Negarit 53, Imam Ahmed Gragn – ኢማም ኣሕመድ ግራኝ – الإمام أحمد بن إبراهيم

This is written as notes for Episode 53 of NEGARIT, my YouTube channel which is delivered in Tigrinya—it’s not all covered because of time limitations.

  • Today, the main topic is Imam Ahmed Bin Ibrahim, known in Abyssinia as Ahmed Gragn, but I will have a number of inter-related topics in between—in no specific order.
  • I am also trying to find “children of Cain” because they killed my ancestor, Abel.
  • After the break I will continue with more questions that I hope will help us reflect on: A) How many Gods are there? B) What is the meaning of Hungugu and, C) what does Shawl mean, like in Aba-Shawl?

I hope you enjoy it….

Imam Ahmed Ibrahim Al Ghazi

Many believe if something satisfies their primitive sentiments, then it is absolutely true. However, modern progressive views interfere to confuse the primitive minds. Some wish to appear fair, and they must apportion praise and criticism equally among Christians and Muslims.

If I criticize a Christian, I have to criticize a Muslim just to appear fair: why do you criticize Christians only, or Muslims only?  If I say Tesfai was bad, I have to say Idris was also bad. If I say God bless you, I have to say Egzabher bless you. That’s why most comments are full of redundancy when they end with messages of– God/Egzabeher/Allah bless you.

How many competing Gods are there? I guess only one, since all Abrahamic religions believe in one God. I will not mention other beliefs since they are not part of the confusion. We should realize the topic dictates who is the subject and one cannot involve others to appease the paranoid and appear fair. So, if I criticize Isaias, I do not have to criticize Ramadan just to appear fair.

When I talk about Ahmed Gragn, it is because my topic is Gragn and I should not be expected to apportion and involve others that are irrelevant to the topic.  History is not about apportioning; it should be contextual.

The much-abused character, Gragn,  has a formal appellation; the name and title  are Imam Ahmed Bin Ibrahim Al Ghazi. However, in Abyssinian history he is simply identified as Ahmed Gragn, meaning the left-handed, the Shengebay, Akhelay, or Gurey as the Somalis say it.

Since I think in different languages, I looked at the root of the word Ashwal in Arabic, because in Arabic, Ashwal means left-handed, or cross-eyed. Could there be a connection to Shawl, as in Aba Shawil? I hope those who might know would help.  So, for now, let’s note that president Obama can be called Obama Gragn, similarly, Bush Gragn, the left-handed. But considering the taboo and connotation associated with lefhandedness in our region, the great warrior was discounted to the simple, Gragn, the religiously despised identification of the “left-handed.”

Why is he so much vilified in Abyssinian history? Why is he considered a threat, a Hungugu, 500 years after he died? Why is he presented as a scarecrow, a Hungugu, five centuries after his death?

Incidentally, let’s talk about the Tigrinya scare term, Hungugu. I have researched the term. The closest I found is in ancient regional monster names, in the Somali folklore, the XUNGURUUF (X is pronounced hard H in the Latinized Somali writing). Therefore, the Somali folkloric monster, Hunguruuf, could be the origin of Hungugu which looks like Nesnas, an ancient Arabian demon which is believed to have the power to strip and kill a human being of their flesh, by a mere touch, leaving them just skeletons. Hungugu is the offspring of another Demon called Shiqq, and a human mother, from which I believe we get the word Shqaq from,  for toilet.

So, Imam Ahmed is presented as Hungugu in Abyssinian folklore though his epic reign lasted only 16 years, in which he launched a devastating campaign against Abyssinia. He was 37 years old when he died.

Imam Ahmed was Married to an imposing figure, Bati-Dil-Wenberwa, the daughter of Mahfuz, the Sultan of Zeila who was killed in 1517 fighting against king Lebne Dingel. Then a period of anarchy continued until 1527 when Imam Ahmed came out as a leader.

