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4. Shaykh Ali bin Nafi’i | Blog


The following is an extract from an upcoming book by Dr. Abdulkadir Hashim, Senior Lecturer in Sharia & Islamic Studies and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, which will cover Muslim intellectual contributions along the East African coast.

View entries chronologically by clicking below:

1. Sayyid Umar bin Amin
2. Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Muslim (Mselem) al-Amiri
3. Shaykh Abubakar ibn Muhammad ibn Abubakar Al-Maawi (Bwenye Kai)
4. Shaykh Ali bin Abdalla bin Nafi’i bin Abdalla al-Mazrui


4. Shaykh Ali bin Abdalla bin Nafi’i bin Abdalla al-Mazrui

Shaykh Ali bin Nafi’i was born in Mombasa 1825/1240 and died on 12th Saffar 1312/14th August 1894 in Mombasa.  His grandfathers came from the town of Rustaq in Oman.  Shaykh Abdalla Saleh Farsi regarded Shaykh Ali as “among the great scholars of East Africa”.
Shaykh Ali bin Nafi’i was appointed as the Kadhi of Mombasa from 1856/1272 to 1870/1287 before the death of Sayyid Majid bin Said (r.1856-1870).  His kinsman Shaykh Rashid bin Ali bin Nafi succeeded him as the Kadhi of Mombasa from around 1870/1287 to 1875/1292.

After the Busaidi conquered Mombasa and drove out the Mazrui rulers in 1837/1252, Shaykh Abdallah b. Nafi al-Mazrui travelled with his sons Shaykh Al-Amin and Shaykh Ahmed to Mecca.  His father was taught by ‘Uthman bin Hassan al-Dimyati and Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Dimyati in Mecca.  From Mecca, his father traveled to Hadhramaut and died in Shihr on his way to Mombasa on 7th December 1846/ 17th Dhul Hijja 1262.

While in Mecca, Shaykh Ali studied under various scholars including Shaykh Ali b. Muhammad Surusi al-Misri for around seven years.  After the death of his teacher Shaykh Ali b. Muhammad Surusi al-Misri, Towards the end of Shyakh Ali went to study under Shaykh Uthman bin Hassan al-Dimyati for around two years.  He also studied under Shaykh Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Dimyaty the Mufti of Mecca.  At the end of 1846, Shaykh Abdalla bin Nafi’i al-Mazrui and his son Shaykh Ali left Mecca towards Mombasa via Shihr, Yemen where the father died.

Around 1852 Shaykh Ali returned to Mecca to study for the second time.  In his second sojourn to Mecca, Shaykh Ali  studied under Shaykh Muhammad al-Nabrawi in the science of Hadith and Shaykh Nur bin Ali bin Sulyman (of Indian origin) in the science of logic.  Shaykh Ali also met one of the great saints (wali) of Mecca Shaykh Muhammad bin Said Bash’shar.  During his second trip to Mecca, Shaykh Ali traveled to Hadhramaut in 1854/1270 and studied under Shaykh Abubakar Bamatraf in Mukalla who awarded him an “ijaza”

It was through the influence of his teachers in Mecca and Hadhramut that Shaykh Ali embraced the Shafii madhhab.  When he visited Zanzibar during the reign of Sayyid Majid (r.1856-1870), Shaykh Ali held darsa at Msikiti Gofu.  He also gave darsa in Pemba during his visit in 1887/1304.  It was through these sessions that Shaykh Ali managed to convert some Ibadhis to Shafii madhhab. Sultan Barghash bin Said (r.1870-1888) was upset by darsas of Shaykh Ali and his efforts to convert Ibadhis to Shafi madhhab and imprisoned him until Barghash’s death on March 1888/Rajab 1305 when he was released.  Shaykh Ali then went to stay in Pemba and afterwards shifted to Mombasa.  Shaykh Ali was among the pionner Ibadhi scholars to convert to the Shaffi madhhab.  Others include members of Al-Barawni, Al-Alawi and Al-Busaidy families.

