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Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Al-Ghazi (1506–1543)


Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Ghazi is known in Ethiopian Christian literature as Ahmad Gran, "the left-handed," political leader of an Islamic jihad movement in sixteenth-century Ethiopia. He rose to power in the context of a century-old struggle for domination in Ethiopia between the Christian emperors who reigned in Ethiopia's central and northern highlands and the rulers of a number of Muslim emirates in that region's eastern high- and lowlands. In the 1510s and 1520s, the emperor Libna Dingil (r. 1508–1540) had managed to overcome the resistance of the Amir of Adal, Garad Abun, as well as of Iman Mahfuz, the Amir of Zaila.

Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Ghazi grew up in the province of Hubat south of Adal's capital city of Harar and had married Bati Del Wanbara, a daughter of Imam Mahfuz. In the desperate situation of 1527, he was able to unite, under his leadership a number of Somali war bands as well as the forces of the Muslim emirates to defeat an Ethiopian army. With the support of Ottoman artillery, al-Ghazi's army was subsequently able, in 1529, to inflict a crushing defeat upon Ethiopia's united army. Thereupon, he decided to embark on a jihad with the aim to conquer Ethiopia as a whole.

Al-Ghazi led a number of campaigns, recorded by his companion, the Yemenite scholar Shihab al-Din Ahmad b. ˓Abd al-Qadir, under the title Kitab Futuhat al-Habasha al-Musamma Bahjat az-Zaman. Al-Ghazi's Muslim armies were able to conquer, between 1529 and 1535, almost all the Ethiopian Christian territories, from Showa in the south to Tigray in the north. Ethiopia's transformation into a Muslim imamate was, however, preempted by the intervention of the Portuguese in 1541. Also, Ethiopia's new emperor, Galawdewos (r. 1540–1559), managed to reorganize the Christian forces and to stop al-Ghazi's advance.

In a battle near Woyna Dega, in Dembya province, al-Ghazi was killed by a Portuguese fusilier. The Muslim empire of Ethiopia subsequently disintegrated as quickly as it had been conquered, and most Christians who had converted to Islam after 1529 converted back to Ethiopian Christianity. In the aftermath of al-Ghazi's death, Emperor Galawdewos was able to advance as far as Harar, where he was stopped in 1559 by Imam Nur b. al-Mujahid, al-Ghazi's nephew and successor. Al-Mujahid ruled Adal-Harar until his death in 1568.

See alsoAfrica, Islam in ; Ethiopia ; Jihad .


Abir, Mordechai. Ethiopia and the Red Sea: The Rise and Decline of the Solomonic Dynasty and Muslim-European Rivalry in the Region. London: Frank Cass, 1980.

Roman Loimeier

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