Monday, May 20, 2024
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Harar’s Joyous Celebration

Region marks first anniversary of UNESCO recognition, ShewalEid festivities

Harari National Regional State is preparing to celebrate the upcoming ShewalEid on April 17, 2024. This year’s festivities hold even greater significance as it coincides with the first anniversary of UNESCO formally recognizing the ShewalEid Festival as an intangible heritage. The festival received this acknowledgment during the 18th International Intangible Heritage Annual Meeting held in Botswana, signifying a milestone in recognizing its cultural importance.

At the meeting, the Chairperson of the Commission for the evaluation of intangible heritage highlighted the ShewalEid Festival’s role in providing younger generations with opportunities to learn about cultural values, norms, and traditions, thereby fostering cultural awareness and pride. The state party received valuable advice to prioritize the linguistic quality of future submissions and to refrain from using standardized letters of consent. As a result of these discussions, the Festival was recommended for inscription on the representative list.

MustaqMoorad, the committee chairperson, expressed appreciation for the detailed explanation provided during the evaluation process and confirmed the committee’s approval of the draft decision. Consequently, the decision was adopted, representing a significant achievement for Ethiopia.

UNESCO’s recognition of the ShewalEid Festival underscores its cultural importance and emphasizes the need to preserve and honor such heritage.

Looking ahead, the development of Harar as a prosperous regional state in Ethiopia necessitates attention to various facets, including infrastructure enhancement, tourism promotion, support for local industries, investment in education and healthcare, cultural heritage preservation, and fostering economic opportunities. By prioritizing these areas, Harar can attract investment, stimulate growth, and enhance the quality of life for its residents.

In particular, promoting Harar as a hub for Halal tourism holds significant potential. The city’s rich cultural heritage, historical significance, and abundance of Halal options make it an ideal destination for travelers seeking Halal-friendly experiences. By strategically showcasing these offerings while respecting traditions, Harar can position itself as a leading destination for Halal tourism, attracting a diverse range of travelers eager to explore its beauty and heritage.

Located approximately 525 kilometers from Addis Ababa, Harar is part of Ethiopia’s ten administrative regions, known as the Harari National Region. The city of Harar boasts a rich history spanning a millennium, validated through oral traditions, written records, and extensive anthropological and archaeological findings. Harar’s Islamic roots can be traced back to the pre-10th century, evolving into a renowned commercial hub with the arrival of Aw Abadir and his esteemed religious companions in the 10th century. Their efforts were pivotal in spreading Islam across the Horn of Africa.

During the 16th century, the reign of Imam Ahmed Ibrahim marked a significant chapter in Harar’s history, as he oversaw a tumultuous period of warfare that encompassed present-day Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and eastern Sudan. Harar’s strategic significance as the capital city during this time cannot be overstated.

From 1887 to the 1960s, Harar served as the capital of Eastern Ethiopia, encompassing regions such as Hararge, Somali, Bale, and Arsina. Even during the Derg regime, it remained a vital administrative center, representing East Hararge. Since May 20, 1983, Harar has been designated as the capital of the Harari National Region.

Within the confines of its historic walls, the city preserves its ancient charm, boasting nearly a hundred mosques and architectural marvels. Harar’s allure lies in its storied past, vibrant cultural traditions, and spiritual significance, which resonates across continents and inspires artists worldwide.

Visitors to Harar approach with reverence, mindful of the sacred ground imbued with the wisdom of past scholars and the echoes of holy teachings. Much like the revered cities of Madinah and Makkah, Harar beckons pilgrims and scholars alike, forging a profound connection to faith and heritage.

The scholars of Harar, esteemed for their knowledge and enlightenment, have disseminated wisdom far and wide, leaving an indelible mark on Ethiopia’s intellectual landscape. Their legacy transcends geographical boundaries, nurturing countless branches of learning and spiritual enlightenment.

Indeed, Harar’s history is marked by resilience and cultural richness. The legacy of its emirs, sultans, and imams, particularly Imam Ahmed Ibrahim, continues to inspire reverence and awe. Experiencing the timeless beauty and cultural heritage of the region firsthand is crucial to truly grasp its essence. Efforts supported by sponsors aim to facilitate visits that shed light on Ethiopia’s multifaceted history and foster greater understanding and appreciation for its diverse cultural tapestry.

ShewalEid and the Five Gates

The five gates of Harar have played a significant role in the city’s history. These gates served as entry points for merchants, who were required to pay taxes on their goods in the emir’s name. The Mahalaq, a distinctive currency adorned with the inscription “Zaribat al-Harar” meaning silk coin, facilitated trade within the city. Taxation, including a 10 percent levy on loaded donkeys passing through the gates, was a customary practice until Egypt’s colonization of Harar.