Shaykh Ali is regarded to be the intellectual mentor of Kadhis in the East African coast.  Among is students in Mombasa who were Kadhis include Muhammad bin Qasim al-Maamiri (d.1910), Rashid bin Ali bin Rashid al-Mandhiri (d.1926), Sulayman bin Ali bin Khamis bin Said al-Mazrui (d.1937), Khalfan bin Abdalla al-Mazrui (d.1944), Hemed bin Juma al-Mazrui (Sheikh Surur), Nasor bin Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Mazrui (d.1950) and Said bin Ahmad Mkilindini.

Among students of Shaykh Ali in Zanzibar was Kadhi Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Muroni (d.1890) and Ahmad Mlomry (d.1894), Shaykh Muhsin al-Barwani, Abdulshakur bin Muhammad Abdulrazak (Bohra from Surat), Muhammad Hirji, Umar bin Stanbul Abubakar al-Saady, Al-Khidhir bin Qasim al-Riyami (uterine brother of ‘Umar Stanbul) and Shaykh Hamdan Abdulqadir al-Qahtani.  He also taught Shehe bin Seko (d.1909) who propagated Islam in Tanga and was active in dhikri sessions.  While in Pemba, Shaykh Ali bin Abdalla al-Mazrui taught Ali bin Abdalla Ali Mandhiri.

Shakyh Ali held darsa at Msikiti wa Bashaykh (Msikiti wa Manara) in Mombasa from seven to nine morning and after dhuhr prayers to three in the afternoon.  During the month of Ramadhan, Shaykh Ali used to give darsa after Asr prayers.  The darsa at Msikiti wa Bashaykh was the largest darsa in Mombasa and well attended by local people.  After the death of Shaykh Ali, his student Shaykh Muhammad Qasim al-Maamiri (d.1910) took over his darsa at Msikiti Bashaykh.  Later Shaykh Sulayman bin Ali bin Khamis bin Said al-Mazrui (d.1937) took charge of the sarsa after the death of Shaykh Muhammad Qasim al-Maamiri.  When Sayyid Abdulrahman Saggaf was appointed the Chief kadhi in Mombasa and started a darsa at Masjid Mbaruk, Shaykh Sulayman Mazrui stopped his darsa at Masjid Bashaykh and joined the darsa of Sayyid Saggaf.   

Intellectual works
Shakyh Ali was among the pioneer writers in the intellectual history of the East Africa coast. He wrote Addurar al-Sabigha fi masalat ruyat al bari subhanau wa taala in Arabic during the period of Sayyid Majid (r.1856-1870).  During his visit to Zanzibar, Sayyid Majid gave him permission to respond to the Ibadhi book al-khulasat al-Damigha by Kadhi Muhammad bin Ali bin Muhammad al-Mandhiri.  Shaykh Ali wrote a number of commentaries which include; Dalail al Khayrat, Shamail al-Tirmidhi and a short biography of Ahl al-Badr.

He also commented on Tafsir al Jalalyn adding to his father Shaykh Abdalla's commentary. After the death of Shaykh Ali, the commentary was then passed to Shaykh Sulayman b. Khamis al-Marui who added to the commentary. Then the commentary was passed on this way to Shaykh Al-Amin (after the death of Shaykh Sulayman) then Shaykh Muhammad Qasim al-Marui and is still retained by Shaykh Munir b. Muhammad Qasim al-Mazrui.

Abdallah Swaleh Farsy, (1972) Baaadhi ya Wanavyuoni wa Kishafi wa Mashirki ya Afrika.

Harith Swaleh, (Ramadhan 1425/2004).Chaguo la Wanavyuoni, Mombasa: Bajaber Printing Press,

Gharib Yusuf Tamim. (2006). Maisha ya Sheikh Al-Amin bin Ali Mazrui Nairobi: Signal Press Ltd.


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