Dirre Sheik Hussein Religious, Cultural and Historical Site

Date of Submission: 14/12/2011
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Authority for Resarch and Conservation of Cultural Hritage
State, Province or Region:
Oromia National Regional State, Bale Administrative Zone, Gololcha District, Dirre Sheik Hussein kebele
Coordinates: N7 80 E41 00
Ref.: 5649


Dine Sheik Hussein is located in the South Eastern part of Ethiopia. It is a 10th century Islamic centre of pilgrimage for people coming from different corners of the country, and Islamic communities of the Horn and the Middle East countries, twice a year. Dirre Sheik Hussein is a site of magnificent groups of buildings, monumental tombs and courts representing early medieval period of Islamic architecture and buildings of significant engineering qualities.

The holy site was founded by the Islamic Saint known as Sheik Nur Hussein. He was one of the Nine Islamic venerated saints who entered Ethiopia (from South Arabia) along the eastern route via the walled city of Harar, which was recently inscribed as the World Heritage site of Ethiopia. Within the compounds and courts of Dine Sheik Hussien there are huge and magnificent mosques, shrines, residential buildings, artificial water ponds and other cultural spaces of Islamic religious processions and diverse ritual practices.

The site is a large rural religious walled settlement still serving the living culture of the past that continuously occupied the Islamic community of this part of the region for nearly 1000 years. It has annual festive events of religious celebrations and cultural practices of thanks giving and blessing. Dirre Sheik Hussein is also considered as a sacred site with a large area of spiritually protected forest landscape. The maintained strong spiritual association and the powerful ritual meaning that are attached to the site have contributed a lot to the preservation of the surrounding environment. The whole setting is evidence of the process of the establishment of this permanent rural enclave religious settlement and the adaptation/introduction of the Islamic cultures to this remote hinterland of the Horn of Africa. Dine Sheik Hussein is a place where people exercise a mixture of Islamic religion and African traditional belief, known as Muda

in this part of Africa. Thus; the cultural property possesses outstanding universal value as a testimony of a unique cultural tradition representing the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over a long period of time in this specific geo cultural region of our planet.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Derrie Sheik Hussein as a holy site is an exceptional example displaying noteworthy development in terms of diversity of cultural expressions and the expansion of the Islamic culture to the south eastern Ethiopia.

The holy sites possess profound cultural significance to demonstrate outstanding universal values from the following basic perspectives.

First; the aesthetic values are manifested in the architectural features of Dine Sheik Hussien mosques, shrines and other groups of buildings as well as associated other structural elements in the walled settlement of this impressive Islamic cultural property.

Second; the site has exceptional social values by providing a multitude of living cultural services. It is a place of pilgrimage, a centre and school of Islamic thoughts, a sacred place of ritual practices, ancestral cults, and indigenous traditional beliefs. All these factors demonstrate the uniqueness of the site and justify the outstanding universal values that the site should deserve.

Third; the holy site witnessed important historical developments in the domain of cultural activities since its foundation. The venerated Saint Sheik Nur Hussein, his families and descendants succeeded in transforming this place into a holy site of pilgrimage with a Holy Ka'aba (like the one found in Mecca) in the main compound to represent the holy site of Mecca, in this remote part of Africa. The site is commonly considered as the Little Mecca in Ethiopia. This factor would evidently also qualify the site to be included in the World Heritage list under the criteria mentioned below.

Fourth; Dine Sheik Hussein Islamic holy site has profound anthropological importance when we consider the powerful meanings of the festive events, ritual objects, costumes and traditions that are strongly associated to the site and retained to the present.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Dine Sheik Hussein is a well preserved site under the direct jurisdiction of the local religious community who consider themselves as the guardians of the ancestral cult that is strongly associated with the founder venerated saint Sheik Nur Hussein, his families, descendants and disciples. In addition to the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), the local authorities of the government, the Regional Culture and Tourism Bureau are also providing professional domain and technical support in the preservation of this cultural property in their own perspective. The cultural integrity of the community, the diversity of expressions and practices associated with the site and the cultural property are well retained to the present, and have their own completeness.

The architectural features of the mosques, shrines, the walled compound and its 12 gates, and other cultural spaces of the site are as credible now as they were in their original contexts.

The Islamic religious practices along with other traditional belief and practices have been retained for nearly a thousand years that prove the tangible and intangible authenticity of the cultural property. Dine Sheik Hussein, Ethiopia's most important place of Muslim pilgrimage, is situated on the borders of Arsi and Bale sub regions and quite close to the border of Eastern Harerge sub region. The site is visited twice a year during two most important occasions by

many thousands of pilgrims mainly from all over Eastern Ethiopia, and comprises a large complex of mosques, shrines, and tombs surrounded by a stout wall.

There are also a number of man-made caves and artificial ponds in the area as cultural spaces for diverse ritual practices. A holy white chalk from the caves is taken back by the pilgrims to many parts of the country. Every pilgrim adorns his/her face with this white chalk as religious duty in the observance of conducting ritual practices during his/her stay in the holy site of the Muslim community. Every Muslim of this region has to undertake a pilgrimage to the site at list once in his /her life time.

Comparison with other similar properties

This Islamic holy site, as a place of pilgrimage, has a spiritual comparison to the Holy city of Mecca, though it is a small rural walled settlement area in terms of size. Derrie Sheik Hussein is considered as the little Mecca for Ethiopian Islamic community, like Lalibela is considered as the Little Jerusalem for Ethiopian Christian community.

From aesthetic points of values the mosques, shrines, groups of buildings and settlement patterns of the walled compound and courts are typical of the walled city of Harar, differing only by the size of the settlement.