Abu Al-Fath of Yemen: Echege Enbaqom of Debre Libanos Monastery

August 12, 2016

By Kassa Nigus

Echege Enbaqom, called Abu al-Fath in Yemen before conversion, was the eleventh abbot of the Monastery of Debre Libanos in Shewa, Ethiopia. Echege Enbaqom was consecrated in the See of St. Tekle Haymanot and made a unique contribution to the Ethiopian church in producing valuable literatures useful in the services of the church.
He was a foreigner (Yemeni) and of Islamic origin. Later on, he converted to Christianity and was the only abbot who twice held the rank of “Echege”, the highest ecclesiastical rank below the Patriarch in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church canonized him as a saint in view of his holiness and devotion in keeping and spreading the Word of God. The Church dedicated Miyazia 21 (April 29) to honor him and celebrate his contribution to the Church. His name has also been inscribed in the church’s Book of Saints.

The preparation of Echege Enbakom’s Gedl/Hagiography was finalized on September 30, 1580 E.C, 27 years after the death of the saint. Below is a brief biography of the saint extracted from his Gadl and Deacon Daniel Kibret’s book titled “Echegie Enbaqom – from Yemen to Debre Libanos”.  

Echege Enbakom had a Muslim father and a Jewish mother in Yemen. His father had two wives- the mother of the Saint and his brother, and another one who bore 7 children. The mother of Abu al-Fath was rich and beautiful Jewish woman. Because of her beauty her parents named her ‘Shemshiya al-Yeman’. Echege Enbakom before christened Enbaqom (Habakkuk), was given the name ‘Abu Al-Fath’ (meaning the owner of treasures) by his father. His parents raised him teaching him their rules and literatures of the community. He was given lessons on horse riding, skills of war, hunting wild animals and many others as customary in their culture.

‘Abu al-Fath’ guarded the culture and tradition of his parents jealously. The people of his native land held him in high esteem for his personality and conservativeness in keeping the religion and tradition of his land.  He was a Muslim of the strictest sect and the most dangerous enemy of Christianity before his conversion and that trait made him similar to St. Paul before his conversion. His passion in persecution of Christians arose from the intensity of his conviction and his zeal for the religion of his parents. He persecuted Christians of his country and Christian merchants who came from abroad.

One day while he was reading the Qur’an, he found a passage that baffled him: “When Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will recall you and raise you up to Me and will purify you (of the company) of those who disbelieve, and will set your followers above the unbelievers till the Day of Resurrection…..”, ( Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:55). Then, he thought about the followers of Jesus, the Son of Mary, who will be above the unbelievers?  Are they not Christians?  Who are those who disbelieve and do not follow Jesus – are they not my relatives?

Because of these confusing ideas, his mind became unsettled. Then he went to a teacher named Elqudah – meaning scholar of Islam and asked him by quoting Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:55:  “Who are those disbelievers mentioned in this phrase?” But Elqudah became very angry and wanted to inflict serious punishment on him, and reprimanded him and told him not to ask such a question again.

Because of the anger he felt as a consequence of Elqudah failing to respond to his question, the heart of Abu al–Fath was in turmoil and he began to bring the Islamic faith under question mark. Then, he devoted himself to prayer to God to find the true faith; for he believed God is the source of all knowledge and wisdom.

While he was in a state of meditation asking of God to reveal the true faith, the people of his land rose against him in jealousy for he had been a highly respected man among the people of his country. They plotted to kill him. Servants of Abu al-Fath got news of the intention to kill him. These servants were Ethiopians captured in the Battle between the King of Habesha (Ethiopian Solomonic Dynasty) and Adal Sultanate, a medieval Muslim state located in Eastern Ethiopia from around 1415 to 1577 and the prisoners were passed on to the ruler of Yemen, who was the father of Abu al-Fath. Then, Abu al-Fath servants told him that his relatives were plotting to kill him and strongly advised him to depart to the land of Ethiopia which was under the rule of the Solomonic dynasty and told him that the king may help him in everything he needs.   

