Authors; Paul Lester and Richard Pankhrust
Contributor : Jamal Ali
The rise in the early sixteenth century of the charismatic Adal leader Imam
Ahmed bin Ibrahim; his seizure of power at the old Islamic city of Harar: his
campaigns against Somalis and other fellow Muslims in the neighbouring
lowlands: his jihad, or Holy War, against what he considered the ‘non-believers’ of
south-west Ethiopia, and his subsequent neardestruction of the age-old Ethiopian
Christian state – all this constituted a major turning-point in the history of Ethiopia
and the Horn of Africa.
The wars of Ahmed bin Ibrahim – Ahmed Grafi. or the Left-handed, as he is
often called – had immense consequences. These included the conversion to Islam,
albeit in many cases only temporary, of a vast proportion of the Ethiopian
population: the virtual collapse of the traditional Christian Ethiopian empire: the
breaking-down of long-established feudal relationships, and related taxation: heavy
loss of life, by combatants and civilians alike: the capture, and despatch to Arabia
(and also to India) of innumerable slaves: the destruction of some of the country’s
finest Christian churches, monasteries, and treasures: and the bringing to Harar.
and export to Arabia, of considerable quantities of gold, used in part by the imam
for the purchase of fire-arms and other weapons.
The warfare associated with the imam, which had an important international
dimension, became increasingly enmeshed in the global conflict between the
Christian Portuguese and the Muslim Ottoman Turks. This led to the arrival of
many Arab fusiliers and canoneers on the Imam’s side, and of their Portuguese
counterparts, led by Vasco da Gama’s son Christovao.