Ethiopia – The King Who Granted Asylum to the Family of the Prophet Mohammad

New York (Tadias) – This past Sunday, at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a panel discussion entitled “Ethiopia: The Three Faiths” attracted a diverse and large audience. The event hosted by Beta Israel of North America foundation began with cultural dances from the Indian subcontinent and an Ethiopian dance troupe called Keremela.

The panel included Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton University; Dr. Ayele Bekerie, Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University, Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers University; and Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, an archaeologist, anthropologist, and historian as well as the former curator of the National Museum of Ethiopia.

Dr. Said Samatar described Ethiopia’s historic role in providing sanctuary for the earliest Muslims. He shared the story of King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad [pbuh], who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.

“Negash held court and asked both the Quraish tribal members and the family of Mohammad to state their case” he notes. Sharing the exchange of words between the Ethiopian Christian King and those in the court, Samatar described how a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.

“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.'”

“In effect,” Samatar said “that meant that no jihad could be waged against the Kingdom of Abyssinia.”

Samatar also pointed to the presence of the Islam’s oldest mosque, located in Aksum. “Islam may well have come to Ethiopia before the new religion flourished in Mecca” he said. Samatar mentioned that Ethiopia’s King had read the Prophet’s letter himself, and turning to the Schomburg’s audience, he asked the question:

“Did the King read Arabic?”

New Findings About King Armah
Dr. Ayele Bekerie then expounded on the relations between King Armah and his Meccan counterparts, noting new findings that King Armah had been born in Mecca after his father, Atse (Emperor) Gebre Mesqel, the son of Atse Caleb, had been taken to Arabia as a military commander and had been captured as a slave by Persians and sold in Mecca. Armah was born to a Meccan woman and he later bought his freedom, returned to Ethiopia, and replaced his brother as King of Aksum.

“So it is likely that he was familiar with the Prophet Mohammad[pbuh] as well as being able to speak Arabic” Bekerie points out. Read the rest of the story and view photos from the Schomburg at


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