Under Egyptian rule, the reign of Amir Muhammad ended, and the colonial administration sought to expand its influence by encouraging the acceptance of Islam among the populace. While Egypt extended its empire to a 40-mile radius centered on Harar, its unsustainable financial burden led to British intervention, resulting in their departure and Harar’s annexation in 1885.

Amidst political shifts, Amir Abdallahi rose to power, securing victories such as the Battle of Chalenko and consolidating control over Harerge Province, which encompassed Harar, Somali, Bale, and Arsi regions. Subsequent divisions and administrative changes under various regimes shaped Harar’s status as an Affirmative Action region.

Arab and European historians regard Harar as an Islamic Sultanate hub and a cradle of civilization in the Horn of Africa. They attribute significance to its political, economic, and social institutions. Harar’s recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site attests to its enduring heritage and ancient legacy, despite its geographical positioning among diverse Ethiopian states.

ShewalEid celebrations

BertiBerti, also known as stick fighting, holds a significant place within Harari culture, representing both a sport and a tradition deeply embedded in the social fabric of the community. Originating as a means of defense against adversaries, BertiBerti has evolved into a structured game with its own set of rules and cultural significance.

Despite facing suppression in recent history, BertiBerti continues to endure as a symbol of resilience and cultural heritage.

BertiBerti is structured around team dynamics, with participants categorized into groups based on age and experience. The game involves strategic maneuvers with the fighting stick, requiring skill and agility to outmaneuver opponents. Participants dress in white attire, including gloves and turbans, emphasizing both tradition and practicality in combat.

Matches are often conducted in public arenas, drawing spectators who witness the skill and valor of the participants. While the competition can be intense, local elders may intervene to maintain order and prevent personal disputes from escalating. Safety measures are also enforced, ensuring that participants do not sustain serious injuries during matches.

Beyond its role as a sport, BertiBerti holds immense social and cultural importance within the Harari community. From childhood, individuals are introduced to the game as a tradition passed down through generations, shaping their sense of identity and belonging. As participants engage in competitive play, they navigate social interactions, learning from peers and elders while developing a deeper understanding of themselves and society.

Success in BertiBerti can elevate one’s status, leading to opportunities for leadership and recognition within the community.

BertiBerti serves as a link to the past, honoring the resilience and fortitude of ancestors who relied on such skills for survival. By preserving and perpetuating this tradition, Hararis ensure that their cultural heritage remains vibrant and relevant to future generations. Through BertiBerti, they commemorate their history and pass down invaluable lessons of courage, perseverance, and solidarity.

In essence, BertiBerti transcends mere sport, embodying the spirit of resilience and cultural pride that defines the Harari people. As participants wield their sticks in the arena, they honor the legacyof their ancestors and reaffirm their commitment to preserving a rich and enduring heritage.

ShewalEid for Halal Tourism

ShewalEid presents a remarkable opportunity to promote Halal tourism in the city. By highlighting Harar’s unique characteristics and addressing historical challenges, the city can attract visitors who seek authentic cultural experiences and a Halal-friendly environment.

Harar’s distinction as one of Ethiopia’s oldest continuously inhabited cities sets it apart from other historical sites in the country. Its rich heritage as the “city of saints” is evident through its numerous mosques, graves of religious leaders, and sacred shrines where families reside. These spiritual landmarks contribute to Harar’s appeal as a destination for religious tourism.

Beyond its religious significance, Harar is a living museum, preserving its ancient architecture, bustling markets, historical gates, manuscripts, and cultural traditions. Visitors can immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere of the city, witnessing its vibrant history and engaging with its diverse community.

Hospitality is a hallmark of the Harari people, known for their kindness and welcoming nature. This warm environment creates a positive experience for visitors, making them feel comfortable and appreciated during their stay. Promoting Harar’s reputation as a Halal-friendly destination further solidifies its appeal to Muslim travelers seeking authentic cultural encounters.

However, it is important to address historical challenges to ensure the preservation and development of Harar as a Halal tourism destination. One such challenge is the protection of ancient courtyards, houses, and shrines that are designated for quiet worship and contemplation.

Many of these sites are currently inhabited by non-Muslims who may face difficulties. Providing alternative housing options and support for these residents can help preserve the sacred spaces and promote harmonious coexistence.

