Harar, Ethiopia: the fourth holiest city in Islam

Jun 2013
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Fascinating city, it's over 1300 years old and was a seat of Islamic Learning in Christian Ethiopia. It was the capital of the Somali adal sultanate in the 16th century and is known as the city of saints Containing over 120 mosques and enclosed within its medieval city wall, harar was a forbidden city. Guarded jealously by its majority muslim inhabitants, entry to the city was forbidden to Christians under pain of death. Just think, in Ethiopia of all places!

wiki entry:
Called Gey ("the City") by its inhabitants, Harar was founded between the 7th and the 11th century (according to different sources)[citation needed] and emerged as the center of Islamic culture and religion in the Horn of Africa.
According to the Fath Madinat Harar, an unpublished history of the city in the 13th century, the cleric Abadir Umar Ar-Rida, along with several other religious leaders, came from the Arabian Peninsula to settle in Harar circa 612H (1216 AD). Sheikh Ar-Rida is regarded as the saint of Harar,[5] as well as the common ancestor of the Somali Sheekhaal clan and the affiliated Harari people.
During the Middle Ages, Harar was part of the Adal Sultanate, becoming its capital in 1520 under Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. The sixteenth century was the city's Golden Age. The local culture flourished, and many poets lived and wrote there. It also became known for coffee, weaving, basketry and bookbinding.
From Harar, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, also known as "Gurey" and "Gragn" (both meaning "the Left-handed"), launched a war of conquest in the sixteenth century that extended the polity's territory and threatened the existence of the neighboring Christian Ethiopian Empire. His successor, Emir Nur ibn Mujahid, built a protective wall around the city.[6] Four meters in height high with five gates, this structure, called Jugol, is still intact and is a symbol of the town to the inhabitants.


Wooden balconies on the streets of Harar.
The rulers of Harar also struck its own currency, the earliest possible issues bearing a date that may be read as AH 615 (= AD 1218/19); but definitely by AD 1789 the first coins were issued, and more were issued into the nineteenth century.[7]
Following the death of Emir Nur, Harar began a steady decline in wealth and power. A later ruler, Imam Muhammed Jasa, a kinsman of Ahmad Gragn, yielded to the pressures of increasing Oromo raids and in 1577 abandoned the city, relocating to Aussa and making his brother ruler of Harar. The new base not only failed to provide more security from the Oromos, it attracted the hostile attention of the neighboring Afars who raided caravans travelling between Harar and the coast. The Imams of Aussa declined over the next century while Harar regained its independence under `Ali ibn Da`ud, the founder of a dynasty that ruled the city from 1647 until 1875, when it was conquered by Egypt.[8]
During the period of Egyptian rule (1875-1884), Arthur Rimbaud lived in the city as the local factor of several different commercial companies based in Aden; he returned in 1888 to resume trading in coffee, musk and skins until illness forced him to return to France. A house said to have been his residence is now a museum.[9]
In 1885, Harar regained its independence, but this lasted only two years until 6 January 1887 when the Battle of Chelenqo led to Harar's incorporation into the Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia's growing Empire based in Shewa.
Harar lost some of its commercial importance with the creation of the Addis Ababa - Djibouti Railway, initially intended to run via the city but diverted north of the mountains between Harar and the Awash River to save money. As a result of this, Dire Dawa was founded in 1902 as New Harar.
Harar was captured by Italian troops under Marshall Rudolfo Graziani during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War on 8 May 1937. The 1st battalion of the Nigeria Regiment, advancing from Jijiga by way of the Marda Pass, captured the city for the allies 29 March 1941.[10] Following the conclusion of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in 1944, the government of the United Kingdom were granted permission to establish a consulate in Harar, although the British refused to reciprocate by allowing an Ethiopian one at Hargeisa. After numerous reports of British activities in the Haud that violated the London Agreement of 1954, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the consulate closed March 1960.[11]
In 1995, the city and its environs became an Ethiopian region (or kilil) in its own right. A pipeline to carry water to the city from Dire Dawa is currently under construction.
According to Sir Richard Burton Harar is the birthplace of the khat plant.[12] The original domesticated coffee plant is also said to have been from Harar.
Interesting:
Written records indicate that spotted hyenas have been present in the walled Ethiopian city of Harar for at least 500 years, where they sanitise the city by feeding on its organic refuse.[1]
The practice of regularly feeding them did not begin until the 1960s. The first to put it into practice was a farmer who began to feed hyenas in order to stop them attacking his livestock, with his descendants having continued the practice.[2] Some of the hyena men give each hyena a name they respond to, and call to them using a "hyena dialect", a mixture of English and Oromo. The hyena men feed the hyenas by mouth, using pieces of raw meat provided by spectators.[3] Tourists usually organise to watch the spectacle through a guide for a negotiable rate.[4] As of 2002, the practice is considered to be on the decline, with only two practicing hyena men left in Harar.[3]
Folklore[edit]

