While Ethiopia, the oldest country in Africa and the country that has never been colonised, shied away for years from exposing the invaluable and priceless legacies that dotted its landscape, economic reality and democracy have aroused the country into opening its history and sites to the curious world. Chinedu Eze who visited the most populous country in the horn of Africa, writes
Ethiopia with so many legacies is like a village belle; shy, coquettish and beautiful. She is like a damsel unravaged and with all its tradition intact. Ethiopia is heirloom, a pride to Africa and with unraveling history that is labyrinthine and fulfilling.
The country which is known as Abyssinia in the Biblical times is the cradle of civilisation because that was where the oldest human fossil was found and it houses the first mosque and church built in Africa.
In 2016, Ethiopia’s population was 101, 853, 268 with a yearly 2. 48 per cent increase, thus making it the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria.
While travelling through the undulating landscape of this great country, history beckons at every turn and it is exhilarating for such a humble people who have so much to show the world in treasured, invaluable historical sites that are part of the story of Christianity and Islam.
As part of the group made up of travel agents and journalists, we scoured through the monuments, reliefs and sites of Ethiopia that are very critical to Islam near the Djibouti, South Sudan and Somalia border.
We travelled to Mekele and visited the Al Nejashi Mosque, which is one of the world’s earliest mosques, built in the seventh century by the companions of Prophet Mohammed, who exiled from Arabia from the Qurayshi pagans to Ethiopia where they found a welcoming refuge. The Nejashi Mosque is as old as the faith of Islam. It is the first mosque in Africa and is considered by many as one of the most sacred places of Islamic worship and rightly dubbed by some as “The second Makkah”.
We also visited Dire Dawa and Harar cities. At Dire Dawa we visited the railway that was built in 1902 and which since then operates uninterrupted diurnal service to Djibouti. We had full day city tour of Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Islamic town located at an altitude of 1,800 metres.
Harar is a labyrinth of small streets surrounded by old city walls. Its architecture reflects a strong Islamic influence. We walked through the old city and visited the house where Rimbaud lived. According to our guide, Mr. Nur Harar was the poet’s favourite city and he established quarters there in order to trade in arms destined for Emperor Menelik.
There are about 99 mosques in the old walled city of Harar of which most date back to as early as the 13th century. Until relatively recently it was venerated by Muslims as a centre of pilgrimage, the most holy city in the Horn of Africa, with large numbers of mosques and Koranic schools. We also visited the traditional old typical houses of Harar and the major sites in the town include the city walls and gateways, the Friday Mosque, the Museum, the Ras Makonnen House, the supposed house of Rimbaud Muslim and Christian Markets. For the icing on the cake, we visited the hyena man, the man who feeds the wild hyenas every evening at Harar.
One of the Nigerian visitors on the tour and the Manager of Misha Travels Limited, Kaduna, Mrs. Juliana Johnson, who was overwhelmed by the rich legacy of Islamic historical sites in Ethiopia described the country as a land of origin and said, “The farm trip was wonders of nature revealed. Ethiopia is a land full of historical records and beauty preserved for our modern day. The environment, the people and the land mass tell of the beauty of creation. The Ethiopians are loyal citizens to their government and very peace loving. They communicate in songs, and nature, trees, houses, status are all symbolic for past, present and future use.
“My experience of the farm trip reveals the Ethiopians to be dogged and determined Africans who pursue what they want and follow it assiduously – airlines, songs, opal ancient holy places, medicine, fibre and languages are preserved. Indeed, the continent of Africa is endowed with so much unexposed treasures in genuine assets and human capital. We will market Ethiopia for fresh tourists, as nature revealed the truth in this country.”
Also the CEO of Aeronaet Travels and Resort Limited, Mr. Ojo Lawrence, noted that the trip has exposed him “to some unique and outstanding facilities of world standard.”
“Besides, the tour of Ethiopian heritage sites coupled with the wondrous mountainous topological landscaping has been an onerous personal experience and is of course worthy of marketing to the entire world. Indeed, the continent of Africa is endowed with numerous hidden treasures in real assets and human capital resources and many thanks to Ethiopian Airlines for the magnanimity of showcasing the true Spirit of African in deed and in love.”
Ethiopia as cradle of civilisation
Ethiopia has been described by various reports as the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. It offered a greater richness in archaeological findings and historical buildings which makes it a country of rich heritage. It is regarded as the cradle of both mankind and civilisation. It is one of the largest Christian nations in the world that welcomed and accommodated Islam, thus showcasing it as the land of religious tolerance.
Ethiopia is a country of highly diverse population with more than 80 different ethnic groups living together in peace and harmony while maintaining their language, culture and history. Thus, it is regarded as the land of diversity and unity. Moreover, it is an ecologically diverse country with three climatic zones: the cool, the temperate and the hot zones, and it is rich in both flora and fauna, including being known as the origin of coffee.
The Nejash Mosque
The Nejashi Mosque is one of the world’s earliest mosques, built in the fourth century by the companions of Prophet Mohammed, who – exiled from Arabia by the Qurayshi pagans so they came to Ethiopia, where they found a welcome refuge, when the country was ruled by a Christian king.
Located in the town of Wukro in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray State some 800 kilometres from Addis Ababa, the Islamic monument is now undergoing major renovations thanks to the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
The site also hosts the tombs of the 15 companions of Prophet Muhamamd, who introduced Islam to Ethiopia. The first mosque was built at the time of King Nagash about 1429 years ago. The first believers of Islam that came to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia were 11 men and five women, including Mohammed’s daughter and later there was a second batch of 83 men and 18 women who arrived Ethiopia and lived for 15 years. The first mosque was credited to them.
Ethiopia’s King Nejashi (for whom the mosque was named) was described as a benevolent king, who should be credited with saving the Prophet’s companions from persecution when they arrived in his land. The history of Nejashi – and the ancient mosque of Nejashi – means a great deal to Ethiopia and the world.
Harar was established by Arab scientists. The curator of the renowned Harar library, Abdul Nasir, described Harar as the Timbuktu of the East. The city is described as a walled city in eastern Ethiopia. It was formerly the capital of Hararghe and now the capital of the modern Harari Region of Ethiopia. The city is located on a hilltop in the eastern extension of the Ethiopian Highlands, about five hundred kilometres from Addis Ababa at an elevation of 1,885 metres.
For centuries, Harar has been a major commercial centre, linked by trade routes with the rest of Ethiopia, the entire Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and, through its ports, the outside world. Harar Jugol, the old walled city, was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2006 by UNESCO in recognition of its cultural heritage. It is sometimes known in Arabic as “the City of Saints”. According to UNESCO, it is “considered ‘the fourth holy city’ of Islam” with 110 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century accommodating 102 shrines.
According to reports, the Fath Madinat Harar records that the cleric Abadir Umar ar-Rida and several other religious leaders settled in Harar circa 1216 (612 hijri years). Harar was later made the new capital of the Adal Sultanate in 1520 by the Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. The city saw a political decline during the ensuing Emirate of Harar, only regaining some significance in the Khedivate of Egypt period. During the Ethiopian Empire, the city decayed while maintaining a certain cultural prestige. Today, it is the seat of the Harari Region.
Over the years, Ethiopian Christian heritage has been exposed to the world, like the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, the Kingdom of Aksum, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahendo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church that span hundreds of years, including the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. But the world may not know that Ethiopia also has the rich Islamic history, which genesis dovetailed with the roots, the spread of Islam in Africa and in the world.