If you decide to pass by on Georgia Avenue and Webster Street in Washington, D.C on any given day, you are sure to run into a lot of Ethiopians purposely striding to a building on the corner of Georgia Avenue. And no, it is not like the famous 9th street in Washington, where a lot of Ethiopian businesses reside, so the person you are seeing with the purposeful walk is not in a hurry to grab kitfo or Tibs.
The area actually houses one of the biggest Ethiopian Muslim centers in America, The First Hijrah Foundation. The name First Hijrah itself is picked from history. The First Hijrah, or migration to Abyssinia, refers to a time in history when the companions of the prophet Mohammed (Pbuh) and his families fled to Ethiopia to flee persecution in Mecca. It was around the seventh Islamic month (Rajab) of 7 BH (614–615 CE), that exiled Muslims from Arabia found refuge and protection from the Ethiopian King Nejashi, and Islam was introduced to Ethiopia as a result. Hijra , or the exile of the prophet himself (Pbuh) and his companions to Medina, started later on in 622 C.E., on the first day of the month Muharram, more commonly know as Al-Hijra, or the Islamic new year.
In the 1980s, the population of Ethiopian Muslims started to grow significantly in the Washington, D.C area. Yearning for a place where they could gather together, and practice their religion and culture the way they used to in Ethiopia, a group of about 65 people established First Hijrah as a community center in 1986. This group of 65 managed to build First Hijrah Foundation purely on donations, and it continues to run to this day by gathering donations and membership fees.
The population of the Muslim community as well as the center has grown significantly since it was first established. The members of First Hijrah are happy to have a place where they could send their children to learn Islamic ways, and where they could gather as a community and practice their religion.
Volunteers run programs and community services in the center. Every Friday, Quran Tafsir (translation) program is held, and Saturday and Sunday is reserved for educational programs for children. Not only Ethiopians come to the center, it serves other members of the Muslim community as well.
Impressed by First Hijrah’s success in the community, a local TV station recently featured the First Hijrah Foundation in one of their programs. It is indeed great to see the Ethiopian Muslim community in Washington, D.C displaying solidarity and being shown in such a positive light, I hope it continues to grow and contribute to the community.