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Shaykh Ali Hemed al-Buhriy’s Mrima Swahili Translation of the Qur’ān and its Place in Islamic Scholarship in East Africa


Dutch scholar Ridder Samsom has noted that few of the writings of religious scholars among the Swahili speaking peoples of coastal East Africa have survived destruction caused by natural and human factors. Other factors that have complicated matters include the political developments and uncertainties of the colonial period (late 19th century to roughly 1960) that led to the abandonment of the use of the Arabic script, not to mention ongoing weak conservation practices. Nevertheless, the recent identification of a Swahili manuscript of the Qur’ān in Arabic script by Shaykh Ali Hemed al-Buhriy (1889-1957), undoubtedly the foremost Islamic religious scholar of mainland Tanzania during the colonial period, represents an important contribution to the still-growing Islamic scholarship in East Africa. The manuscript (in Mrima, the Swahili dialect spoken on the northern coast of mainland Tanzania) ranks alongside Swahili translations of the Qur’ān by other leading Islamic scholars of East Africa such as Shaykh al-Amin Mazrui of Mombasa, a colleague and personal friend of the Shaykh. It was handwritten by Shaykh al-Buhriy in the 1950s during the terminal phase of the colonial era. The Shaykh had served as the qadhi (Muslim judge) of Tanga (1921-1935), although his position approximated that of the chief qadhi of Tanganyika, a post that, unlike the case of Kenya, had never been created.


Swahili, Tafsir, Mrima, Qadhi, Tanga, Scholars