BELEAGUERED MUSLIM FORTRESSES AND

Author : Travis J. Owens

Year : 2008

ABSTRACT
J.S. Trimingham has famously described Ethiopia as a “beleaguered fortress in
the midst of a sea of Islam,” implying Christians in Ethiopia have consistently been
besieged by Muslims, not vice versa. This thesis challenges this common conception by
demonstrating that throughout Ethiopia’s medieval period (1270-1555), the time of
greatest conflict between the Ethiopian Empire and its Muslim neighbors, Muslim forces
did not besiege the Ethiopian Empire. On the contrary, the Ethiopians militarily
subjugated their neighboring Muslim sultanates, most prominently Ifat and Adal, and
politically divided the sultanates’ ruling families to keep them weak. These tactics,
designed to wrest control of trade from the sultanates, were resoundingly successful until
Muslims unified around military/religious leaders, primary among them being Imam
Gran, who in 1531 conquered the Ethiopian Empire. Though Imperial forces reversed the
conquest by 1543, a historical focus on this event still feeds the misperception that
Ethiopia’s history is that of a Christian kingdom ensconced in a fortress to protect itself
from a beleaguering “Muslim menace.” This thesis concludes to the contrary that the
Ethiopian Empire waded aggressively and purposefully into the sea of Islam to beleaguer
its many Muslim neighbors.

Contributor: Meftuh Shash

more