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Periodical article Periodical article
Title:Imagining Arab Communities: Colonialism, Islamic reform, and Arab identity in Mombasa, Kenya, 1897-1933
Author:Mathews, N.
Periodical:Islamic Africa
Geographic term:Kenya
Subjects:Arab - ethnic group
Abstract:After the advent of British colonial rule, the epistemological prestige of Muslim culture, Arabic literacy, and qadi courts declined in Kenya. Coastal residents sought favourable court rulings outside qadi courts, which no longer had independent jurisdiction, and many sought education and jobs in a British colonial system less favourable to Islamic learning. Recognizing these challenges, Sheikh al-Amin Mazrui, Kenya's most prominent Islamic scholar - founded a newspaper called 'al-Islah' (Reform) in 1932. He was inspired by the prominent Cairo journal 'al-Manar', by the Salafi reformers Rashid Rida and Muhammad Abduh. Although 'al-Islah''s themes were similar to 'al-Manar' in advocating for Islamic reform, 'al-Islah' addressed itself to Swahili-speaking Arabs in a milieu where Muslims were increasingly a demographic minority and culturally marginalized. Print technology ('al-Islah' was printed in both Kiswahili and Arabic) and Salafi ideas in 'al-Islah' worked together to spread reform and encourage East African Muslims to value Arabic and the pursuit of sharia. Although these ideas were products of a long Islamic tradition that privileged access to knowledge as the passport of the believer, they were also newly self-conscious reflections of Arab cultural and religious identity; 'al-Islah''s articles stressed the Arab role in creating Muslim civilization in Africa. It critiqued the parochial nature of the British colonial project, urging a return to precolonial modes of Islamic hegemony and stressing the essential role of sharia in constituting Islamic identity. Islamic reform in East Africa and the "re-imagination" of transnational Arab identity within it depended on Arab Muslims understanding the importance of Islamic knowledge - particularly Arabic and sharia - in constituting coastal communities. [Journal abstract]