Harar stands as a rare example of a well-preserved historical city that has safeguarded its own traditions, urban fabric, and rich cultural heritage up to the present day. It is one of Africa’s holy cities and serves as the capital of a minority region in Ethiopia. The historical city’s boundaries are defined by walls constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Located in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, Harar is said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, boasting 82 mosques and 102 shrines. All these structures are enclosed by the historic city walls.
Vibrant Harar Culture
Since 2006, Harar has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The influence of African and Islamic traditions on the city’s architectural styles and urban development highlights Harar’s unique structure and distinctiveness. Harar culture is essentially represented by the typical Harari houses. These homes are notably different from other Ethiopian houses, adorned with colors and walls decorated with various pots, pans, and baskets. The red color on the ground symbolizes those who lost their lives for Harar’s independence.
The Story of Harar
During the early days of prophethood, Islam, conveyed through secret propagation from heart to heart, provided signs of a civilization that would bring about significant change. Meanwhile, the Meccan polytheists increased their persecution of Muslims. Some companions sought refuge from this persecution by traveling to the Christian Kingdom of Aksum, which covered present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea.
A leader among the contemporary Arab polytheists contacted the Christian king and offered him money and gold in exchange for handing over the companions to the Arab polytheists. The king questioned the companions about their identity and the reason for their presence in those lands. The companions explained that they were being tortured by the polytheists simply because they followed the word of Allah and His Prophet. Believing in their sincerity, the king stated that Christians and Muslims shared the same God and source of knowledge. He did not perceive any danger in this situation and decided to protect the companions from the Arab polytheists.
City of Peace: Harar
The king was a person who respected religious rights and governed his land with justice. When the migration, known as the first migration in Islamic history, took place to his kingdom in what is now part of Ethiopia, the foundations of Islam were laid in this city. As it turns out, Ethiopia signifies freedom of expression and protection. In Harar, people of different backgrounds peacefully coexist, leading to its designation as the “City of Peace.” You can see this name on a large neon sign at the entrance of the town.
Due to the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups on the same land, Harar received the UNESCO Peace Prize in 2003. In the historic city center, a mosque, an Orthodox church, and a Catholic church are situated almost side by side.
Harar remarkably showcases cultural traditions related to the origins of Islam and Africa. A trading hub, Harar is a center where various influences intertwine. Despite this, it maintains its identity while isolating itself from external influences. Contributing to its cultural uniqueness, this is embedded in Harar’s characteristic societal structure and is still present within its living traditions.
This is why, when the city emblem is considered as another milestone in the city’s proud and long history, the locals believe that it still has much to offer as a symbol of peace to the rest of the world. Perhaps the only thing humanity needs to do is to recognize and preserve the richness they possess. In this way, without coveting the wealth of other lands, they can envision a humanity that embraces the values of their unique culture and the smile of peace, full of hope.