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Migration to Abyssinia

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Title: Migration to Abyssinia  
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Subject: Islam in Ethiopia, Islam in Africa, Umar, Religion in Ethiopia, Ethiopia
Collection: 7Th Century in Ethiopa, History of Islam, Islam in Eritrea, Islam in Ethiopia, Islam in Somalia, Life of Muhammad
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Migration to Abyssinia

The Hegira of Muhammed and other earlier Muslim migrations

The Migration to Abyssinia (Arabic: الهجرة إلى الحبشة‎, al-hijraʾilā al-hābsḥa), also known as the First Hegira (Arabic: هِجْرَةhijrah), was an episode in the early history of Islam when a group, totalling 83 people both men and women, of the Prophet Mohammed's first followers (the Sahabah) fled from the persecution of the ruling Quraysh tribe of Mecca.

They sought refuge in the Kingdom of Aksum, present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea (formerly referred to as Abyssinia, a name derived from the Arabic Al-Habash), for nearly 15 years, from 7 BH (615 CE) to AH 7 (628/629). The Aksumite monarch of the time, known in Arabic as Ashama ibn Abjar, whom historians generally associate with the historical and contemporary monarch King Armah,[1] a Christian who was considered "well-known for being a just and God-fearing man".[2]


  • Background 1
  • The migrations 2
    • First migration 2.1
    • Abortive return 2.2
    • Second migration 2.3
  • In Aksum 3
    • Embassy of the Quraysh 3.1
  • Return 4
  • Aftermath and legacy 5
    • The Najashi and Islam 5.1
    • Islam in Ethiopia 5.2
      • "The Abyssinian model" 5.2.1
    • Ethiopia and the Islamic world 5.3
  • Hegira to Abyssinia (613, 615) 6
  • History 7
    • Prelude 7.1
    • First migration 7.2
    • Returning 7.3
    • Second migration, 615 7.4
    • Quraish delegation 7.5
    • Alternative Version 7.6
    • End 7.7
  • List 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10


The Muslims had been persecuted by the Quraysh and thus left for their safety.

The migrations

There were actually two migrations, one in 7 BH (615 CE) (or 613?), followed by a second in 0 BH (622 CE).

First migration

The first group of migrants left in the seventh Islamic month (Rajab) of 7 BH (615 CE), counting sixteen Sahabah, eleven men and five women.

Abortive return

Gradually, the number of emigrants increased in Axum. Only a few days had passed in peace, when a rumour reached them that the Meccans had finally embraced Islam. On hearing this, most of the Muslims decided to return to Mecca. When they reached the city, they came to know that the report was false. The Meccans began to persecute even more severely those persons who had returned from Axum. Thus the Muslims went back to Axum, and were followed by a second and considerably larger group.

Second migration

The second group, which left in 7 BH (615 CE) after the unsuccessful return of the first group to Mecca, was far larger than the first, although the exact figure is uncertain and sources vary considerably. One source gives a figure of 88 migrants, 79 men and 9 women. Other reports give the number as 101, with 83 men and 18 women. This group was headed by Ja'far ibn Abī Tālib, who was also the only person from the Banu Hashim clan who migrated to Axum.

In Aksum

Embassy of the Quraysh

The migration of the Muslims to the Axumite empire, and their reception at the friendly court of that country, alarmed the Quraysh. They entertained the fear that Muslims might grow in strength, or find new allies, and then, some day, might return to Mecca to challenge them. To head off this potential threat, such as they saw it, they decided to send an embassy to the court of the king of Axum to try to persuade him to extradite the Muslims to Mecca.


The Muslims returned from Axum in AH 7 (628/629), but to Medina rather Mecca, following the Hegira of Muhammad to that city.

Aftermath and legacy

The Najashi and Islam

Islam in Ethiopia

"The Abyssinian model"

It is a policy.[3]

Ethiopia and the Islamic world

In Rajab of the fifth year of the mission, the first group immigrated to Axum. The group comprised about eleven men and four women. The Qureysh pursued them to the port to capture them, but their vessels had left the shore. When the group reached Axum, they heard the rumour that the whole tribe of the Qureysh had accepted Islam. They were naturally very much pleased at the news and returned to their country. On approaching Mecca, they learnt that the rumour was false and the persecutions were going on unabated. Some of them decided to return to Axum and the rest entered Mecca, seeking the protection of a few influential people. This is known as the first migration to Axum. Later on, a bigger group of eighty-three men and eighteen women immigrated to Axum (separately). This is called the second immigration to that country. Some Sahabah took part in both the migrations."[4]

They returned after three months to Arabia due to misinformation, only to find that the persecution had not halted. "The hardships and sufferings borne by the Muslims were ever on the increase. Muhammad at last permitted them to emigrate to some other place.