In 1527, Lebne Dingel whose crown name was Dawit, (Atze Dawit School, my school that was baptized by Haile Selassie), invaded Adal; in retaliation, Imam Ahmed fought back. And in a battle in 1528, Libne Dingel was defeated and became a fugitive running away from the pursuit of Ahmed Gragn.

In 1531, Imam Ahmed started an extensive invasion of Abyssinia, destroying churches in Begemidr, Wollo and Tigray for ten years he wreaked havoc all over Abyssinia, until Lebne Dingel died in 1540. And in 1541 the Portuguese came to support the Abyssinian king Gelawdios, the son and successor of Libne Dingel.

Imam Ahmed’s army was composed from many tribes and clans from the Adal region, but the army considered itself a Muslim army, against the Christian invading kings. The Ber-Salahuddin, the Adal, and the Somali region also included the “Seven Muslim styled Sultanates” (al Seltenat al Islamiyah), stretching from Zeila to the south of present Shoa, the name that shifted west to the present region. However, at that time, Harrer was the center of Shewa.

The Sultanates were formed by subjects and regions that were under the Umayyad dynasty which was overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750 AD. The defeated notables, people and wealth moved and expanded in the Horn of Africa—from shoa to Zeila, including Djibouti, Afar lands and northern Harrerge.

Abyssinian kings continually invaded and harassed the Muslim Sultanates to the extent they required a virgin girl to be offered to them by the Sultanates yearly, in addition to the unjust taxations and pillaging. The Muslims were so tired of it, and that triggered the emergence of Imam Ahmed who went on an offensive and was seen as an avenger by the Muslims of the exploited regions.

In 1541 Christopher Da Gama, son of the famous discovered Vasco Da Gama landed in Massawa accompanied by a Portuguese army and other support staff, to help Gelawdios against Ahmed Gragn. He met the army of Gragn somewhere near Wollo and Shoa. That is when Imam Ahmed received reinforcements from the Ottomans in Arabia.

Let’s note here that Western and traditional Abyssinian historians refer to the Portuguese enforcement as “support” while they refer to Imam Ahmed’s reinforcements as “Mercenaries”. Guess why!

Naturally, as the times dictated, Ethiopian kings forcefully converted Muslims to Christianity in  the Muslim areas they invaded. And Gragn did the same converting Christians to Islam in places that he invaded. But that has been the case for centuries, with all religions. However, the only time in which Muslims invaded Christian lands is for ten-years only, though Abyssinian kings have been doing it in Muslim lands for centuries.

A social media entry reads: “… Don Christopher da Gama’s efforts were not in vain … and securing Ethiopia for Christ.”

The Fetha Nagast is the ShariAa of the Tewahdo church

Fetha Nagat “is a legal code compiled around 1240 by a Coptic Egyptian Christian writer Abul Fadil ibn Al Asal in Arabic that was later translated into Geez in Ethiopia and expanded upon with numerous local laws.”

All religious leaders, Muslim or Christian, are known to abide by the power of the day and they introduce teachings, legislation and history that serve the power of the day. That is what the Fithe-Negest did and what followed is no different. There is no religiously sanctioned Muslim chronicle of Imam Ahmed’s conquests in the region, therefore, you can’t find anything about Gragn considered a religious edict or narration.

Probably, Mestshafe Qedar which was written in 1550 by Embaqom is the most effective church-sanctioned narration in Abyssinia, and it has shaped the Christian psyche for the last 500 years. Most people who blindly hate Gragn with a lot of prejudice do not know about Embaqom and MetsHafe Qedar though their psyche is shaped in the form of folklores that passed from generation to generation, from one service to another, to this day.

Abyssinian stories about Gragn were written by church chroniclers who fail to mention the wrongdoings of their kings but highlight Gragn defensive and revenge invasion of their domain. It is the same with school’s curriculum in Ethiopia. But today, people are freely questioning the vast knowledge they acquired throughout their life, and they are finding out most of it has nothing to do with religion; it’s heritage, ancient superstitions and misinterpretations that mainly served the power of the day, be it secular or religious. As for myself, I am finding that religion is so simple if not overloaded with prejudices, superstitions, and politics which has nothing to do with the core religious belief. That is why religious people should not  write history.

