- Islam in Nineteenth-Century Wallo, Ethiopia: Revival, Reform and Reaction
This book is the first to be published on Islam in Ethiopia since the publication of John Spencer Trimingham's Islam in Ethiopia in 1952. The author, Hussein Ahmed, professor of history at Addis Ababa University and an emerging authority on Islam in Ethiopia, is also the author of several articles on the subject. The history of Islam and the role of Muslims in Ethiopia have been neglected because, according to Professor Hussein, "bias has manifested itself in both the neglect and a priori distortion of Islam and in certain prejudices which have formed an integral part of the ideological panoply of the Christian dynasts" (190). In Islam in Nineteenth-Century Wallo, Ethiopia: Revival, Reform and Reaction, Hussein Ahmed exposes the received wisdom that considers Islam a negative factor in Ethiopian history and presents Islam as a positive factor that has shaped the history of that country. [End Page 147]
Though the book is mainly a study of Islam in one region, it is a truly a major work on Islam in Ethiopia. It is a fascinating book because it depicts the progress of Islam in Ethiopia in chronological and thematic schemes in five phases: "Early phase; the period of expansion and consolidation; period of confrontation; period of steady expansion and period of revival and internal reverses" (58-59). It is also trail blazing, because the book is based on solid scholarship establishing conclusively that Islam as a religion and a way of life is an integral part of Ethiopian history. Professor Hussein breaks with the intellectual tradition of students of Ethiopian history and culture, who exclusively identify the country within the Christian paradigm (xviii), and suggests the need for a new paradigm that sees Ethiopia as the country in which Muslims and Christians have lived side by side peacefully, cooperating and trading with each other more often than fighting against one another. It is now clear that Ethiopia has not been a Christian island surrounded by a Muslim sea, but the land of both Christians and Muslims. From this perspective, Professor Hussein'sbook is not only an excellent contribution to our knowledge of Islam in Ethiopia, which is crucial in itself, but also adds to our understanding of Christian society in Ethiopia.
Anyone interested in understanding the mechanism for the spread of Islam in Ethiopia (as well as in Africa), its interaction with Christianity and traditional religions, or the role clerics, traders, and political leaders played in its consolidation will be rewarded by reading this long-expected book on Islam in Wallo, Ethiopia. It is a remarkable book for the high quality of its scholarship, the richness of its sources, the lucidity and beauty of its language, and the clarity with which complex issues are dissected and discussed.
According to Hussein Ahmed, Islam was introduced into Wallo from Ifat in northeastern Shawa (60), where it had flourished since the eleventh century, if not earlier. During the time of Imam Ahmad (1529-1543) of Adal, otherwise known as Ahmad Gragn, "the Wallo region was a theater of several engagements between Christian and Muslim forces and served as a base for the latter's incursions into the north." (13). It was during this period that Islam, as a religion and culture, consolidated itself in the Wallo region. Although the death of Imam Ahmed in 1543, the defeat of the Muslims, and subsequent pastoral Oromo migration weakened the pace of Islamization, Islam remained an integral part of the region. [End Page 148]
Islam in Wallo is closely associated with the Oromo people. In the last quarter of the sixteenth century seven pastoral Oromo groups settled in the Wallo region. Among those groups, the Yajju and the Wallo were dominant. The Yajju formed their own Muslim dynasty that dominated the political landscape of Abyssinia from 1756 to 1854. The Wallo group not only gave its name to the region and formed a second Muslim dynasty, the Warra Himano dynasty (c. 1700-1916), but...