Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet (SAW) said: “Knowledge is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.”
Few in the East African region have embodied this hadith as Professor Ali Mazrui did — an icon and intellectual of Africa who sadly passed away on Sunday in the United States. Born and raised in Mombasa, Professor Ali Mazrui had an inspirational journey to greatness. He began his education in Mombasa and then got a scholarship by the colonial government in Kenya to go to Great Britain in 1955 to complete his secondary education at Huddersfield Technical College at Huddersfield in the UK (1955–1957). There he won the Gladstone Memorial Prize in 1956 and an Essay Competition on Diplomatic History in 1957.
He then pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Manchester with minors in English Literature and Arabic Studies, which he passed with distinction. During this time, he also won the Wagner Prize, an essay competition in 1959. Upon graduation, he won the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to pursue a year-long Masters Degree at Columbia University, New York. These are just a glimpse of his achievements.
His meteoric rise in the world of academia does not come as a surprise given his early achievements. Ali Mazrui became a full professor at Makerere University even before he had finished his doctorate at Oxford. Among the many honors he received, he was named a top 100 public intellectual in 2005 by the British journal Prospect and was in the list of the top 500 Influential Muslims in the world.
His vast number of works covered historic and contemporary issues and Professor Mazrui was particularly passionate about Pan-Africanism. In the video embedded below, Professor Mazrui explores the depth of exploitation of the African continent. Ironically, considering he was a leading Pan-Africanist, Professor Mazrui spent his latter years teaching and lecturing in the West about Africa rather than in the once centers of knowledge that were Timbuktu and Zanzibar.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say, “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but rather He takes away knowledge when the scholars die, such that He leaves no scholar behind and the people turn to the ignorant as their leaders. They are asked to give religious judgments without knowledge, thus they are led astray and lead others astray.”
Source: Sahih Bukhari 100, Sahih Muslim 2673
Professor Mazrui died at the age of 81. At the time of his death, he was a Professor at Binghamton University in New York. We have truly lost an icon and a tremendous treasure of the African people. We hope that he has inspired a few of the current generation to follow in his footsteps so that we may not languish in ignorance. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and grant him Jannatul Firdaus. Ameen.