When the Ethiopian Empire was aided by the Shewa Sultanate

Africa Contributor
The Ethiopian Empire
The Chapel of the Tablet, Axum, Ethiopia. © Siempreverde22 | Dreamstime.com

“For us, the Ethiopian empire is an empire with a unique identity and a vibrant history.’ Said Mufti Muhammad Iqbal, the great yet lesser-known Islamic scholar. I started by the recorder to record every word said by this great scholar. He continued, “Today, the Horn of Africa inhabitants modern nations of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. But, it is Ethiopia that stands out. The nation has preserved its unique identity.”

“It has another name of Abyssinia? Isn’t it?” I asked with respect.

“Yes my child, the empire is also known as Abyssinia. It existed from 1270 to 1974.”

The origins of the Ethiopian empire

According to Mufti Muhammad Iqbal, the story starts with the kingdom of Aksum. It is the beginning of the Aksumite Empire, which had great importance in the ancient world. Aksum was situated where today’s northern Ethiopia is located. It grew from 80 BC to 825AD. As Aksumites grew in power and importance, the neighboring kingdom of Kush declined.

“Persian Prophet Mani said something about this great empire, want to know?” Asked Mufti.

“Of course I do, tell me.” My prompt reply.

“There are four great kingdoms on Earth. The first is the Kingdom of Babylon and Persia. The second is the Kingdom of Rome. The third is the Kingdom of Aksumites and the fourth is the Kingdom of Chinese.”

“Wow, that reflects the intense importance.”

“It does!” Smiled Mufti.

The Aksumites were known worldwide. And it was trade and commerce which helped Axum to reach this great height. Aksum empire used to export ivory. Which was highly demanded in the Levant, Persia, and the Mediterranean.

“Thus, slowly the Aksumite empire got the name of Ethiopia. It became the Ethiopian empire.”

“How does that happen?” I was curious about this.

“It appeared in 4th century AD. Scholars say it came from the Greek word Aithiopia. This means Red face. The Aksumites had brown skin. However, a 15th-century Ethiopian church book named the Book of Aksum stated that the name Ethiopia came from a biblical figure. His name of Ityoppis, the son of Kush. He established the city of Axum.

The name Abyssinia came from the word “Habashat” which is in the Ethiopian Ge’ez language.”

“There is unique information. I think no other empire has gone through these changes.”

“I think that too.” Said Mufti

The help of the Shewa Sultanate

Gradually the Aksumites started to decline in the 6th and 7th century AD. It was finally replaced by the Zagwe dynasty. But that also got overthrown around 1270 AD. A rebellious lord named Yekuno Amlak, aided by the Sultanate of Shewa emerged. He conquered and established a new Ethiopian empire lineage. But, the other neighboring Sultanates never stopped attacking the empire.

One of these conflicting sultanates was the Ifat Sultanate. Though in the first half of the 14th century AD, the Ethiopian Emperor Amda Seyon I defeated Ifat, yet the successors of it returned and established a powerful regional entity. Ifat Sultanate was reestablished as Adal Sultanate. It became a potential threat to the rising Ethiopian empire.

The attack of the Adal Sultanate

Around the year 1529, the Adal Sultanate conquered the Ethiopian empire. The troop was led by Somali Imam and General Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi. This is known as the great Abyssinian-Adal war and it lasted from 1529 to 1543. The occupying of Ethiopia lasted for more than 14 years.

The old members of the Ethiopian empire never gave up. Thus, these 14 years had a history of constant upsurge and guerrilla warfares.

The fall of the Adal Sultanate

Around 1543, the guerilla warriors of Ethiopia received help from the Portuguese empire. At that time, the Portuguese were involved in conflicts with the Ottomans. Since the Adal Sultanate was benefited by the Ottomans, the Portuguese decided to help the previous empire.

In the battle of Wayna Daga, the Adal Sultanate was finally defeated. Thus, the previous Ethiopian Empire was resurfaced again.

The reemergence of the Ethiopian Empire

It was not until the reign of the Iyasu I, the great ruler of the Solomonic dynasty, that the empire returned to prosperity. He ruled from 1682 to 1706 AD. At his time, the Ethiopian empire experienced one of its best times. He is noteworthy for the attention he devoted to administration. He formed a large number of councils to settle matters of state and to introduce law and orders. In 1698, Iyasu took up a number of reforms. This influenced customs and taxation, which encouraged trade.

The last surviving emperor of this Ancient empire

“The Ethiopian Empire actually survived for many centuries. In fact, in the 20th century, it is known as one of the last surviving empires of the world.” Said Mufti, after drinking a glass of water.

“The last ruler was Halie Selassie I. He greatly modernized the country by undertaking a lot of political and social reforms.”

“How did it end?” I asked quietly.

“Soviets!” said Mufti in a bitter tone, “ Halie was murdered in the year 1974. The pro-Soviet dictatorship, the DERG destroyed the monarchy.”

“It was not a Muslim empire though.”

“No, but it got help from Muslims, it fought Muslims and it was preserved by the Muslims. The Ethiopian Empire is very much related to our great religion.” Mufti ended the discussion with a firm note in his voice.