Some days later he left Meka and sailed in a ship, with his servants,  reached the port of Dahlak and then Hirgigo, near the port of  Massawa in 1482 E.C. During his journey in the Red Sea, Abu al-Fath had three visions; a luminous cross led them but he was silent and did not communicate with men for his heart was in the deepest meditation.  

Then, he travelled to the governor of Bahire Negash called Zecharias (could possibly be Debarwa, the ancient city of Midre Bahiri, found 25 km South of what is today Eritrea). Then, he went to Emperor Eskender (1471–1487), the son of Emperor Ba’eda Maryam, through the governor of Bahire Negash.

Unfortunately, because of the death of the emperor two years after that in 1487 E.C, Abu al-Fath found a chaotic situation when he arrived. Concerned about his wellbeing, the servants of Abu al-Fath made him stay at home till the situation subsided and returned to its normal condition.  During his stay at the home of the commander (his servant), he began to learn about the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church including about St. Mary the Mother of God.  Abu al-Fath also prayed throughout the day. Then, he had a revelation from God, “O Abu al-Fath, your prayer has reached the Lord of hosts; rise and follow me and I lead you to the path of life and will reveal to you the faith that pleases God.”     

After this revelation, Abu al-Fath went to the Monastery of Debre Libanos through the guidance of God crossing the rivers of Jama and Agat, though the rivers were full as the time was the rainy season. When Abu al-Fath arrived at Debre Libanos, he settled with Abune Petros, the then abbot of the Monastery.   

Abune Habte Mariam, one of the fathers at the Monastery, prophesized about the coming and future person to become of Abu al-Fath and told Abba Petros saying, “The man whom I told you about has now reached here and is sitting outside of the door with the crowd; he will be your son by grace and sit on your chair after you, and he will be the father of many in place of you.” Having said that, Abba Habte Mariam went out and brought the guest to Abba Petros. Following some conversation with the guest, Abba Petros ordered the chief of his disciples to accommodate the guest and make him feel at home in every possible way.  

Later on, Abba Petros assigned two senior teachers, named Yared Ze’amhara and Yared Ze’emoqie, for Abu al-Fath to teach him the Ethiopian Orthodox teachings and traditions. Accordingly, they taught him about the true faith starting from the Old and New Testament teachings. He was taught about God, His revelation and salvation, and he believed all that he was taught. He became a person of faith through the teaching of these teachers. Abba Petros and Abune Habte Mariam prayed and finally baptized him Enbaqom (Habakkuk), after the Prophet Habakkuk. Afterwards, he continued learning from various Orthodox scriptures and became one of the outstanding church elites of the Ethiopian Church. Having gone through many trials and experiencing a life of devout Christian, Abba Petros made him a monk in accordance with the existing Church canon.

Then, Enbaqom was ordained deacon by archbishop Abune Markos in 1490 E.C. through the presentation of Abba Petros. Enbaqom lived there many years providing different religious services including establishment of Churches, including the church of St. Mary named Bethlhem in Tiko, western Shewa, through the help of Abba Petros and Archbishop Abune  Markos, the Egyptian Coptic bishop assigned then to serve Ethiopian dioceses. The Bishop consecrated the church and provided all the necessary sacred items for church service.

Abu al-Fath was also visited upon by various temptations, while he lived there providing evangelical services. One day he heard a rumor indicating that he will be the next abbot of Debre Libanos after Abba Petros. Right after that, he started a journey to Jerusalem in an attempt to flee from his being ordained. In this journey, when he reached at Keda, a place between Lasta and Tigray, God rebuked him strongly and told him to return to Debre Libanos.   

When Abba Petros passed away in 1516 E.C., the monks of the Monastery began to make preparations to select the next Abbot of the Monastery. According to the custom of the selection process, 12 nominees of celibate monks would be selected to choose one among them in place of the deceased abbot on the 40th day of commemoration of Abba Petros. When the lot was cast, the name Enbakom came up as prophesized. These things happened only a few years before the revolt (1526 – 1543) of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi ("Ahmad Gragn"), who sought to establish Islamic rule in Ethiopia in place of the Christian rule. During his administrative term, Echege Enbakom was a very vigilant father in keeping monastic rules and traditions.

