In This Fragile World

Swahili Poetry of Commitment by Ustadh Mahmoud Mau


The present volume is a pioneering collection of poetry by the outstanding Kenyan poet, intellectual and imam Ustadh Mahmmoud Mau (born 1952) from Lamu island, once an Indian Ocean hub, now on the edge of the nation state. By means of poetry in Arabic script, the poet raises his voice against social ills and injustices troubling his community on Lamu. The book situates Mahmoud Mau’s oeuvre within transoceanic exchanges of thoughts so characteristic of the Swahili coast. It shows how Swahili Indian Ocean intellectual history inhabits an individual biography and writings. Moreover, it also portrays a unique African Muslim thinker and his poetry in the local language, which has so often been neglected as major site for critical discourse in Islamic Africa.
The selected poetry is clustered around the following themes: jamii: societal topical issues, ilimu: the importance of education, huruma: social roles and responsabilities, matukio: biographical events and maombi: supplications. Prefaced by Rayya Timamy (Nairobi University), the volume includes contributions by Jasmin Mahazi, Kai Kresse and Kadara Swaleh, Annachiara Raia and Clarissa Vierke. The authors’ approaches highlight the relevance of local epistemologies as archives for understanding the relationship between reform Islam and local communities in contemporary Africa.
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Annachiara Raia, Ph.D. (2018), is assistant professor in African Literature at Leiden University (The Netherlands). Specialised in Swahili Muslim textual traditions and interested in the question of archive and collection, she is currently researching on vernacular print networks in the 20th-century Indian Ocean.

Clarissa Vierke, Ph.D. (2010), is professor of Literatures in African Languages at Bayreuth University (Germany). She is an expert of Swahili poetry, manuscript cultures and has been working on travelling texts in East Africa and literary entanglements with the Indian Ocean.
List of Figures
Notes on Contributors

Annachiara Raia and Clarissa Vierke

Part 1 Poetry as Intellectual Practice

Ustadh Mahmoud Mau, Mtu wa watu (“A Man of the People”): Poet, Imam, and Engaged Local Intellectual
Kai Kresse and Kadara Swaleh

Shaping and Being Shaped by Lamu Society: Ustadh Mau’s Poetry in the Context of Swahili Poetic Practice
Jasmin Mahazi

“Born on the Island”: Situating Ustadh Mau’s Poetic Practice in Context
Clarissa Vierke

Seeking ʿilm on Lamu: Ustadh Mau’s Library and Services for the Benefit of His Community
Annachiara Raia

How Ought We to Live? The Ethical and the Poetic in Ustadh Mahmoud Mau’s Poetry
Clarissa Vierke

Mabanati in Search of an Author: Portable Reform Texts and Multimodal Narrative Media among Swahili Muslim Communities
Annachiara Raia

Part 2 Poems by Ustadh Mau

Introduction to Part 2

Jamii: Topical Issues on Lamu
 1 Amu (“Lamu”)
 2 Bandari ina mawimbi (“The Port Makes Waves”)
 3 Jahazi (“The Dhow”)
 4 Tupijeni makamama (“Let Us Embrace”)

Ilimu: The Importance of Education
 1 Mwalimu (“Teacher”)
 2 Kilio huliya mwenye (“Change Begins at Home”)
 3 Kiswahili (“Swahili”)
 4 Za Washirazi athari (“The Influence of the Persians”)

Huruma: Social Roles and Responsibility
 1 Mama msimlaumu (“Don’t Blame My Mother”)
 2 Jilbabu (“Veil”)
 3 Mchezo Wa Kuigiza (“Play”)
 4 Haki za watoto (“Children’s Rights”)
 5 Wasiya wa mabanati (“Advice to Young Women”)

Matukio: Biographical Poems
 1 Hafi asiye timiwa (“No One Dies Before His Time Is Up”)
 2 Mlango “The Door”

Maombi: Personal Poems of Supplication
 1 Hapo zamani za yana (“Once Upon A Time”)
 2 Tunda (“Fruit”)
 3 Kipande cha ini (“Piece of My Liver”)
 4 Mola zidisha baraka (“God Increase Your Blessings”)
 5 Yasome na kukumbuka (“Read and Remember”)

References of Part 2
Readers are scholars in Islamic studies, African literature and the social sciences. It speaks to debates about the Indian Ocean, Ajami literacies, southern epistemologies and African thinkers. With its translations and introductions, it can also be used in teaching.
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