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Ethiopians build First Hijrah mosque in America

Ethiopian government banned its construction

After being denied official construction permission back home, Muslim Ethiopians in the United States built the First Hijrah mosque and community center to commemorate the first immigration in the history of Islam and counter discriminatory practices by the Ethiopian government.

The First Hijrah mosque, literally meaning the mosque of the first immigration, is located in Washington, D.C., almost two miles from the White House.

The name of the mosque refers to the immigration in year 615 of a group of the prophet's followers, the first to enter Islam, to the northern Ethiopian city of Axum, seeking refuge from the persecution of the Quraish tribe in Mecca.

They lived there under the protection of the Christian Emperor Ashama ibn Abjar, also called al-Najashi, who denied Quraish's request to hand the refugees.

To commemorate the first immigration in the history of Islam, Muslims in the city of Axum tried to build their own mosque and were denied permission by the Ethiopian authorities.

Only when Christians are allowed to build a church in Mecca would Muslims in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government is reported to have stated.

Muslim Ethiopians finally got the chance to realize their dream in the United States where they built the First Hijrah mosque.

The mosque serves 20,000 Muslims who live the neighborhood, said Sheikh Naguib Mohamed, 57, head of the Ethiopian community in Washington.

"We used to pay rent for that mosque then we bought it," he told Al Arabiya.

It is extremely ironic that in Washington we are granted our rights while this is not the case in our homeland

Mosque muzzein Moftah Saeid

Muslims in Ethiopia

Mohamed complained of discriminatory practices against Muslims in Ethiopia in general and Axum in particular.

"Not only are we not allowed to build a mosque in the first land that championed the cause of Islam, but we also don't have a cemetery. When Muslims die we have to walk 15 kilometers outside the city to bury them."

The mosque's muzzein, caller for prayers, Moftah Saeid said that he and his fellow Ethiopian Muslims perform their rituals freely unlike in Axum.

"It is extremely ironic that in Washington we are granted our rights while this is not the case in our homeland," he told Al Arabiya.

Belal al-Habashi, 13, is another member of the Muslim Ethiopian community. He learnt the Quran by heart within one year in the Virginia Islamic Center.

"Based on what I hear about the situation of Muslims there, I don't think I could have learnt the Quran had I lived in Axum," he told Al Arabiya.

The First Hijrah mosque consists of two floors, the first for men and the second for women. During the holy month of Ramadan, the mosque organizes banquets so that members of the community can break their fast together and also organizes courses that teach the Quran and the rules of Islam.

The mosque coordinates with several Islamic organizations like the Badr Islamic Association and has a website on the social network Paltalk where it holds cultural and religious dialogues.

It is noteworthy that members of the Ethiopian Muslim speak fluent Arabic. Their recitation of the Quran and call for prayers are not, in fact, different from those in Arab countries.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)