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Thursday, April 06, 2017
The lesser hijra
The axial moment in Islam is the hijra, when - they say - the Prophet foresook his home Mecca for friendlier territory in Yathrib. But they also tell of another hijra, in which some Meccan Muslims skipped across the Red Sea into the Habashi lands. That is, to Axsum likely under king Armah.
We find similar duplications in the Trojan War cycle. Some Greeks related how their ancestors had attacked Egypt as well as Troy. Some such stories even got compiled into epics. Those epics were desultory affairs, clearly derivative of the Iliad and nowhere near as good. So they survive mainly in scholia, although I understand that the Alexandrian School appreciated the precedent.
By contrast for Islam, the minor-hijra to Ethiopia is canonical. Still, this was not the hijra; the Prophet himself, for one, did not go.
As you may watch in The Message: the Muslims recited sura 19 at the Habashi king, upon which the king embraced the Muslims as spiritual brethren. This story has always stunk to me (beyond the movie's juvenile stagecraft here). Armah's coinage has crosses on it. That means he was a Monothelete - if not a full Miaphysite. No Monothelete was going to accept sura 19. Plus, for an event purporting to precede 70 / 690, I don't think sura 19 was even composed yet.
But we don't know much more about Armah's kingdom than we know about pre-Hijri Islam. Philostorgios teaches us that the first official Christians in Ethiopia were Arians. Maybe there remained an anti-cross underground; maybe the Muslims went to a rebel province we don't anymore remember. Or, to the contrary: maybe the Arabs who went to Axsum were closer to Christian orthodoxy, part of the more-oecumenical Community Of Believers (albeit before the Constitution of Madina).
UPDATE 5/5: there's an invalid argument afoot, that Axum's prominence as of the Hijra somehow confirms the Lesser Hijra as an historical event. Please note that I never denied that Axum was important to the early 7th century Near East. What I've argued here is that the Monothelete elite of Axum could not have tolerated an antiChristian sect like the Islam of the Sira. We can solve this only by casting the Sira into doubt. This would, sadly, render all those events collected under it disconnected, independent anecdotes adrift like so much Red Sea flotsam.
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