If one is to tell the story of modern Ethiopia, it has to be an all-inclusive and cannot be told from one perspective that vilifies the other. Half the people of the region consider Imam Ahmed their hero, while the other half considers Libne Dingel their hero. Why can’t they both be objectively accepted as part of what makes the collective Ethiopian history? Why can’t an Ethiopian accept both Libne Dingel and Imam Ahmed as Ethiopian war heroes?

As for Eritreans, due to Ethiopian control, the madness proves how mythical narrations have damaged our history—which can be better understood and dealt with if we identify what ails us in the present without overloading it with folklores, and untenable historical claims. Honesty and proper scholarship are badly needed.

Sometimes I think if we all learned from the same curriculum—maybe we did, the Ethiopian warped history—we would have verified and looked critically at what we were taught. People cannot be limited to Ethiopian history as told by the Fithe Negest, Kibre Negest, and their addendums because Fithe Negest was written years before the Gragn wars, a decade before the Solomonic dynast usurped power from the Zagwe dynasty, and it paved the way for that take over, by creating a religious motivation and incentive. That’s difficult to reconcile, but not impossible because today we have so many sources if we just look around.

I do not know what happened after I left Eritrea, but I am thankful I learned the stories of Ashurbanipal, Hammurabi, the French Revolution, Simon De Bolivar, and many others that opened my eyes and inspired me to learn so  many epic human histories. But sadly, dealing with anyone that is limited to a church or mosque pulpit-based history is the most problematic.

Finally, what is the significance of the Gragn invasion in North Abyssinia?

Paul B. Henze quotes Haile Selassie,  “Every Christian highlander still hears tales of Gragn in his childhood. Haile Selassie referred to him in his memoirs, “”I have often had villagers in northern Ethiopia point out sites of towns, forts, churches and monasteries destroyed by Gragn as if these catastrophes had occurred only yesterday.”[27] To most Somalis Ahmad is a national hero who fought against Abyssinian aggression on their ancient territories.

Many Eritrean fascists still harass Muslims: “You came with Gragn”. Maybe they were converted to Islam by Gragn. Maybe the ancestors of the fascists themselves came with Gragn and converted the Christians, and maybe later themselves converted and reconverted and reconverted and now they adhere to this or that faith! How is that someone is treated as an invader or a native, a legit or illegit person, based on what happened 500 years ago? Sometimes the fascists remind me I am 500 years old, older than Methuselah, and I am still living—you came with Ahmed Gragn, they tell me with so much certainty.

I always say, let’s humble ourselves: none of us knows our ancestry. We do not know if our ancestors were with Gragn or against him—we cannot whimsically select and choose where our ancestors belonged five centuries ago because we simply do not have any evidence to prove it. Even if we have, what is the significance? Do you extrapolate centuries old rivalry to the present and be driven by it? Did anyone living today had a role in what happened then? Was anyone of personally involved in that era, or influenced or contributed to that history? I am afraid, NO.

All of that is our combined history and it all belongs to us and we cannot choose and select ancient parts of it and attribute it to ourselves in the present. It that was possible, we might as well trace our ancestry to Abel Cain, (Abel and Qaabel, or Haabeel and Qaabeel), then assume we are the offspring of Abel and blame someone by considering him an offspring of Cain—you killed my ancestor!

Did Abel leave an offspring? Did Cain? Who were their wives?

But let me conclude by telling you that Abel is my ancestor and I have to get even with all those children of Cain who killed my ancestor, while Adam and Eve watched silently. That crime has to be avenged—blood. Blood. Blood. I feel embarrassed to say stuff like this in public because it should be self-evident but when you have people who talk about ancient history as if it personally touches them, it is beyond stupidity and can’t be swept under the carpet. It’s sad such obvious things are not so obvious in some minds.


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