Kai Kresse

Abstract

This article discusses Sheikh Muhammad Kasim Mazrui, an influential yet largely ignored figure within East African Islamic reformism, which shifted from internal to external domination in the second half of the 20th century. His educational booklet 'Hukumu za sharia', written in Kiswahili, is analysed and contextualised. Advising local Muslims, by way of clear argument and reference to authoritative texts, on how to deal with controversial local practices from an Islamic point of view, it pushed for the development of self-reliance, and criticised dependence on Islamic clerics and dignitaries. The text itself displays the rational principles that the reformist movement relied on and propagated, while it also contains hints of a more dogmatic tone that was yet to dominate reformist discourse. Overall, the article establishes a wider comparison in discussing this African Islamic reformism as an 'enlightenment' movement. The focus hereby is on structure rather than substance, as Islamic reform is incompatible with secularism. Common features, however, can be seen in the emphasis on rationality and self-reliance of individual actors, as well as the internal dialectic of the movements, oscillating between liberation and dogmatism.

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Edited by Kai Kresse

Sheikh al-Amin Mazrui wrote his essays of this Guidance ( Uwongozi) collection in Mombasa between 1930 and 1932, providing social critique and moral guidance to Kenya’s coastal Muslims during a period of their decline during British colonial rule. The essays were initially published as a series of double-sided pamphlets called Sahifa (The Page), the first Swahili Islamic newspaper. Inspired by contemporary debates of Pan-Islam and Islamic modernism, and with a critical eye on British colonialism, this leading East African modernist takes issue with his peers, in a sharply critical and yet often humorous tone. Al-Amin Mazrui was the first to publish Islamic educational prose and social commentary in Swahili. This bi-lingual edition makes fascinating reading for specialists and general readers.