Axum and the First Hijra: Early Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia


Antiquity saw the advent of both Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia. King Ezana of Axum made in the 4th century Christianity the state religion of his empire after the Syrian monks Adesius and Frumentius had arrived on the Red Sea Coast. The first Muslims arrived in Ethiopia as early as 615 A.D. when Prophet Mohammed sent some of his followers across the Red Sea to Ethiopia. These refugees were welcomed with great hospitality by the Axumite king. When the adversaries of the prophet asked the Negus to extradite them he refused and provided them with asylum.

This flight of early Muslims to Ethiopia is regarded as the First Hijra in Islamic history. The gratitude towards the Ethiopians is preserved in a Hadith:

“utruk al-habasha ma tarkukum”
Leave the Abyssinians alone, so long as they do not take the offensive!

Furthermore the Islamic tradition sees the Ethiopian ruler as having become a Muslim called Ahmed Najashi. Archaeological findings from northeastern Shewa show that the first Muslim communities in that area must have been established as early as the 9th century.


The routes on which Christianity and Islam reached Ethiopia during the Axumite period.


The mosque of Negash in Tigray is said to be the first one built in Ethiopia by the followers of Prophet Mohammed who came with the First Hijra. The photo shows a modern building on that place.HomeGoethe Institut Addis Abeba