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The untold story of King Negash and the Al Nejashi Mosque


Located 790 Km from the capital Addis Ababa, Negash is a small town found in the northern part of Ethiopia and one of the historically rich places in the country. It is synonymous with Islam as it is the place where the first Muslim settlement took place in the world.

It all began in the 7th C. AD when the first followers of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) were persecuted and oppressed in their own land by the Quraysh tribe of Mecca for their belief in Islam. Prophet Mohammed thus searched for a safe place and a compassionate person who could grant a safe hideout and protection for his followers.

According to the earliest extant account given in Ibn Ishaq’a Sira:

“The Prophet Mohammed realized that he could not protect his followers from the attacks, and said ‘go to the Habesha, there is a Christian king there. There is justice in his kingdom. Habesha is the land of truth. Therefore, go there until we achieve victory with the help of Allah”.

So, he sought refuge in the Christian Kingdom of Aksum, the land of Abyssinia — in present-day Ethiopia. The then Abyssinian king — Negashi (which means ‘king’ or ‘Nejashi’ in Arabic) warmly received the exiles out of good gesture and granted them refuge in the town of Negash, the present-day Tigray Region.

Fifteen companions of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) had their first migration (hijira) and arrived in the Axumite Empire territory in 615 AD followed by a second migration with a bigger group of around 101 people.

The Quraysh tried every possible way including gift offers as bribes to persuade the king to hand over the Muslims and expel them back to Mecca. However, the king refused saying, “If you have given a mountain of gold, I would not give up these people who have taken asylum with me”. The king rather assured the Muslims full protection saying to them ‘Go and live in peace, if anybody ill-treats you, he will pay heavily for it’.

Inspired by the Ethiopian hospitality, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) himself instructed his followers who came to Ethiopia, to respect and protect Ethiopia as well as live in peace with Ethiopian Christians. Many of these Muslims stayed in the country until they died and were buried at the sacred town of Negash.

Al Nejashi mosque (Negash Amedin Mesgid) which is named after the king Negash is said to be thea first mosque in Africa and one of the oldest mosques in the world. It is one of the top must-see places in Ethiopia, especially for tourists who are interested in history and religion. It holds an important place in Islamic history and serves as an enduring reminder of the warm welcome extended to the first Muslims by the Ethiopian king of the time. It is also a sign that Ethiopia endorsed Islam first from the rest of Africa and most Arab countries, even before the majority of the people in Mecca.

Al Nejashi mosque is a place worth exploring for. Anyone who comes to visit the place will be able to walk along the path leading to the tombs ‘derih’ in the backyard of the mosque which is called ‘companions street’ and will be rewarded by the glorious history it offers. For these reasons, Al Nejashi mosque is considered by many as the second most sacred place of Islamic worship and rightly dubbed by Ethiopian Muslims as ‘the second Mecca’.

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