Hegira to Abyssinia (613, 615)

  • Migrations in two batches (613, 615):

Rafiq Zakaria noted:

Unable to bear the hardships, a group of 15 Muslims, on the advice of Muhammad, migrated to Axum (in 613) where a benign Christian ruler, king Negus gave the shelter. Two years after (in 615) the first migration, a second group of about a hundred of the persecuted Muslims led by Jafar, brother of Ali, left for Axum.[5]

Some reports noted migrations were made to Axum in three batches.


The party of migrations (613-15) included famous persons as Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, Abd-Allah ibn Jahsh, Uthman ibn Affan and his wife Ruqayyah bint Muhammad. The first batch was led by Abd-Allah ibn Jahsh. Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas did not return to Arabia straight away but went to Chittagong port (now in Bangladesh), and then to Kamrup-Manipur (now in northeast India)in 615 and reached China with other companions including two Sahabahs. Waqqas reached China in 616, preached for sometime in Canton and elsewhere among the Hui Chi (later Hui Hui) and then returned to Arabia.[6]


After the conversion of many prominent Meccans, the companions of Muhammad began to offer prayers publicly in 613. In turn, the Quraysh intensified their opposition by torturing the Muslims. Muhammad told his followers to leave for Axum, where "a king rules without injustice, a land of truthfulness-until God leads us to a way out of our difficulty."

After persecution and torture, Muhammad ordered his companions to migrate to Axum. Hamza embraced Islam in 616 with Umar (the second Caliph of Islam).

First migration

In seventh Islamic month (Rajab) of 7 BH (614–615 CE),[7] eleven men and four women undertook the first migration.[8] The group was headed by a companion called Uthman bin Maz'oon.

They snuck out of Mecca on a dark night and headed for the sea where two boats happened to be sailing for their destination, Axum. News of their intended departure reached Quraish, so some men were despatched in their pursuit, but the Muslims had already left Shuaibah Port towards their secure haven where they were received warmly and accorded hospitality by the Najashi, (Arabic: '‎النجاشي, cognate with Ge'ez: ንጉሥ nəgus, "king") the ruler of Aksum, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar, also called . Among these emigrants were Uthman and Ruqayyah.[9]


Contrary to the view of an alleged rumor of mass conversion reaching them, some Islamic writers state the return of some of those who had migrated to Axum was in the following context; "The return of the emigrants: is far from being the result of what they heard about the conversion of the Makkans to Islam, for at that time there were no communication means to flash the news from Makka to Abyssiania in one month, not to say a few days. The fact of the matter was that Ja’afar ibn Abi-Talib and Umar ibn al-Kattab accepted Islam. And gave a great boost to the spirit of the Muslim community. Stunned by that conversion, the Makkans needed a respite to rethink their strategy towards the Muslims. There prevailed, for a time, an atmosphere of calm and restraint. This encouraged some Muslims to return to Makka and be with their people instead of living far way. Together with this factor, was another, very important local development in Axum. Negus, who welcomed, and gave hospitality to, the fleeing Arabs, was himself under attack. His faith was questioned, his subjects revolted and the Muslims felt that they should not bother the man. Some of them returned, others went into hiding until the ruler succeeded in putting down the rebellion. Al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal reports in his Musnad a long tradition on the authority of Umm Salamah (who was among the emigrants living there at that time, and who later on became the wife of the Prophet) what they felt during that rebellion."[10]

Second migration, 615

Quraish delegation

The Muslim refugees who had expected to be left in peace, were surprised by the arrival, in the Axum capital, of an embassy from Mecca, led by a certain 'Amr ibn al-'As. 'Amr had brought rich presents for the king and his courtiers to ingratiate himself with them.

When the king gave audience to the emissary of the Quraysh, he said that the Muslims in Axum were not refugees from persecution but were fugitives from justice and law, and requested him to extradite them to Mecca. The king, however, wanted to hear the other side of the story also before giving any judgment, and summoned Ja'far ibn Abī Tālib to the court to answer the charges against the Muslims.

Ja'far made a most memorable defense. Following is a summary of his speech in the court of Axumin answer to the questions posed by the Christian king.

