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General Conditions of Abyssinia

Geographically there has been only a minor variation between the Abyssinia of the past and the present; it included the Eritrean coast on the Red Sea as well as British Sumalia and French Sumalia which have now become independent, a well as a part of the Sudan.

Abyssinia of that time was an extensive realm with an old history, but its civilisation did not even equal the level of the other neighbours of Arabia, and was at par with Yemen. The rulers and people of Abyssinia belonged to a race south and west of the Red Sea, who were called the 'Habish' and 'Habash'. In early Islam the word 'Habish' was applied to those who came to Mecca from this region, and from that word the word Abyssinia is derived, a word which is closer to its root than Ethiopia which is now used for that country in European languages and papers and other publications. It was applied to those who migrated from the shores of the Red Sea to this land, and settled there.

Abyssinia itself is an extensive land having various natural divisions. A considerable part of it is desert with little agriculture and parse population; the other part has high mountains and mountainous land with abundant water and trees, with gold, silver and copper mines and flourishing agriculture. About one thousand years B.C. Abyssinia had a central government. I mention this point to show that all the neighbours of Arabia including Hira and Ghassan had a central government, while Hejaz, the birthplace of Islam, lacked an organised government and was socially well behind all the countries surrounding it. Yet it made a sudden leap forward to establish a central government and its own special quality of democracy and freedom. What I would like to do is to see how did all this take place in such a short span of time, and what caused this quick change? And to what extent does it influence our life today?

In Abyssinia numerous races existed in a scattered way, with their local governments. At the same time Abyssinia had central monarchy which was strong and powerful enough to be obeyed by the neighbouring rulers, and here and there also existed autonomous governments. Yaqubi, in his book of history which was written in the third century Hijri has recorded that there were many independent governments existing, while the central government of the Najashies (Neguses) exercised some control over them, and received tributes from these small local governments.59 The present population of Abyssinia is about 21,000,000 60 according to the last (1960) statistics, of which 12.5 million are Muslims and the rest are either Christians or idolaters, but in the present situation the government is in the hands of the Christians. 61 This population consists of different branches to one of which belongs the Najashi group who ruled as emperors. They have emigrated from Yemen.

The lineage of the emperors of Abyssinia reached Prophet Solomon (a.s.) through his marriage with the Queen of Shiba. Thus this family regarded themselves as descendants of Prophet Solomon, the son of Prophet Dawood (David). In the constitution of 1932 of Abyssinia it is stated that kingship belongs permanently to this family, each branch of which possesses a different name. However, it is not clear to what extent this claim is a fable or based on historical fact. My study of the Abyssinian history did not confirm the correctness of this claim, even a detailed source uses the phrase "It is said", showing that the writer is doubtful about its authenticity. I must narrate an hlistorical account which is quite interesting and also disturbing. Until the fourth century A.D. Abyssinia was a land of idolatry and idolaters, having some local jungle beliefs, and the Jews, too, seem to have asserted some influence, though this matter is never publicly admitted or discussed in detail. In those days a good deal of traffic existed between Yemen and Abyssinia and some kind of historical relations, showing that Judaism had been more or less recognised there, though the number of its followers had been rather small. 62 However, the common religion of the Abyssinians was idolatry In the fourth century, namely in 340 A.D. a Bishop of Syria - a Syrian was dispatched from the church of Alexandria to Abyssinia as a missionary. 63 This industrious bishop succeeded in converting a group to Christianity in the 4th century A.D., about 240 or 250 years before the birth of Islam.

Thus it would show that in Abyssinia did not have a precedence of more than two and a half centuries before the rise of Islam. Churches were built there, and thus Abyssinia became a Christian base. According to the description by one bishop of the church, Abyssinia is an island of Christianity in a sea of polytheism, since at that time no other religion existed there. The influence of Christianity spread so far that the emperor himself embraced that faith, and Negus who was a contemporary of the prophet of Islam was a Christian. According to one European writer, with the rise of Islam the connection between Abyssinia and the Christian world was severed, and this separation continued for nine centuries so that the Christian world knew nothing of Abyssinia and of their being Christians.

59. Ya'qubi's History, Vol. 1, p. 235 onward.

60. Those statistics belong to the year 1960. In 1986 the population was 42,289,000. Defence and Foreign Affairs handbook, 1986, etc.

61. The last Abyssinian emperor, Haile Selassie, had to abdicate in 1974, and was superseded by a Marxist government after a coup d'etat.

62. In the north of Abyssinia around lake Tanasea live a group of Jews. They are black-skinned and are called Falasha. They consider themselves to be descendants of Menelik, son of the Queen of Shiba and Prophet Solormmon. Tluough this group many Hebrew words have entered the Abyssinian tongue. In the government of Jafar Numeiri in Sudan and with the aid of the Marxist government of Ethiopia and on the pretext of this uncertain lineage. twenty thousand of this group have been transferred to occupied Palestine.

63. The name of this priest is recorded as Fromentius who was appointed by Anthanasius, a famous bishop of Alexandria as the head of the Chr.istian mission in Abyssinia.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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