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Overall, the chapter seeks to capture and convey a sense of fundamental ambivalence that characterizes and accompanies maulidi performances and social experiences of different kinds of social actors on the Swahili coast, as they move between pious dedication and vivid and boisterous worldly partying. In Lamu, on the Northern Swahili coast in Kenya, the ambivalence of maulidi celebrations is present on different levels of social life and public discourse (among ordinary Muslims and scholars) and with a view to specific forms and kinds of socially embedded performance, engagement and interaction. In this chapter, I explore and discuss how this foundational translocal ambivalence plays out locally, looking at maulidi practices, performances, and contexts, as they are publicly engaged in, and contested and negotiated during this festive period. In the final part of this chapter, I present a brief contextual discussion of maulidi-related writings by relevant Swahili Muslim scholars – specifically Sheikh Abdalla Saleh Farsy, a leading modernist reformer – to show how references to the regionally specific maulidi practices and debates about them are reflected in their arguments about the propriety and acceptability of such celebrations.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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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.

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
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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.
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Abstract

This chapter seeks to provide a brief contextual character portrayal of Ustadh Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir, commonly known as Ustadh Mau, based on longer-term interactions with him. As entry-points and narrative pathways, we pursue some of the meaningful and telling biographical trajectories of his life that have shaped him as a poet and religious teacher, dedicated to the well-being of his community. We cover aspects of his engagement for knowledge and education in Lamu society over the decades, with particular pointers also to the reflection of such engagement in his poetry. This again has dwelt on regional politics as much as on moral, religious, and philosophical themes (dilemmas, tragedies, challenges) as they can be seen to play out concretely as part of local social experience. Ustadh Mau advises and admonishes his peers through his poetry (and his lectures and other activities) from within the local community, never from above. For this, as an influential teacher, imam, and social reformer, he is appreciated by many of the Lamu urban community as a ‘man of the people’ (mtu wa watu). This, we suggest, might be a suitable paradigm to think with (or in contrast to), also about other local intellectuals in their societies elsewhere.

Open Access
In: In This Fragile World