Abyssinia: Islam’s First Migration Destination

Ethiopia today is distinctively known as the ‘roof of Africa’ as it is home to 70% of Africa’s mountains. With it’s beautiful landscapes, superb scenery, world famous UNESCO sites and divine coffee, Ethiopia is slowly become a favourite for visitors from around the world. In fact, Ethiopia is known to have the most UNESCO sites in all of Africa. Although the Italians made a short stay in the early 20th century, the country has never actually been colonised in its entirety. It is therefore home to natural and untouched towns, cities, monuments and landmarks.

To add to this, Ethiopia also possesses a very deep and profound history which allows one to travel back thousands of years. Marcus (2008) takes readers on a journey from the beginning of time through to the 21st century and discusses major events such as the rise and decline of dynasties, imperial resurrections, revolutions, new rulers and peace and war.

Whilst travelling through the history of Ethiopia, one will not fail to notice the many pages dedicated to the narrative of the first emigration in Islam. Readers of the saga of the Prophet PBUH will notice that the Prophet PBUH, in his fifth year of prophet hood, decided to send some of his companions, who he believed were vulnerable in the then mafia society, to Ethiopia. Also known as Abyssinia (which I’ll be using to refer to Ethiopia from now on), this choice was not impromptu. It was a careful, thoughtful and insightful decision made on the part of the Prophet PBUH.

So why did the Prophet PBUH decide to send the first cohort of migrating companions to Abyssinia, even though there were other potential shelter possibilities?

To answer this question, lets rewind a little bit and run through the narrative a little. The Prophet’s PBUH message undoubtedly enraged the Quraysh as it would cause significant change in the system which gave them power. This led to mockery, slandering and verbal insults. However, with time, this gradually turned into physical violence. It was at this point that the following verses from the chapter Al-Nahl were revealed: ‘And those who emigrated for [the cause of] Allah after they had been wronged – We will surely settle them in this world in a good place; but the reward of the Hereafter is greater, if only they could know‘. (Qur’an 16:41). Exegetes of the Qur’an such as Imam Tabari and Imam Qurtubi both mention that this verse was sent specifically as instructions for migration to Abyssinia.

Now we can start focusing on why the Prophet PBUH chose Abyssinia to be Islam’s first emigration point.

The main reason for this was because of the justness of the King and Christian ruler at the time known as Negus. It was viewed as a friendly country and such a place which can be resorted to relieve one from distress. Most importantly, it provided the companions migrating there, with a safe space. This is evident as they were given rights and freedom in a non-Islamic country.

This still is the case today as many who visit the land of Abyssinia will attest to this fact. What’s more, this marked a great point in history as it was recorded in the history of Islam as being one of the finest attempts in creating a universal Muslim community.

King Negus sure did take them in and in fact accommodated for them very well. Whilst some of the companions did eventually return to Madinah and not Makkah, some chose to stay behind and it is believed that they have been buried in the Mosque located in the town of Negash.

One point remains a mystery to me; where in Abyssinia did the companions travel to? Was it in fact Eritrea which they travelled to? There are reports of a Mosque that was built on the port city of Eritrea known as Massawa Mosque or the Mosque of the Companions. There is also a Mosque known as Amedin Mosque or Negash Mosque located in Negash village in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. Whilst some articles make mention of each Mosque and associate them with companions, I have not yet found satisfying evidence to suggest which area it is to which the companions migrated. If anyone has any information on this, please do let me know.

References

Marcus, H., 2008. A History Of Ethiopia. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.

Tahzeeb, S., 2015. Muslim Migration To Abyssinia: A Role Model For Muslim Minority. Hazara Islamicus, 4(2), pp.15-24.

Qurṭubī, M., Ḥifnāwī, M., ʻUthmān, M., Ṣādiq, I. and ʻAbd al-Qādir, M., 1994. Al-Jāmiʻ Li-Aḥkām Al-Qurʼān. al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth.

Ibn Isḥāq, M. and Mazīdī, A., 2009. Al-Sīrah Al-Nabawīyah. Bayrūt: Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmīyah.

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