Ethiopia has seen its fair share of violence in recent months. The ongoing conflict (a summary of which can be found at the Washington Post) pits the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The escalating tension has even touched one of the region’s most revered religious buildings – the historical al-Nejashi mosque in the area of Wukro – as reported by the Middle East Eye.
Al-Nejashi mosque is a UNESCO world heritage site. The building is named after the Nejashi, or king, of the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia who sheltered the early Muslims during the first hijra in 615. Ashama Ibn Abjar is the reported name of the Nejashi. The mosque is believed to have been built by the Muslim migrants who escaped the persecution of the Quraysh in Mecca.
A Belgium-based non-profit organization, Europe External Programme with Africa, is the first to report that al-Nejashi mosque was “bombed and later looted by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops.” Other reports said that the nearby Emanuel Church was also damaged in the confrontation.
Images showed al-Nejashi’s minaret destroyed, its dome partially collapsed, and its facade in ruins. Rubble also reportedly littered the floor of the inside of the mosque. As the Middle East eye noted, a number of artifacts are said to have been stolen, including religious books, letters, and manuscripts dating back to the time of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.
Fifteen of Prophet Muhammad’s disciples are also buried in the mosque’s tombs, which have also reportedly been damaged. Thankfully, the Ethiopian government has promised to repair the centuries-old mosque.
My forthcoming book – People of the Book – Prophet Muhammad’s Encounters with Christians – dedicates a chapter to the first hijra and the early encounters between Muhammad, the Believers, and the Christians living around the Arabian Peninsula.
The Chapel of the Tablet is believed by Ethiopian Christians to preserve the Ark of the Covenant.
The preservation of Christian and Muslim heritage (and lives) is crucial to maintaining a spirit of coexistence and pluralism.
Al-Nejashi mosque reminds us of what is possible – of Christians sheltering Muslims, and Muslims, in turn, reminding Christians of what Islam has in common with Christianity.
Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency