. The Sultanate
of Yifat, Dawaro, Arbabini, Hadiya, Shakara, Bali, and Dara survived as
Muslim enclaves until the northern Christian, with the help of European
colonial powers, mainly from Portugal, expanded by force and by the late
18th century, formed "Ethiopia" as we know it today.
Based on the Europe
World Year Book 1991 and UNICEF/ETHIOPIA the estimated number of
Ethiopian Muslims, which ranges between 23.9 million to 27.7 million (45
percent-52 percent), ranks as the third largest Muslim population in
Africa after Nigeria and Egypt.