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Saints of the Savannah Sequence: The Nice Cleric

Buffalo and lions roamed the periphery of the swampy lands, that had been uninhabited apart from the assembly of the Kikuyu and Maasai peoples, who often introduced their cattle to graze. Moist, infertile and with a high-altitude, the Maasai known as it Enkare Nyorobi – ‘the land of cool waters’. This space was by no means meant to be a settlement, however in 1896, the Lunatic Specific arrived. The builders of the railway line arrange a small depot and a camp on the plains. There was no plan past that; Nairobi was merely one hyperlink in a sequence of such provide depots.1

Nairobi bazaar
Nairobi Bazaar c.1900. Picture courtesy ‘Settling in a Unusual Land’ by Cynthia Salvadori.

One colonial officer wrote that “Nairobi should stay what she was…a slatternly creature, unfit to queen it over so beautiful a rustic.2 However then that creature, towards all expectations, developed a lifetime of its personal. By 1900, the city was composed of a single road, pushed by commerce as South Asian railway builders settled in tin shacks on the plain.3 Nairobi had develop into considerably of a ‘wild west’ of the African inside. Eccentric characters from all corners started to flock to the blossoming new city.

Immorality was abound. In her educational research, The Comforts of Dwelling: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi, Luise White, demonstrates how the world’s oldest occupation helped town in its nascent years preserve a labour drive, by offering companionship to the bachelor migrant labour.4 Racist segregation too, started to take form. By 1908 segregation legal guidelines turned codified,5 reserving the perfect land within the area for European settlers, and leaving the remainder to the Indian (together with Muslim) railway drive and any remaining parts to the native Africans. Illness plagued the swampy settlement. In 1902 a bubonic plague erupted within the city.6 In 1903 Dr Moffast, a principal medical officer of the East Africa and Uganda Protectorate, known as Nairobi harmful and faulty. One other plague broke out within the following 12 months. In 1913 alone, 14,000 new malaria circumstances had been reported in Nairobi.7

There have been additionally different points brewing, alongside spiritual traces. Of the Indian Muslim labourers, the overwhelming majority had been Sunni, however throughout this era, missionaries from a brand new motion began to evangelise their variant doctrine on the frontier. They claimed a brand new prophet was despatched to them in India.8 By 1917 these preachers had fashioned associations preaching this doctrine, changing many Muslims to their manner.

It was on this surroundings, marred by illness and non secular strife, {that a} luminary emerged.

Sayyid Abdullah Shah

On October 11, 1898, a ship docked within the Swahili port metropolis of Mombasa; on board was Sayyid Abdallah Shah, who hailed from an Afghan household, descended from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).10 After a lifetime of pursuing sacred information, he like many others from his a part of the world, ventured to East Africa, however with the aim of dawah (proselytisation) in thoughts.

He ended up in Nairobi, the place he set about debating the heterodox preachers of the brand new doctrine11 and helped convey many to Islam as a consequence of his information, piety and charisma.

Quite a few tales are additionally advised about his reward of miracles. One such story, preserved by oral accounts, recall a time when Sayyid Abdullah Shah known as the leaders of the heterodox motion to a public gathering within the metropolis of Mombasa. He then made dua, praying that whoever of the 2 teams are on the rightful steerage, won’t be harmed by poison. To the astonishment of the gang, he then drank a vial of poison however remained unhurt, while the heterodox preachers cowered from the problem.

A primary-hand account from 1942 tells us of how one ‘Hakam Bibi’ (who was the eye-witnesses mom) from town of Nairobi turned sick and uncontrollably vomited blood. Her possibilities of survival had been all however written off since two distinguished physicians had been unable to discover a prognosis for her illness. Nevertheless, Sayyid Abdallah is reported to have given her a lightweight prayer amulet and advised her to sleep. Upon waking, all her signs had disappeared, however the amulet had elevated in weight.12

As his identify started to unfold, increasingly Muslims began to frequent the brand new Jamiah Mosque the place he served as imam to hunt his assist. He would ascribe prayer amulets, in addition to recommendation and reminders to the budding Muslim neighborhood.13 Thus, Islam on this younger, blossoming city, discovered a secure anchor. Sayyid Abdallah was visited not solely by the Indian Muslims of the brand new settlement, however by Muslims of different races additionally, and, throughout a time of racial segregation, handled all with respect and dignity. The Jamiah Mosque supplied lessons in Urdu, Arabic, Swahili, and Somali – a progressive step that gained many new converts and adherents to the masjid and to non secular studying. Sayyid Abdallah arrange a big library, consisting of his personal assortment of Islamic literature that may develop into the primary centre of spiritual studying within the metropolis. Right now, the mosque library has grown to supply pc lessons to the very poor and disenfranchised of town.

Each the mosque and Sayyid Abdallah turned the locus of Islam in Nairobi. A author, Mohammad A. Quraishy remarked in 1974 that “The Jamiah Mosque turned a landmark within the coronary heart of Nairobi; a dwelling image of Islam in East Africa.”14

Sayyid Abdallah Shah
Nairobi Jamiah Mosque, c.Nineteen Thirties. Picture courtesy ‘Settling in a Unusual Land’ by Cynthia Salvadori.

