Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi By Suleiman Mousa Elmi; Norway

Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (c.1507 - February 21, 1543) was a Somali general who defeated several Ethiopian emperors and wreaked much damage on that nation. He is also known as Ahmad Gragn, or "Ahmed the left-handed".He was born from the Abraine clan sub-clan of the majority populated North Gadaboursi (Samaron) Tribe in Zeylac. He was married to Bati del Wambara, the daughter of Mahfuz the governor of Zeila .

When Mahfuz was killed returning from a campaign against the Ethiopian emperor Lebne Dengel in 1517, the Adal sultanate lapsed into anarchy for several years, until Ahmad killed the last of the contenders for power and took control of Harar.In retaliation for an attack on Adal in 1527-8 by the Ethiopian general Degalhan, Ahmad invaded Ethiopia in 1529, and inflicted a defeat on Lebne Dengel. Ahmad campaigned again in Ethiopia in 1531, looting the island monastery of Lake Hayq and the stone churches of Lalibela. When he entered the province of Tigray, he defeated an Ethiopian army that confronted him there, and on reaching Axum destroyed the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, in which the Ethiopian emperors had been coronated for centuries.

The Ethiopians were forced to ask for help from the Portuguese, who landed at the port of Massawa on February 10, 1541 in the reign of the emperor Gelawdewos . This force was led by Christopher da Gama , and included 400 musketeers and a number of artisans and other non-combatants. In response, Ahmad received 900 well-armed men from the Ottomans in Yemen to assist him.While the Portuguese expedition were victorious in most of their engagements with Ahmad's forces, da Gama allowed himself to be trapped by Ahmad somewhere north of the Tekezé River, where he was killed along with all but 140 of his troops.

The survivors and Galawedos were able to join forces, and drawing on the Portuguese supplies, they attacked Ahmad on February 21, 1543 in the Battle of Wayna Daga , where their 9,000 troops managed to defeat the 15,000 soldiers under Ahmad. Ahmad was killed by a Portuguese musketteer, who was mortally wounded in avenging da Gama's death.His wife Bati del Wambara managed to escape the battlefield with a remnant of the Turkish soldiers to Harar, where she rallied his followers. She agreed to marry his nephew Nur ibn Mujahid on the condition that Nur would avenge Ahmad's defeat."In Ethiopia the damage which [Ahmad] Gragn did has never been forgotten," wrote Paul B. Henze. "Every Christian highlander still hears tales of Gragn in his childhood. Haile Selassie referred to him in his memoirs.

I have often had villagers in northern Ethiopia point out sites of towns, forts, churches and monasteries destroyed by Gragn as if these catastrophes had occurred only yesterday."1 While acknowledging that many modern Somali nationalists consider Ahmad a national hero, Henze dismisses their claims, stating that the concept of a Somali nation did not exist during Ahmad's lifetime.SourcesAhmad's invasion of Ethiopia is described in detail in the Futuh al-habasa "The Conquest of Ethiopia" written in Arabic by Ahmad's follower Sihab ad-Din Admad ibn 'Abd-al-Qadir , and covers the story up to March 19, 1537. This history was translated into French by René Basset, but no translation into English has yet been made.

Suleiman Mousa Elmi:

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