The Mosques of Harar

An Archaeological and Historical Study


  • Timothy Insoll University of Exeter
  • Ahmed Zekaria Addis Ababa University



Mosques, Harar, Archaeology, History, Islamizsation


The mosques of Harar have been the focus of some architectural and historical study but not archaeological investigation. This was redressed through excavation of six mosques in the city, the results of which are presented. These were identified from existing historical research as significant in the Islamization of Harar. Consensus on either the date or processes of Islamization does not exist. The partial history of the mosques investigated—Aw Abdal, Aw Abadir, Aw Meshad, Din Agobera, Fehkredin, Jami—is based on only a few sources. The results of the excavations provide insights into the Islamization of Harar and supplement the limited historical sources. The six radiocarbon dates obtained indicate a varied mosque chronology spanning the late 15th and early 20th centuries AD. Evidence indicative of the use of mosques for educational purposes, local practices such as animal sacrifice and child burial near the mihrab, and for extensive mosque rebuilding, alteration and remodelling was found. Comparable mosques in Djibouti, Somaliland, and elsewhere in Ethiopia are considered. It is concluded that all the Harari mosques investigated post-date the late 15th century and that the city also dates from this era and was linked with the establishment of Harar as the capital of Adal. Prior to this the Hararis, likely in the form of the legendary Harla, were elsewhere, possibly at Harlaa and other sites in the eastern Harar Plateau and Chercher Mountains.

Author Biographies

Timothy Insoll, University of Exeter

Timothy Insoll is Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK. He is currently Principal Investigator on a four-year archaeological research project in eastern Ethiopia funded by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (Becoming Muslim - 694254-ERC-2015-AdG). Previously, he has completed archaeological fieldwork in Bahrain, northern Ghana, Mali, and western India. He is the author or editor of 18 books and special journal issues and his most recent book (with S. Almahari and R. MacLean) is The Islamic Funerary Inscriptions of Bahrain, Pre-1317 AH/1900 AD (2018, Brill, Handbook of Oriental Studies Series).

Ahmed Zekaria, Addis Ababa University

Ahmed Zekaria is chief curator, with the rank of Assistant Professor, at Addis Ababa University, Institute of Ethiopian Studies. His main area of interest is south eastern Ethiopia. As professional museum expert, he served as Vice President of ARICOM for three years. He produced some publications related to history and heritage management, including of the Harar region, both in English and Amharic. He has completed some heritage identification survey work in Somali and Afar regions. Currently, he is engaged in researching the evolution of Ethiopic and Arabic scripts.


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How to Cite

Insoll, T., & Zekaria, A. (2019). The Mosques of Harar: An Archaeological and Historical Study. Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 6(1), 81-107.




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