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The First Introduction of Islam into Africa

The prophet Muhammed first began to spread the religion of Islam in Arabia which is located east of the continent of Africa in the region of modern-day Saudi Arabia in around 613 AD and he was successful in gaining a significant following. His early followers would come to include both Arabs and Africans as well as Persians, Romans and Jews. By 614 AD Muhammed and his followers were under significant attack and persecution by other groups within the region including followers of polytheism and also members of the powerful Arab Quraysh tribe of Arabia. And so, as the oppression of the new Muslims within Arabian territory, specifically in the Arabian city of Mecca continued and intensified a new verse from the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed in Surah An Nahl chapter 16 verse 42 which stated the following:

“As for those who have forsaken their homes for the sake of Allah after enduring persecution, We shall certainly grant them a good abode in this world; and surely the reward of the Hereafter is much greater. If they could but know (what an excellent end awaits)”.

Soon after this the Prophet Muhammed provided the following advise to his followers:

"If you were to go to Abyssinia (it would be better for you), for the king will not tolerate injustice and it is a friendly country, until such time as Allah shall relieve you from your distress."

The region of Ethiopia was also known as Abyssinia during these days. At this time in eastern Africa the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum had already been firmly established and until 570 AD also controlled the territory of southern Arabia in the region of modern-day Yemen. The ruler of Ethiopia was King Armah who was also known as Al-Najāshī. The king of Ethiopia is also referred to as ‘the Negus’. The Ethiopians during this period were devoted Christians, a religion which had been introduced by the previous Ethiopian King Ezana who came to power in 320 AD. King Armah of Ethiopia was well known to be a strong and just leader. And his kingdom was prosperous, powerful and peaceful. In order to escape persecution Muhammed and his followers contacted the leadership of Ethiopia for assistance. Under the instruction of Muhammed the early followers of Islam fled from Arabia into Africa, specifically the nation of Ethiopia. Within the Islamic tradition this is a well known event called the ‘the migration to Abyssinia and it is also known as ‘the First Hijra’. Many Ethiopians and other Africans close to the region would begin to adopt the religion. This was the first introduction of Islam into the continent of Africa to a large degree.

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