According to local folklore, the feeding of hyenas in Harar originated during a 19th-century famine, during which the starving hyenas began to attack livestock and humans.[3] In one version of the story, a pure-hearted man dreamed of how the Hararis could placate the hyenas by feeding them porridge, and successfully put it into practice,[5] while another credits the revelation to the town's Muslim saints convening on a mountaintop.[2] The anniversary of this pact is celebrated every year on the Day of Ashura, when the hyenas are provided with porridge prepared with pure butter. It is believed that during this occasion, the hyenas' clan leaders taste the porridge before the others. Should the porridge not be to the lead hyenas' liking, the other hyenas will not eat it, and those in charge of feeding them make the requested improvements. The manner in which the hyenas eat the porridge on this occasion are believed to have oracular significance; if the hyena eats more than half the porridge, then it is seen as portending a prosperous new year. Should the hyena refuse to eat the porridge or eat all of it, then the people will gather in shrines to pray, in order to avert famine or pestilence.
Apparently there are small spaces between the city wall that hyenas slink thru at night, they clean up the cities streets by eating garbage.

The wiki entry says it was founded by Yemeni Arabs but I highly doubt that, Arabs/Persians founding cities in Africa is something that has long been proven to be utter bullsh^t. Most likely it was originally a village of settlement populated by Harari people.

Harar wasn't actually under Abyssinian rule until the late 1800s, just goes to show modern borders mean very little in Africa. Just like Zeila in Somalia was an Axumite city, Harar was dominated by Somalis/Afar rather than Abyssinians.

Some pics, harar just doesn't get any love in African history!






One of the city's five gates:
 
Last edited:
Jun 2013
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I'm disappointed by the lack of interest in this, I was hoping this would also interest those who like Islamic history as well. This section of the board isn't really all that active. I wonder if there are any other history boards where I could receive more interest in African history. The architecture reminds me of Zeila, the Adal sultanate definitely left their own unique imprint on Ethiopia, along with a unique assortment of over 300 shrines in the city.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,777
Cornwall
I saw this on a TV programme a few weeks ago, but I can't remember who it was. One of the Discovery channels but most interesting.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
I visited Harar many years ago (when Haile Selassie was still on the throne), it is indeed a remarkable place.
 

Reis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2010
2,028
It isnt all that surprising as the early muslims seeked refuge in Ethiopia when they ran away from the persecution that they were subjected to by the tribes in Mecca.
The ethiopian king granted them that refuge.
 
Jun 2013
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It isnt all that surprising as the early muslims seeked refuge in Ethiopia when they ran away from the persecution that they were subjected to by the tribes in Mecca.
The ethiopian king granted them that refuge.
Yes, Axum is mentioned in the Qu'ran as well, Prophet Muhammad obviously thought highly of this empire.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
Prehistoric times I fear. Ethiopia is a fascinating country, I would love to go back again, and see some of the rock-hewn churches, monasteries and other things; but I doubt that I will be able to afford to.