A leap of faith

Author : Al-Ahram Weekly, Gamaml Nkrumah

Year : 2003

arly Muslims looked beseechingly to Ethiopia and sought refuge in its territory from their persecutors, the polytheist Arabians. But the Christian kingdom, besieged for 15 centuries by Islamic states that formed a formidable ring around it, refused to succumb to the new religion. Gamal Nkrumah explores the often contentious connection between Ethiopia and Islam

Since time immemorial Ethiopia has retained her supercilious air. Throughout the centuries, the rugged Nile Basin country, bound to Islam from the religion's inception, has attracted scant attention compared to Egypt. Ethiopia's seclusion, however, did nothing to dispel its mystique. Ethiopia's ambiguous identity fascinated those outsiders who cared to take a closer look. Black, but not black enough. Christian, but only partially so. At once both primitive and civilised.

Numerous Arab and Muslim chroniclers have lavished praise on the only land beyond Arabia's borders that Prophet Mohamed turned to in his hour of need — the only country that responded positively to his call for assistance. Perhaps the most important Arab treatise celebrating the special role Ethiopia played in early Islam was Jalal Al-Din Al-Suyuti's seminal work Raf' Sha'n Al- Hubshan (The Raising of the Status of the Ethiopians), written in the late 15th century. It was an earnest plea to reaffirm the equality of the races in Islam.

Ahmed Bin Ali Al-Maqrizi, who in 1435-36 wrote Kitab Al-Ilmam bi Akhbar man bi-Al- Habasha min Muluk Al-Islam (The Book of True Knowledge of the History of the Muslim Kings of Abyssinia), focussed on the mediaeval Muslim sultanates in the Horn of Africa, including those within the country today known as Ethiopia.