Schlagwort-Archive: Islam in Ethiopia

Part of 1st page of Amharic tawhid from Dälämäle

Some notes on the linguistic features of Islamic Amharic manuscript literature

Andreas Wetter

24. October 2023, 18:00 CET

Since the 19th century, the Wällo region in Ethiopia has served as a prominent hub for Islamic education. This has led to the establishment of numerous centers dedicated to Islamic scholarship, fostering a flourishing literary tradition. In addition to Arabic literature, there has been a notable emergence of literature in local languages such as Amharic, Argobba, Afar, and Oromo, all of which were written using the Arabic script. The language found in these manuscripts is heavily influenced by Classical Arabic, to the extent that Drewes (1976) describes it as a „intricate mixture of languages.“ This phenomenon raises broader questions about the relationship between language and religion, particularly the notion of distinct religiously defined linguistic varieties, such as „Islamic languages“ (Bausani 1981, challenged by Versteegh 2020) or „Muslim“ varieties (Gori 2015). Hary and Wein (2013) propose the concept of „religiolect“ as a theoretical framework that may shed light on this matter. Additionally, Brenner and Last (1985) discuss the use of „learned dialects“ within social contexts characterized by Islamic scholarship. The presentation will provide an overview of Islamic Amharic manuscript literature, describe its linguistic peculiarities and discuss its sociolinguistic role.


  • Bausani, Alessandro. 1981.“Le lingue islamiche: Interazioni e acculturazioni”. In Bausani, Alessandro and Scarcia Amoretti, Biancamaria (eds.). Il mondo islamico tra interazione e acculturazione. Rome: Università degli Studi di Roma. 3-19. 
  • Brenner, Louis and Last, Murray. 1985. “The role of language in West African Islam”. Africa 55(4). 432-446.
  • Gori, Alessandro. 2015. “Languages and literatures of the Muslims of the Horn of Africa: some first general reflections”. In: P. Nicelli (Ed.). L’africa, l’oriente mediterraneo e l’europa. Tradizioni e culture a confronto. Milano: Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. 119-126.
  • Drewes, Abraham Johannes. 1976. Classical Arabic in Central Ethiopia. Leiden: Brill.
  • Hary, Benjamin and Wein, Martin J. 2013. “Religiolinguistics: on Jewish-, Christian- and Muslim-defined languages”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 220. 85-108.
  • Versteegh, Kees. 2020. “Can a Language be Islamic?” Eurasian Studies 18. 5-25.

Registration by email.

Islamic Scholarship and literary traditions in Wollo

Andreas Wetter

Abstract of the Online-Presentation on 18 May 2022, 18:00

Since late 18th century Wollo has become a hot spot of Islamic scholarship in Ethiopia marked by a network of lslamic learning centers and highly respected scholars. The centers in Wollo became the main destination for Muslims from central and southern Ethiopia to conduct higher Islamic learning since the 19th century. 

Although the crucial role of local Muslim scholars played in the “development of Islam and an indigenous Muslim culture“ particularly during the 19th and early 20th century has been stressed in historical research (cf. Ahmed 2001, etc.) the actual products of their activities, i.e. their literary works and their intellectual contributions to the development of local Islamic thought have largely remained unstudied until this day.
In the presentation I try to give a a concise overview of historical dimension and background of Islamic scholarship in Wollo, based on available literature and my own research and, thus giving an outline of the context in which Islamic literature in Wollo was produced and used. 

Amharic manuscript in Arabic-based orthography
Amharic manuscript in Arabic-based orthography, Hijira 2004.

The Islamic literature of Wollo consists of works in Arabic as well as in local languages. While my focus lies on Islamic literature written in Amharic and Argobba, I had the opportunity to conduct some digitization work on Islamic manuscripts in Arabic as well (for the project IslHornAfr). Based on this work I will present a preliminary overview of the type of manuscripts and the genres represented in the digitized corpus and outline the chronological development of the literature from copying classical Arabic works in the earlier periods to the creation of locally authored works. 

Coming to the focus of my own research I will briefly describe the development of Islamic literature in local languages, describe some features of this literature and its linguistic relevance as well as the repercussions of linguistic analysis for the understanding of the local society.

Ahmed, Hussein. 2001. Islam in nineteenth-century Wallo, Ethiopia. Revival, reform and reaction. Leiden: Brill.
IslHornAfr: Islam in the Horn of Africa, A Comparative Literary Approacho. ERC project based in Copenhagen.

Registration by email.