Negash Mosque

Negash, 10 km after Wukro, lies on a plateau commanding a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

Negash got its name from the Tigrinya word (the local language) ” Negash or Negasi” meaning king. “Nejashi” is an Arabicized variant of the word.

The history of Negash has its origins in the 7th century AD, if not before. Although Negash is as old as the faith of Islam itself, it is this country’s best-unknown place of Islamic worship. History has it that the early followers of the Prophet Mohammed were denied the fundamental right to pursue the religion they preferred and were harshly persecuted by the Quraysh tribe, the mercantile rulers of Mecca. In order to maintain the very survival of his religion, the prophet had to seek a safe hideout for his followers. ” Yonder lieth a country wherein no one is wronged: a land of righteousness. Depart thither; and remain until it pleaseth the Lord to open your way before you” said the Prophet, pointing to the kingdom of Abyssinia. The then ruler of Ethiopia, or Najashi, granted asylum to the first refugees, eleven men and four wives. They arrived in his territory ”in the 7th month of the year of Mohammed’s mission (615).” The second ”hijira” (flight) consisted of one hundred and one Muslims. The Quraysh are said to have asked the Ethiopian ruler to hand over the exiles to them, but the king is reported to have declared ”if you were to offer me a mountain of gold I would not give up these people who have taken refuge with me.” The notables among the refugees were the Prophet’s daughter Ruquyya, his future wives, Umma Habiba and Umma Salama or Hindi, and his cousin and leader of the religious exiles, Ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib. Many of these Muslims stayed in the country until they died and were buried at the sacred town of Negash. ”The Najashi of the Habashat”, as the king is known in the Arab world, died in 630 and is also buried in Negash. Stuart Munro-Hay, in his book Aksum-An African Civilization of Late Antiquity, states that the Najashi were buried in Wukro, a fact which Tadesse Tamrat corroborates in his book, Church and State in Ethiopia. Wukro and Negash are only 10 kms apart.

The Prophet is said to have ”Remembered the Najashi with affection” and ”pronounced some prayers” for him when he heard the news of the death of the compassionate Ethiopian ruler. This has apparently created, reasoned Taddesse, ”The tradition that the king was in fact a convert to the new religion and the tradition has in the end led to his being considered as a Muslim saint”. The Ethiopian Muslim tradition assert that the then Najashi of the Habashat was eventually converted to Islam, making him the first Ethiopian convert and even the first non-Saudi Muslim in the world

The Prophet and the Najashi had very good contacts. According to the young British researcher, Munro-Hay, it was the najashi himself who contracted the marriage of Umma Habiba to Mohammed when she returned to her country in 628 AD. Hancock and Pankhurst in their book Under Ethiopian Skies confirm this fact and that the king had given Umma Habiba ” a dowry of 400 dinars of gold” at the time of the marriage. Moreover, the Prophet had established diplomatic ties with the king as revealed through a letter and the gracious hospitality and security Ethiopia offered. According to historical accounts Ethiopia, is said to be exempted by the Prophet from ”jihad” (the holy war of Islam).

Jewahiral Ihisan Fitarical Habash, a book in Arabic is said to have cited that the king was living in a place situated ”between Atsbi (east of Negash) and Hawzien (west of Negash), Negash lies exactly between and about equidistant to Atsbi and Hawzien. The name by which the Ethiopian ruler used to be identified appears to vary between writers. For example, Pankhurst and Hancock call him Armah. Taddesse identifies him as El-Ashama, ”Son of Abdjar and father of Arma.” Munnro-Hay refers to him as Ashama Ibn Abjar. Nonetheless, the latter two are nearer to Asihima, the king’s local name. In fact, Islamic tradition steadfastly insists that the king after his conversion to Islam was renamed Seid Ahmed AL Negash.

Now, Negash is dominated by the ”derih” (tomb) of the king and the recently built mosque. Just past the gate of the derih compound, one can see the stone graves of the Muslims who in the early days of Mohammed’s mission had fled their country in pursuit of freedom of worship.

Negash is, therefore, not only the burial place of the world’s first Muslim king but also the Allah-Chosen resting place of the bodies of the early Muslims of the world who were denied a home to be buried in because of their beliefs. For these reasons, Negash is considered by many as the second most sacred place of Islamic worship and rightly dubbed by Ethiopian Muslims as ”the second Mekkah”.

One notable Muslim figure with an interesting story is Bilal Ibn Rabah. He was ”a freed slave” of Ethiopian roots born in Mekkah and one of the early Ethiopian converts to Islam. He became the first muezzin-or chanter of the call to prayer”. Munro-Hay states that Bilal was the bearer of the Prophet’s spear, which the Ethiopian king had given to al-Zubayr, the Prophet’s cousin. The spear ”was used from 624 AD to point the direction of the prayer”. Bilal is reported to have died in 640 AD.

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