Ethiopia is a country where Muslims and Christians live together with a sense of fraternity and companionship, solidarity and togetherness supporting each other in both good and bad times. Even, a family with followers of the two faiths lives in a common house with patience and in harmony. Though the two religions were introduced to the country at different chronology, they manage to be accepted by large number of people and remain to be the biggest religions of the country.
Evidently, Ethiopia, as a home for nations, nationalities and peoples’ possesses enormous material and spiritual heritages which show country’s betimes historic and religious treasuries, cultural and traditional assets. The Obelisks of Axum, the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela, the al-Nejashi Mosque and many more are the living testimonies in this regard. The Bilal Habeshi Museum, located in the capital Addis Ababa, is also the other element that portrays the, traditional and religious values, heritages and norms of the Islamic community. As studies indicate, the Museum was founded by the Bilal Association. And the preservation of such values and heritage is of great signifi cance for humanity from multiple perspectives.
This piece is not limited to religious aspects promoting religious institutes; it rather focuses on investigating Bilalul Habeshi Community Museum which is situated at the heart of the capital around Mekanisa. According to scripts obtained from the Museum, Ethiopia is one of the Muslims populace countries in Africa. As one closely examines the circumstance under which Islam was introduced to Ethiopia, it was different from other neighboring countries since the fi rst migration of the companions and relatives of Prophet Mohammed (SAS) was to Ethiopia.
On a short stay with The Ethiopian Herald, Adem Mohammed, Fore-runner and Organizer of the Museum, said that in the history of Islam, it is known that the fi rst man who uttered out Azan (call for Salat) was the man from Ethiopia and one of the greatest Sahaba of the Prophet; named Bilal. That is why the Museum is named after him. He said that Bilalul Habeshi Community for development and support is a multilayered community based civic organization engages on supporting orphans, destitute children and the needy. The organization has launched a special program of collecting and displaying Ethiopian Islamic heritages organized as Bilalul Habeshi Community Museum in its newly inaugurated building around Mekanisa; near Vatican Embassy.
The Community Museum has managed to gather more than 200 Ethiopian Islamic objects so far, he said. Bilalul Habeshi Community Museum would make one of the few institutes of its kind in the country with special attention for Islamic heritages.
Above all, as the initiative to organize the Museum is taken by the community itself, the opportunity of getting and preserving a wide range of such materials would be optimal, said Adem adding that enormous amount of materials that would make wealth of Islamic heritages are kept in the hands of individuals. Hence, the importance of such community museum is immense. If attention is given to the preservation of historical relics which embraces paleoanthropology, archeology and palaeontology, Ethiopia’s contribution to the world Islamic heritage will be signifi cant.
However, due to certain constraints, like lack of awareness and trained man power on the sector, inadequate resource and less attention, the sector has not developed at the desired level so far. But this does not mean that there has not been any attempt, he added. The manuscripts refl ect traditional Ethiopian book binding skills even if some of them are copied from foreign sources; they reveal local language profi ciency, intellectuals’ profi le and their exposure to the wider world, Adem said. Among the collection of the Museum, Menzuma Islamic Poetry can be considered as part of the national literature.
They deal with religious themes mainly focusing on glorifying God and praising Prophet Mohamed though there are also few manuscripts dealing with Botany, Astronomy, Medicine, History, Law, Numismatic, Biography and Taxation. Most of these materials originating from different parts of the country are acquired through purchasing and donation, it was stated.
It was also learnt that the establishment of the Museum is to create public awareness about Islamic heritages; encourage scholars reinforce their research towards the study of Islamic heritages; encourage individuals who know of the existence of items of Islamic relics to collect and bring them to the Museum, which promote better protection; and initiate central and state bureaus (cultural and tourism bureau) to protect and make Islamic heritages accessible for tourists.
As it has been observed and information from physical documents reveal, description of the objects under collection are classifi ed under two categories. The fi rst set of objects comprises of pictures of historic places, mosques, prominent personalities (recent and past) who played a major role in preaching and promoting Islam in Ethiopia.
The second categories are collection of a wide range of written manuscripts. Quran, hand written religious documents, and other religious manuscripts that many of them are written in Arabic language and languages of Amharic, Afan Oromo, Adere Somali and Afar with Arab Script. Moreover, apart from being Islamic entity, the Bilal Association has been working on social programs since the year 2000 and has managed to build this Islamic Museum next to a cultural library in the “Mekanisa” neighborhood, in the heart of Addis Ababa. It was remembered that in relation to the 1442nd Eid Al-Fitr Festival, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Bilal alHabeshi Museum.
BY LAKACHEW ATINAFU
The Ethiopian Herald May 21/2021