Throughout his life, Sayyid Abdallah was identified for his asceticism; he lived in a hujra (small dwelling related to a pious particular person) close to the mosque and slept on the ground.15 Although he devoted himself to the worship of God, he was not unaware of the world round him. Moreover debating new heterodox actions, he was additionally updated with present affairs and had a morning newspaper delivered day by day. A devotee by the identify of Mohammad Hussein Paracha,16 who labored for the East African Customary newspaper, would personally carry the day by day newspaper to the Sayyid sizzling off the press and would learn it to him. Each night, after prayers, he can be taken for a drive across the new metropolis. By having a finger on the heartbeat of the world, he understood the wants of others even exterior the Muslim neighborhood.

Sayyid Abdallah Shah
Sayyid Abdallah Shah (backseat, left) pushed round Nairobi early Nineteen Thirties. Picture courtesy ‘al

Each morning, a number of Hindu fruit retailers would ship baskets of recent fruit to Sayyid Abdallah, pay their respects and search his intercession.17 He at all times ensured guests left his dwelling with some meals, holding none for himself. One other devotee who labored on the colonial dairy18 would ceaselessly ship over a big container of milk, which might then be poured right into a cauldron in preparation of tea, for all those that visited Sayyid Abdallah.

A rich businessman by the identify of Sayyid Imtiaz Ali Shah, a buddy and devotee of Sayyid Abdallah, additionally left his mark upon Nairobi, one that’s intimately tied with that of Sayyid Abdallah. (Examine his life partly 4 of this sequence).

Such was Sayyid Abdullah’s piety and repair to Islam that he undertook the Hajj a complete of 27
occasions taking Muslims from the brand new colonial settlements with him.19 Hajj throughout this era was no straightforward feat, and to finish a minimum of 27 occasions speaks volumes of Sayyid Abdallah’s dedication, endurance and reliance on God. A newspaper column from the time, speaks of ‘Excessive Priest’ Sayyid Abdullah Shah’s Hajj endeavours- a curious story for a colonial period newspaper to report.

Picture courtesy E A Customary, November 21, 1990.

After a lifetime devoted to service of the Muslim neighborhood, throughout his last sickness, Sayyid Abdallah expressed need to be taken to Medina and buried within the jannatul baqi cemetery. After his passing, on Easter weekend in 1952, Sayyid Abadallah was accompanied by a number of acquaintances (photographed under), in a tiny plane owned by a European pilot. Resulting from its small measurement, the aircraft halted for refuelling in Kisumu (Kenya), Soroti (Uganda), Juba, Malakal and Khartoum (Sudan).20 Every time it halted, the European pilot would flip the aircraft in direction of Mecca, as crowds of Muslims would come to say the funeral prayer, lined up going through the aircraft21 for the Indian saint of Kenya.

Sayyid Abdallah Shah
Airplane at Wilson Airport, Nairobi, carrying the coffin of Sayyid Abdullah Shah, April 1952. The person on the precise is Mawlana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui. Picture courtesy Abdul Aziz Chisti.

Sayyid Maulana Abdullah Shah reached Medina on Friday morning, 18th April 1952. Hundreds attended his last rites, after which the good cleric was laid to relaxation in jannatul baqi, and based on an oral account, close to the grave of Sayiduna Uthman ibn Affan.

Might Allah have mercy upon the soul of Sayyid Abdullah Shah, and will he be reunited with a grateful Kenyan neighborhood behind the banner of the Prophet ﷺ on the Day of Resurrection.


The story of Sayyid Abdallah Shah reveals us how one man of God can impression a complete metropolis. Nairobi continued to prosper and develop, changing into the busiest metropolis in East and Central Africa in the present day. Among the many individuals of Nairobi, the identify Sayyid Abdallah Shah is synonymous with piety, orthodoxy and non secular dedication, and his masjid is seen as a beacon of Islam not solely within the metropolis, however the wider area additionally. His efforts to assist his neighborhood weren’t in useless.

The heterodox motion didn’t set up a foothold in Kenya after Sayyid Abdallah’s time, and although it might have been straightforward to provide in to the chaos of modernity and godlessness that the colonial undertaking finally created, maybe it was by the efforts of these resembling Sayyid Abdallah that Muslims had been capable of prosper in ‘the land of cool waters.’

Exalted be He Who makes His Saints identified solely so as tomake Himself identified and Who leads towards them these whom He needs to guide towards Himself.

– Ibn Ata’illah Al-Iskandari

This text is a part of the Saints of the Savannah Sequence. Learn half one, The Punjabi Labourer.


1 Owaahh and John Kamau, “Nairobi: The Metropolis That Was By no means Meant to Be” in The Elephant, 6/12/2019.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Luise White, The Comforts of Dwelling: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi, College of Chicago Press, 1990.

5 Owaahh and John Kamau, “Nairobi: The Metropolis That Was By no means Meant to Be” in The Elephant, 6/12/2019.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Cynthia Salvadori, Settling In a Unusual Land: Tales of Punjabi Muslim Pioneers in Kenya, Park Street Mosque Belief, 2010, p 14 and 102.

9 Ibid, 103.

10 KUMBUKUMBU, Historia ya Sayyid Abdallah Shah (

11 Ibid.

12 Cynthia Salvadori, p 98.

13 Ibid.

14 Steven Nelson, “Nairobi’s Jamia Masjid and Muslim Identification”, in Indiana College Press, Concern 119, 2016, p 66.

15 Cynthia Salvadori, p 98.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid, 100.

18 Ibid, 99.

19 Ibid, 98.

20 Ibid, 100.

21 Ibid.


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