Sunday, April 21, 2024
ArtFrom the Sands of History to Echoes of the Past

From the Sands of History to Echoes of the Past

Bilalul Habashi Museum’s Enduring Commitment

In a world where change is the only constant, there exists a timeless pursuit that transcends the bounds of time and embraces the essence of humanity: preservation. Cultural preservation is a testament to the resilience of civilizations, ensuring that the stories, traditions, and rituals of our past remain alive for future generations.

Nestled in Addis Ababa’s bustling Mekanisa neighborhood, a hidden gem awaits:  the Bilalul Habashi Museum. This cultural haven stands as a testament to the preservation of history and the unwavering support of its community. The museum takes its name from Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, a significant figure in the early chapters of Islam, the museum holds a special place in the annals of religious heritage.

Bilal ibn Rabah, the first African descendant to embrace Islam, not only assumed the role of the inaugural mu’azzin (prayer caller) in the Muslim faith but also played a pivotal role in shaping its early history.

Today, the Bilalul Habashi Museum stands tall, blazing a trail in preserving and showcasing the rich tapestry of Islamic heritage.

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The museum houses a collection of artifacts chronicling Islam’s origins and spread. Beyond its role as a guardian of ancient treasures, the museum is a community-based civic organization, founded by the Bilal Association known as “Bilalul’s Habashi Community for Development and Support.”

Beyond preserving history, the Association’s mission transcends the preservation of Ethiopia’s oldest Islamic heritage. The Association backs important social causes through the museum, passionately extending its support to orphans, destitute children, and those in need within the community, embodying the true spirit of compassion and solidarity.

A visit to the museum is like embarking on a journey through time, immersing oneself in the rich history. Each step reveals a treasure trove of artifacts, including a 400-year-old manuscript. Among its prized possessions are ancient coins that once circulated during the reign of the Axumite dynasty and the “Shoa Sultanate” in North Shoa. The museum also houses artifacts from the era of ‘Amir Abdullai’, the last Amir of Harar.

The museum boasts a captivating collection that celebrates the rich history of Muslim Sultanates. Among its many captivating exhibits, one particular highlight is a special hall that pays tribute to the illustrious Muslim Sultanates through a striking display of portraits. This homage extends to figures like the late Sheikh Seyid Mohammed Sadiq.

Renowned as an erudite Islamic scholar and a patriot, Sheikh Seyid Mohammed Sadiq holds a special place in history for his seminal work—the standard and historic Amharic translation of the Holy Quran. The hall also showcases the influential Muslim leaders of the past, including Hadji Mohammed Sani Habib, whose scholarly contributions continue to inspire generations.

While the museum’s four halls boast a treasure trove of exhibits, it is the traditional hut known as Khelwa (Zawya) that truly captures the imagination. This rustic structure, commonly found in Ethiopia’s rural landscapes, served as a sanctuary for Islamic teachings by esteemed Muslim scholars and Ulamahs. Stepping into the Khelwa, visitors are transported to a bygone era, where the echoes of wisdom and spirituality still resonate.

At the heart of the museum lies a historical narrative deeply rooted in the conversion of Bilal himself. According to documented accounts, Bilal was not only a devoted Sahabah (companion) of the revered Prophet Mohammed but also one of the earliest converts to Islam. It was around 615 AD, a mere five years after the Prophet began gathering followers, that Bilal embraced the new faith. Like many early Muslims, Bilal faced ridicule and harassment from non-Muslims due to his decision to embrace Islam.

Adem Mohammed, the museum’s chief administrator, emphasizes Ethiopia’s unique place in Islamic history. He highlights that Ethiopia was among the first countries to embrace Islam and warmly welcome the Prophet’s companions.

During a time of war against Islam, these companions sought refuge in the Axumite kingdom, guided by the Prophet’s instructions to find welcoming people, Adem said. This search, he says “led to the establishment of the historic Alnejashi Mosque in Tigray.”

The Museum, beyond its role as a repository of artifacts, strives to foster public awareness and appreciation for the rich Islamic heritage it proudly represents. Adem says it actively encourages scholars to conduct research on Islamic legacies while dispelling any misconceptions through accessibility for both local and international tourists.

Adem emphasizes that the Bilal Association is dedicated to not only enlightening the Muslim community but also engaging individuals interested in delving into Ethiopia’s captivating historical narrative. Leveraging social media platforms plays a crucial role in their efforts, enticing visitors to explore the museum.

The museum owes its existence to the unwavering dedication of volunteers and the generous support of donors. Contributions fill the halls with historical monuments, architectural marvels from mosques, historical tombs, and a special section devoted to revered religious figures, sheiks, leaders, elders, and tribal kings.

Since its inception, the museum has stood as a revered Islamic historical site. It has gathered manuscripts, artifacts, and various treasures from ancient mosques, including from the Alnejashi Mosque. These artifacts are acquired through individual donations, borrowing, and strategic purchases from other parties, ensuring a diverse and comprehensive collection for visitors to appreciate and learn from.

Representing a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom, Adem aptly describes the museum as a flowing river of knowledge, carrying the profound teachings passed down by esteemed Ulamahs across generations. The institution holds a deep reverence for its diverse collection, which includes an array of utensils, traditional clothing worn by the esteemed figure “Hajji Omar Idris Mufti,” and a variety of tools and artifacts connected to Islam and Ethiopian Muslims.

Visitors to the museum are afforded a unique opportunity to engage deeply with a range of materials. The collection encompasses not only the Holy Quran but also Arabic grammar scripts, scientific and historical books, captivating traditional narratives, and heroic tales of Muslim leaders, alongside legal texts.

Adem proudly acknowledges the pivotal role played by Ustaz Mohammed Jamal Gonafer in bringing the museum to life and serving as its custodian. He emphasizes that Mohammed’s contributions, along with those of many others, have been instrumental in establishing and nurturing the museum.

The museum’s vast collection serves as a testament to the enduring history of Islam in Ethiopia, reinforcing its reputation as the “heaven of the first migration of the Islamic religion.” However, the museum’s significance extends beyond Islamic heritage. It also serves as a historical center for Ethiopian history and a sanctuary that fosters cultural understanding and appreciation of the Christian religion.

According to various written records, Ethiopia is home to the third-largest Muslim community in Africa, surpassed only by Nigeria and Egypt. The peaceful and rapid spread of Islam in Ethiopia can be traced back to the early days of the religion when companions and relatives of Prophet Mohammed sought refuge and migrated to the country.

These historical migrations not only ensured the preservation of the Islamic faith but also acted as a catalyst for its dissemination throughout the region, fostering a rich and diverse Muslim community in Ethiopia.

The Museum was honored with a Certificate of Recognition for its outstanding dedication and accomplishments in preserving and documenting Ethiopian Islamic heritage, alongside receiving the prestigious “Bego Sew Awards” for its significant societal contributions.

Through its various collection of artifacts and its dedication to community support, the Bilalul Habashi Museum proudly preserves and celebrates the legacy of Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi. It stands as a cultural cornerstone, contributing to the vibrant fabric of Ethiopian society.

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