Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Avishai BEN-DROR, the Open University of Israel and the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The paper deals with the Turco-Egyptian Islamization in Harar and among the neighboring Afran-Qallu Oromo peoples during the 1870s-1880s .It presents new perspectives regarding its historical contexts, motivations, its immediate implications, and also reevaluates its religious, social and political long term consequences. Afran-Qallu's elites around Harar occasionally and partially adopt Islam (in addition to their traditional animistic religious beliefs) during the 17th-19th centuries, as part of their political and economical reciprocal relationships with Harar's Emirs. However, the Egyptians were the first in the history of region to force from their colonial hub in Harar what they termed as "the right Islam" among the neighboring Oromo. The paper analyzes the Egyptian Islamization not only through narrow religious and regional prisms, but as a part of a wider Ottoman and Turco-Egyptian colonial contexts at that time. These non–European colonial visions perceived Islamization and re-Islamization of "black and savages" Muslims and others in the Nile Valley, the Red Sea Basin and the Horn of Africa as a main instrument for "civilizing mission", which was intended for creating "modern" and "civilized Muslim" subalterns. The paper reexamines the Egyptian Islamization as an integral part of the Egyptian colonial praxis which included, among others, ceremonies of public circumcision of Oromo political and military elite, establishment of new colonial urban and rural spheres in Arabic and Arabization of some Oromo functionaries' names. These Oromo functionaries were also utilized by the Egyptians as political, cultural, religious and commercial colonial agents among their own societies. The Egyptians occupiers termed the Oromo Muslims "Basha Muslimin" ("the Muslims of the Pasha"),and the paper demonstrates how they shaped the images of the Oromo around Harar as "human raw material" during the following 1880s-1890s colonial scramble for the Horn of Africa. Thus, European powers, which used the Egyptian colonial knowledge, perceived the Oromo around Harar as an "easy-going" population to convert to Christianity, mostly due to their former "colonial" Islamization. The paper is based on a variety of unpublished and published sources in European languages as well as in Amharic, Adari, Turkish and Arabic.