To overcome these challenges and promote Halal tourism, collaboration between various stakeholders is crucial. This includes investors, community members, and government agencies. Creating favorable conditions for investment and accommodation development will facilitate the transformation of Harar into a city that caters to the needs and preferences of Halal tourists.

While governmental support is important, grassroots initiatives and private sector involvement are equally necessary for sustainable change. By prioritizing the preservation of Harar’s spiritual heritage and addressing social and economic disparities, the city can thrive as a sought-after destination for Halal tourism. This will not only benefit visitors but also contribute to the well-being and prosperity of the local community.

ShewalEid and the Holy Women of Harar

ShewalEid is intricately connected to the holy women of Harar, also known as Inayach. These Harari women play a crucial role in preserving and passing down the traditions of ShewalEid through generations. Renowned for their meticulous transcription of the Qur’an and texts on Fiqh, as well as their leadership in religious practices such as Zikr, Salawat, and Awrad, they have not only safeguarded the cultural heritage of ShewalEid but also fostered unity and integration among diverse ethnic groups within the community.

Elevated to the status of saints, these holy women undergo rigorous spiritual and educational training, becoming revered figures in Harari society. Their contributions, spanning from household management to scholarly pursuits, underscore their multifaceted roles in upholding community values.

Among the esteemed female scholars of Harar are figures like Siti Layla, Siti Sara, and ShekhaKhunini, whose legacies are commemorated through mosques, shrines, and landmarks throughout the city. While historical documentation of their teachings may be limited, their influence and greatness endure through oral tradition and tangible artifacts.

Close to 40 female scholars have been identified in Harar thus far, with the possibility of more awaiting discovery. Their names, including Ai Abida, Ai Kibabiai, and Ai TaharFateh, resonate through the annals of Harari history, symbolizing the richness of women’s contributions to scholarship and spirituality.

The tradition of completing the Quran in Harar during the month of Ramadan holds great significance for the community, particularly within its mosques. The daily practice of reciting and finishing the Quran is a collective endeavor, with Fridays being especially important. The culmination of this practice on the 27th day of Ramadan marks a special occasion leading up to the ShewalEid Celebration.

On this auspicious day, Harari fathers, youths, and teenagers gather at Aw Abadir Mosque, filled with joy and divine grace. The completion of the Quran on this day is a cause for celebration and reflection, resonating not only within the local community but also holding global significance.

To honor this sacred occasion, the Harari community organizes a ceremony that includes recitations of the Quran, dhikr (remembrance of Allah), solawat (prayers upon the Prophet Muhammad), and heartfelt supplications. Additionally, women in the community offer food to those who have participated in the Quranic recitations, symbolizing communal solidarity and the sharing of blessings.

The completion of the Quran in Harar is not merely a ritualistic tradition but a profound spiritual journey that unites believers in devotion, gratitude, and reverence for the divine word of Allah. It serves as a reminder of the importance of the Quran in the lives of Muslims and the enduring legacy of faith in the Harari community.

Overall, the celebration of ShewalEid in Harar is deeply connected to the esteemed holy women of the city, who play a crucial role in preserving and passing down the traditions of this auspicious occasion. Their contributions, along with the collective reading and completion of the Quran, foster unity, integration, and a deep sense of spirituality within the community.

From its ancient mosques and historic walls to its vibrant traditions and spiritual practices, the city’s unique blend of history, culture, and traditions invites visitors to explore its multifaceted identity and appreciate its enduring significance in the region.

One noteworthy initiative, Ameshna, exemplifies the collective efforts of the Harari people to address societal challenges and promote social cohesion. It showcases the community’s commitment to positive change. Additionally, cultural practices like BertiBerti (stick fighting) and the celebration of completing the Quran during Ramadan serve as integral aspects of Harari identity, preserving ancient traditions and fostering a sense of unity among its inhabitants.

In essence, the celebration of Harar’s first anniversary of UNESCO recognition and the ShewalEid festivities serve as a testament to the city’s enduring legacy and vibrant cultural heritage. This occasion marks a significant milestone in the city’s rich heritage, as it has stood as a beacon of Islamic civilization in East Africa throughout the centuries, facing challenges with resilience and fortitude.

As Harar looks towards the future, it remains committed to preserving its rich history and traditions while embracing opportunities for growth and development on the global stage.

Moving forward, the development of Harar as a prosperous regional state in Ethiopia demands attention to various facets, including infrastructure enhancement, tourism promotion, support for local industries, investment in education and healthcare, cultural heritage preservation, and fostering economic opportunities. By prioritizing these areas, Harar can attract investment, stimulate growth, and improve the quality of life for its residents.

Contributed by Teshome Berhanu Kemal

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