O King! We were ignorant people and we lived like wild animals. The strong among us lived by preying upon the weak. We obeyed no law and we acknowledged no authority save that of brute force. We worshipped idols made of stone or wood, and we knew nothing of human dignity. And then God, in His Mercy, sent to us His Messenger who was himself one of us. We knew about his truthfulness and his integrity. His character was exemplary, and he was the most well-born of the Arabs. He invited us toward the worship of One God, and he forbade us to worship idols. He exhorted us to tell the truth, and to protect the weak, the poor, the humble, the widows and the orphans. He ordered us to show respect to women, and never to slander them. We obeyed him and followed his teachings. Most of the people in our country are still polytheists, and they resented our conversion to the new faith which is called Islam. They began to persecute us and it was in order to escape from persecution by them that we sought and found sanctuary in your kingdom.

When Ja'far concluded his speech, the king asked him to read some verses which were revealed to Muhammad. Ja'far read a few verses from Sura Maryam (Mary), the 19th chapter of the Qur'an. When the king heard these verses, he said that their fountainhead was the same as that of the verses of the Evangel. He then declared that he was convinced of his veracity, and added, to the great chagrin of 'Amr bin Aas, that the Muslims were free to live in his kingdom for as long as they wished.

But 'Amr bin Aas bethought himself of a new stratagem, which, he felt confident, would tilt the scales against Ja'far. On the following day, therefore, he returned to the court and said to the king that he (the king) ought to waive his protection of the Muslims because they rejected the divine nature of Christ, and claimed that he was a mortal like other men. When questioned on this point by the king, Ja'far said:

Our judgment of Jesus is the same as that of Allah and His Messenger, viz., Jesus is God's servant, His Prophet and His command given unto Mary, the innocent virgin.

The king said: "Jesus is just what you have stated him to be, and is nothing more than that." Then addressing the Muslims, he said: "Go to your homes and live in peace. I shall never give you up to your enemies." He refused to extradite the Muslims, returned the presents which 'Amr bin Aas had brought, and dismissed his embassy.

Alternative Version

There is little dispute that the followers of Mohammed did arrive at the court of King Armah to beg for mercy from the Meccans. However, the Ethiopian version of the story is the Muslim refugees knew the Christian religion well enough to praise the virtues of St Mary (who Ethiopian Orthodox know as Kidust Mariam, the God bearer) as outlined in Surat Mariam (the palace would have literally been surrounded by Christian iconography) without overstepping or contradicting their Christian beliefs in Jesus. As the pagan Meccans did not believe in St Mary, it was logical King Armah would choose to grant shelter to those who he felt were being persecuted for their belief in Kidust Mariam, feeling they were simply one of the many Christian sects of the Arabian peninsula. Whichever story is true, it is clear from historic evidence that King Armah reigned and died a Christian King of Axum, as evidenced by the minted coins in his name which show a Christian cross on the reverse of his inscription.


The Muslims finally returned from Axum in 7 A.H., but to Medina and not Mecca.


The first march (Hegira) in 615 CE had a group of eleven men and four women. The list of the Sahhbas who migrated to Axum in the first march includes the following.

The above list[13] clearly shows that it was prepared after returns from Abyssinia and did not include those gone for overseas preaching and trading purposes.

See also


  1. ^ "Search Results samatar Search for samatar at Tadias Magazine". 
  2. ^ "The Two Migrations of Muslims to Abyssinia". Al-Islam. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Asedillo, Rebecca C. (7 November 2001). "Scholar proposes Abyssinian model for Christian-Muslim relations". Global Ministries News. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Rafiq Zakaria, 1991, Muhammad and The Quran, New Delhi: Penguin Books, pp. 403-4. ISBN 0-14-014423-4
  6. ^ in manipur;;
  7. ^ "". 
  8. ^ "". 
  9. ^ The Sealed Nectar The Second ‘Aqabah Pledge on
  10. ^ ""Those Are The High Flying Cranes"". 
  11. ^ He is traced to be the religious ancestor of Muslims in Manipur and China- see Muslims of Manipur- WorldHeritage, the free encyclopedia
  12. ^ He is father of Zainab and a father-in-law of Muhammad. In some accounts relating to Sahabahs in China, he (Jahsh) is noted as Geys. Muslims of Chams (Cambodiya) trace ancestry to a father-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, who is none other than Jahsh (Geys)- see T.W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam,p.294 nt.8
  13. ^ a b c "Authentic History of King Negash of Abyssinia (Currently Ethiopia)". 
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