He set forth a very strict rule to lead the Monastery suited to the needs of the Monastery. He had the idea that monks should be far away from a life of luxury and interaction with women. Then, the monks opposed him and accused him before Emperor Libne Dingil. The main points of his accusation that the monks presented to the emperor are:

• Lowering the dignity of the emperor

• Not praying for the emperor

•  His prophesies are bad

Then, the Emperor ordered his soldiers to put Enbakom in jail at a place called Gunch where he experienced tribulations of various forms. The punishment for what he was accused of based on the tradition was being put under a certain type of tree where there are numerous worms living on the leaves of the chosen tree. Gradually, when the excretion of worms fell on the body of the person being punished for alleged trespassing, he would be immediately attacked by skin disease and pass away in a few days. But when Enbakom came near the site where the tree was, the tree came out of the earth and moved away a certain distance, away from the saint.

He was also thrown to goats’ stable to spend the night in the expectation that he will be ill and consequently die of it in three days, according to their traditional way of punishment. Instead, all the goats died and he passed the night in peace. Enbakom spent one whole year going through different types of punishment. Finally, due to the request of Church fathers who knew about the innocence of the saint, he was released from detention.

After the end of the destruction of Gragn Ahmed, Emperor Gelawdewos was enthroned in place of his father. Then, Emperor Gelawdewos requested Echege Enbakom to return to his original place. But Enbakom did not want to return. Instead, he planned to spend his remaining time in celibate life. However, later on Echege Enbakom returned to his place due to frequent entreating by Emperor Minas. Echege Enbakom was able to hold the position of Echegie, the highest position of the Monastery, a second time. He stayed one year and died on May 21, 1553 E.C. at the age of 147.

Some of the books prepared /or translated by Echege Enbakom:

1.  Anketse Amin: the famous works of Enbakom prepared in 1533 E.C. Enbakom presents this writing in the form of comparison between the Bible and Quran. It was claimed that Echege Enbakom sent the book to Gragn Ahmed to raise issues by showing the difference between the two religious books and to show the Truth.  

2. Barla’am and Josaphat: translated in1546 E.C during the reign of Atse Gelawdewos. The book was composed from ancient Indian proverbs and stories.

3.  Dersan Zeyohannes Afewek (Chrysostom’s commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews): translated from Arabic to Ge’ez with Coptic monk Michael in 1515 E.C.

4. Book of Abushikr: translated from Arabic. The book consists of world history of the middle ages prepared by Abu shakir Ibn Al-rahib –  a Coptic deacon writer of great distinction and one of the most eminent theologians of the Middle Ages around 1200 – 1295.

5. The Revelation of John: translated from Arabic to Ge’ez

6.  Bihere Orit: This includes the first division of the Old Testament comprises of 8 books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua, the book of judges, and the book of Ruth).  Translated from Arabic to Ge’ez before 1551 E.C.

7.  Other teachings of various church scholars

May the prayer and intercession of Echegie Enbaqom be with us!!


• Ethiopic Synaxarium, on Miyazya 21/April 29.

• ዲ. ዳንኤል ክብረት፡ 2008 ዓ.ም፡፡ እጨጌ ዕንባቆም ከየመን እስከ ደብረ ሊባኖስ፡፡ (Deacon Daniel Kibret, 2008 E.C. Echege Enbakom – From Yemen to Debre Libanos)

•  ሥርግው ሐብለ ሥላሴ፡ 19 69 ዓ.ም፡፡ የቤተክርስቲያን አማርኛ መዝገበ ቃላት ፤ ቅጽ 5-8 ፣ ገጽ 164፡፡ (Sirgiw Hable Sillasie, 1969E.C. Church Amharic Dictionary. Vol. 5-8, pp. 164).