The Mosques of Harar: An Archaeological and Historical Study

Authors : Timothy Insoll and Ahmed Zekaria

Year : 2019

Journal : Journal of Islamic Archaeology


The mosques of Harar have been the focus of some architectural and historical study but not
archaeological investigation. This was redressed through excavation of six mosques in the city,
the results of which are presented. These were identified from existing historical research as
significant in the Islamization of Harar. Consensus on either the date or processes of Islamization
does not exist. The partial history of the mosques investigated—Aw Abdal, Aw Abadir, Aw
Meshad, Din Agobera, Fehkredin, Jami—is based on only a few sources. The results of the excavations
provide insights into the Islamization of Harar and supplement the limited historical
sources. The six radiocarbon dates obtained indicate a varied mosque chronology spanning the
late 15th and early 20th centuries AD. Evidence indicative of the use of mosques for educational
purposes, local practices such as animal sacrifice and child burial near the mihrab, and for extensive
mosque rebuilding, alteration and remodelling was found. Comparable mosques in Djibouti,
Somaliland, and elsewhere in Ethiopia are considered. It is concluded that all the Harari mosques
investigated post-date the late 15th century and that the city also dates from this era and was
linked with the establishment of Harar as the capital of Adal. Prior to this the Hararis, likely in
the form of the legendary Harla, were elsewhere, possibly at Harlaa and other sites in the eastern
Harar Plateau and Chercher Mountains.