Saleh Bin Allawi (C. 1844–1935)
SALEH BIN ALLAWI (C. 1844–1935)
Saleh bin Allawi (Ar. Salih bin ˓Alawi) was a renowned scholar and founder of the Riyada mosque college in Lamu. He was of Yemenite origin and born in the Comoro Islands. From there he migrated to Lamu sometime between 1876 and 1885. He belonged to the Jamal al Layl Sharif lineage (one of the Sharif lineages and descendants of the Prophet), whose members have been responsible for the dissemination of Islam and its intellectual tradition in East Africa. In fact, much of Islam as it is taught and practiced in East Africa bears the stamp of Yemenite influence. Descendants of these families were born of African mothers, and this factor facilitated their easy integration into the Swahili community.
Allawi's membership in the Alawi tariqa (Sufi order) enabled him to side with and patronize the slaves and the poor of Lamu Island, who became the main focus of his religious efforts. Before this time religious education in Lamu was monopolized by or restricted to descendants of the Prophet and select other families. It was to the credit of Allawi both as an outsider to Lamu and as a member of the Alawi tariqa (that emphasized education and training of scholars) that he began to teach people previously denied this education. When he began to teach them Qur˒anic exegesis, he angered the town's elitist traditional scholars. Eventually he established his own madrasa (Islamic school) in Langoni (a district in the southern part of Lamu Island). There he taught the slaves and recent immigrants to the island. This madrasa became the famous Riyada mosque-college, which attracted students from all over East Africa, and spread his fame as a scholar and saint.
Farsy, Shaykh Abdallah Saleh. The Shafi˓i Ulama of EastAfrica. Translated by Randall Pouwels. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1989.