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Last jolts of the Ethiopian jihad (1540's-1550's): al-Jazīrī’s biography of Imām Aḥmad's son

Abstract : In February/March 1543 the imām Aḥmad b. Ibraḥim leader of the jihad against the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia is killed. During the previous 15 years, Aḥmad had succeeded in imposing Islamic rule over most of the Ethiopian highlands. This event is one of the most important ruptures in the history of the Horn of Africa. However, the echoes of this war in Ottoman-Egyptian documentation are very weak. Similarly, the Ottoman archives do not indicate an interest in the Horn of Africa until about ten years later. Furthermore, the years following the death of Aḥmad are barely mentioned in the documentation produced within the Muslim communities of Ethiopia. Only one event seems to have particularly caught the attention of the Ethiopian authors, both Christian and Muslim: the negotiation between Sabla Wengel, the Christian Queen Mother, and Delwambara, the widow of imām Aḥmad, for the release of their respective sons, each of whom had been taken prisoner by the opposing camp during the war. After his liberation by the Muslims, Sabla Wengel's son, Minās, eventually succeeded his brother and became king of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia from 1559 to 1563. His life is well recorded in the ge'ez documentation, including the official chronicle of his reign. On the other hand, nothing is known about the life of the son of imām Aḥmad and Delwambara following his liberation by the Christians. The identification of the biographical note of the Imām Aḥmad’s son, Aḥmad b. Aḥmad, by 'Abd al-Qādir al-Jazīrī, is therefore particularly valuable. In his al-Durar al-farā’iḍ al-munaẓẓama fī akhbār al-ḥajj wa-ṭarīq Makka al-mu‘aẓẓama (“The unique pearls threaded on the history of the pilgrimage and the road to the glorified Mecca”), the Cairene Sufi historian, head of the office administrating the pilgrimage to Mecca dead in 1570, devotes a long note to the life of the son of the leader of the Ethiopian jihād. This very detailed notice describes the last years of the jihād, the capture of Minās and Aḥmad b. Aḥmad, the death of Imām Aḥmad on the battlefield, the negotiation between the two queens for the liberation of their respective sons. But this note is particularly valuable because it continues by retracing Aḥmad’s life after his liberation: his refuge at the court of the Yemeni sovereign, his departure for Cairo, his request for support from the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople to continue his father’s project and set out again to conquer the Ethiopian Christian kingdom, the support given by the Ottomans to this project, his long wait in Cairo, his hajj and finally his death in 967/1559-1560 in Cairo on the road to al-Azhar. What makes this note all the more valuable is the fact that al-Jazīrī states on several occasions that he personally knew Aḥmad b. Aḥmad in Cairo. This essay will be a translation of the full notice and an analyze of the Cairene years of Aḥmad b. Aḥmad’s life. His desire to avenge his father and to start again the conquest of Christian Ethiopia, as well as the real interest shown by the Ottoman-Egyptians, suggests a different end to this war. Although this project was ultimately unsuccessful, it may have had some influence in the plan to found an Ottoman province of Ethiopia in the 1550s.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-03086737
Contributor : Amélie Chekroun <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, December 22, 2020 - 7:55:38 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 3:33:41 AM

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Amélie Chekroun. Last jolts of the Ethiopian jihad (1540's-1550's): al-Jazīrī’s biography of Imām Aḥmad's son. Julien Loiseau. An African Metropolis: Cairo and Its African Hinterland in The Middle Ages, Brill, In press. ⟨halshs-03086737⟩

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