Arabic Sources on Somalia

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Author : Mohmed Haji Mukhtar

Year : 1987

Kilwa is a second Mawsim, and from Kilwa to al-Qumur is a third

The Formation of Islamic Centers
If the immigration to Abyssinia in the very early years of
Islam represented the first contact of Muslims with the Horn of
Africa, Ibn Hishim’s aZ-S’ra al-Nabawiyyah is a first-hand source
on this issue. The Somaliland forming a part of the Arab world
is very clear in Ibn Hawqal’s map of Diyar al-CArab (the Arab
Homeland). Besides the above-mentioned map of Diyar al- Arab
Ibn Hawqal also drew other different maps of the Muslim World,
and also a map of the World in his Kitab STrat aZ-Ard (the Shape
of the Earth). This work was printed in Leiden in 1938.
Al-MaqdisT (d. 990) in his Ahsan al-Taq5asm fT Macrifat al-
AqTaZm (on World Regional Geography), pointed very clearly to
the existence of Muslim centers along the coastal strip of Somalia,
and mentioned Zeila as the biggest Muslim center in the
Autal (Awdal) land. As well, al-YaCqibi (d. 905) in his al-
BuZdjn (The Countries) was the first Arabic writer to mention
Zeila as a Muslim center in the Berber coast.
From the thirteenth century onwards Muslim scholars began
writing on the history, geography, and issues related to the
Muslim world using a new and different approach. They started
putting all the information that they had witnessed, had been
told to them, or had been collected from other written sources
into huge books called “Al-MawsTiah” (the Encyclopaedias). Most
Muslim writings of that style contained some information about
Somaliland and Muslims of the Horn of Africa. But the most important
of the MawsuCah to mention Somalia was the one written
by Ibn Fadl al-cUmari (1301-1349). Entitled Mas-Zik al-Absar
fiMamalik al-Amsacr, this MawsuCah gives us detailed information
about the formation of early Muslim centers in the hinterland of
the Horn of Africa. Unfortunately this work remains unpublished.
A copy of it is available as Ms. in Oxford University Library
(Ms. Pococke 191, Bod.).
Then Ibn Khaldun,7 recalling Ibn Sacrd and Aba al-Fida’s
accounts,8 provided additional information about the early days
of Muslim rulers of the region.
Ibn Batuta (1304-1377) is unique among the travelers of his
time. His descriptions are more accurate and his analyses more
plausible. From his account we learn that Somali Muslim centers
were giving great importance to education. Students from far
places were given lodgings and food, and Ibn Batuta himself was
lodged in the students’ house in Mogadishu during his visit to
Somalia, which took place in 1331. His eyewitness accounts are
recorded in his book, Tuhfat al-Nazzar fr Ghara’b al-Amsar Wa144
CAja’b aZ-Asfar, known as “RihZat Ibn Batuta” (Voyages of Ibn
The Struggle Between Islam and Christianity in the Horn
As we have already seen, Islam was spreading inland from
the coast along the main rivers, the Shabelle and the Juba, using
the Zeila-Harar trade route into the highlands of Abyssinia and,
from the sixth century of Islam, founding kingdoms known as “Mamnlik
al-Tiriz al-IslgmT” (the edge of Muslim kingdoms). Al-
Maqrizr (1364-1442) provided one of the authoritative accounts
of the struggle between the Muslim sultanates and Christian kingdoms
in his AZ-IZmcm man bi Ard al-Habashah Min MulLJTa Z-IsZ7m ,
(a survey of the Moslem Princes in Abyssinia). It is also very
important to mention another book by the same author called AZDhahab
aZ-Masbik ff Dhikr man Hajja min aZ-KhuZafS’wa-aZ-MuZl7k
(a book on those caliphs and kings who went on the Pilgrimage
during 1435-1437). This book contains interviews, collected by
the author over these three years of his own stay in Mecca, with
pilgrims from many parts of the Muslim world and especially Africa.
H~mid cImarah is another scholar who has studied this
issue and his book CAZ3q-t al-Dawlah al-MamZukiyah bi al-Duwal
al-Ifr’qiyah (the relations between the Mamluk state of Egypt
and the African States), covers the relations between Egypt and
Abyssinia during the Mamluk Dynasty.
No less important as a source is the encyclopaedic type of
book by al-Qalqashandl (1355-1481) known as SubhT aZ-ACshf7a
Sinacat al- Insha’. This book is in fourteen volumes, and the
major part of volumes 5, 6, and 8 deals with the Muslim Sultanates
of the Horn of Africa and their struggle with Christian
Kingdoms of Abyssinia. Although Muslim historians and geographers
devoted much attention to the Muslims of east Africa and the
Horn, the most significant account of the relations between Islam
and Christianity in the region is Tuhfat aZ-Zaman, known as
Futuh aZ-Habasha (the conquest of Abyssinia). The importance of
this book is that Shihab al-Din, the writer, was an eyewitness
to many of the events which he recorded, as he accompanied the
Imam (Ahmad Gurey) in his conquests in Abyssinia between 1506
and 1542.10