Today is the start of Ramadan, the great fasting month in the Muslim calendar. Muslims around the world will not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for the lunar month. As the dates go with the lunar calendar they move through the western calendar year, actually the month moves forward a few weeks each year.
In fact Islam has a long and special history in Ethiopia, with the first Muslims coming to Ethiopia in about 615AD to escape persecution in Mecca during the reign of the Axumite King Armah (Ashama Ibn Abjar in Islamic tradition).
It is said that he heard them tell about their new religion and their beliefs and thought it so similar to his country’s Christian beliefs that he welcomed them and settled them in Negash in Tigray. In this town, north of Wukro, there is still a mosque at the site of the original mosque in Ethiopia.
In Islamic history and tradition, Ethiopia (or Al-Habasha) is known as the “Haven of the First Migration or Hijra.” For Muslims, Ethiopia is synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.
This was the start of a long and durable interwoven history of Muslims and Christians in northern Ethiopia. In the south Wollo area (a bit south of Tigray) Muslims and Christians have intermarried and the children have been able to choose their faith- whether to follow their mother or father. Indeed, in the main town of the area (Dessie) some years ago the fast at the end of Ramadan fell on Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas (7 January) and the town celebrated both festivals together.
For those wishing to see the Islamic side of Ethiopia, the best starting point is now the old walled city of Harar with its many mosques and narrow alleyways.
Ramadan Mubarek to all my Muslim friends who are fasting this month.