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Spread of Islam in the Interior of Kenya

North Eastern

  • The Galla and Borana are the main inhabitants of this area.
  • They are Eastern Cushites who originated from Arabia.
  • The conquest of the horn of Africa and parts of East Africa by the army of Abdul Malik bin Marwan of the Umayyad Dynasty in the 7th century played a key role in the spread of Islam in this region.
  • Inhabitants gradually embraced Islam and by the 8th century, momentum had grown due to strong trade links with the Arabs.
  • During dry seasons, several conflicts arose among the people over pasture.
  • This consequently led to movement from one place to the other in search of water and pasture for their animals.
  • It is from these movements that different people were able to interact with others and taught them about Islam.
  • In the 8th century, the Somalis were attacked by the Ethiopians and forced to move southwards to East Africa in search of safety.
  • After this movement, most of them settled permanently and help in the spread of Islam.
  • As they moved south west of the horn of Africa, the Hawiyas came across the Galla and Borana who had first posed an opposition to the teaching of Islam by the Somalis.
  • They attacked and displaced the weaker Boranas.
  • After some conflict over grazing land, the Gallas accepted Islam.
  • The two tribes of Galla and Hawiyas then inter married and gave birth to clans like Gure, Ajuran, and Rahwein who all practiced Islam.
  • However, not all the Boranas accepted Islam.
  • This is because of the long misunderstanding between them and the Somalis.
  • The Boranas held the view that Islam was for Somalis.
  • Christian Missionaries took advantage of this and converted most of the Boranas to Christianity.
  • When the Somalis reached river Tana, they met the Orma and inter married giving rise to the Wardi group, who occupied River Tana District.
  • Spread of Islam became even more effective in the 20th century when mobile sheiks from the coast visited North Eastern.
  • They built Madrassas and a mosque in Wajir, Mandera and Garissa.
  • This played a key role in the spread of Islam.
  • During the British colonial rule, the Somalis were employed as administrators.
  • Among them included District Commissioner Daudi Dabasso, al Hajj Galma Dido as the Government senior chief and Sayyid Mohammed, an Islamic reformer from British Somali land.

Central Kenya

  • In the 1920s, the colonial government most many of the Muslims to vacate the areas they had inhabited in Nairobi to pave way for racial zoning.
  • Most of them moved to Fort Hall (Nyeri and Murang’a).
  • These were the main centers of Islam in Mt. Kenya region.
  • Two brothers; namely Mohamad Mubarak Domani and Abeid Mubarak Domani from the coast were among the early Muslims in this region.
  • They built a mosque in Murang’a.
  • In 1920, an Islamic foundation was built in Embu under the guidance of Said Mubarak, Said bin Shams, Said bin Sultan, Ahmed Dawood, Salman bin Mughbir and Nondo bin Mughbir.
  • Inter marriage between these pioneers and the locals help spread of Islam.
  • Arab traders travelled extensively around Mt. Kenya and contructed mosques and madrassas.

Ukambani Area

  • This region is in the Eastern part of Kenya bordering the coast of Kenya to the South.
  • Islamic activities in this area were concentrated in Machakos and Kibwezi.
  • Due to its closeness with the coast of Kenya, the spread of Islam in this area took long following the Portugues attacks.
  • However, after the Portuguese were defeated, the Arabs and Swahilis travelled into the interior of Ukambani before the Europeans.
  • By mid 19th century, the relationship between the Akamba and the Arabs had grown stronger and the Akamba guaranteed Muslims security and protection.
  • Trade flourished between the Muslims and the Akambas for long.
  • They traded in beads, copper, cotton in exchange for grains, domestic animals and ivory.
  • Qur’an teachers like Maalim Tarimi and Said Ahmed Mubarak walked along with the traders, ready to teach those who embraced Islam.
  • Most of the Akambas who interacted with the Arabs embraced Islam.
  • However, the Arabs were not able to penetrate deeper into the interior due to hostile tribes like the Kikuyu, Nandi and Masai.
  • The situation became better for the Arabs during the construction of the Kisumu- Mombasa railway line.
  • The Asian railway constructors were Muslims and they preached Islam as they did their work.


  • Muslim missionary work started in the 19th century with Maalim Mtondoo from Tanga who settled in Pumwani.
  • He founded a small mosque here that soon attracted the Akambas and Kikuyus of Nairobi.
  • More other Muslims joined him to continue with the missionary work.
  • These early Muslims built Islamic villages in Nairobi.
  • These include; Kambi ya Wasomali in Pangani (The current Eastleigh): which had three mosques, Mji wa Mombasa in Ngara region and Mji wa Kabete in Port Smith.
  • In 1945, Hamisi Ngige, a Kikuyu student of Maalim Mtondoo became a figure to reckon with at Pumwani.
  • Other Sheikhs who were instrumental in the spread of Islam in this region were; Ali Bin Khalid, Muhdhar bin Mohammad and Sheikh Sheikhuna Mohammad.
  • Nairobi was also inhabited by some Sudanese who settled in Kibera.
  • Most of these Sudanese of Nubian origin were Muslims and therefore formed an Islamic village in Kibera and started preaching Islam.
  • The British government also played a major role in the spread of Islam in Nairobi and its environments.
  • They employed Muslims from the coast or of Somali origin as soldiers of the KAR (Kings African Rifle), porters or carriers for the military, and the early domestic servants of the British settlers and officials.
  • In addition to these groups, the Asian Muslims who had been constructing the Kenya Uganda railway decided to remain behind and settled along the Railway line.
  • They built mosques and madrassas and participated in the spread of Islam.
  • Pumwani still remained the center for Islamic activities.

Western Kenya

  • This part of the country includes both Nyanza and Western Provinces.
  • The Islamic activities were mainly in Mumias District of Kakamega County, Kisumu and Kendubay.
  • Between 1870 and 1885 A.D. the Swahili and Arab caravans started arriving in Mumias.
  • They brought with them merchandise like; cloths, salt, necklaces, utensils in exchange for ivory.
  • The first such group came in search of a rout to the famous Baganda Kingdom.
  • The paramount chief of the area, Nabongo Mumia welcomed the caravans and allowed them to settle in the area.
  • The first such caravan was led by Sharrif Hassan Abdullahi from Pangani District in Tanganyika.
  • The warm welcome by the chief made the Arab and Swahili traders to form settlements in the area.
  • The Mrima, Bajuni, Barawa and Comoran traders then established themselves and started teaching the natives Qur’an.
  • Nabongo later accepted Islam and became known as Muhammad Nabongo Mumia.
  • He became a key in the spread of Islam.
  • His subjects including his three brothers, Murunga, Mulama and Kadima and chiefs also accepted Islam and soon the local inhabitants of Wanga clan started embracing Islam.
  • The Swahili traders now established a good relationship with the Wanga people through their Paramount Chief.
  • They vowed to defend the Wangas and Bagandas from the frequent attacks of the Luos, Masais and Bukusus.
  • The Arabs and Swahili used guns to fight and protect the local community.
  • This in turn made the Paramount Chief to accept them as part of the community and they formed a village called Mjini.
  • Meanwhile, Sharrif Hassan sent more Muslim missionaries to this area.
  • Among them is Maalim Hamisi who went to teach in a town called Kwahalisi while Maalim Gazeti was sent to Sieywe (Kakamega), Maalim Masangeni went to Kisii while Sharrif Abubakar was sent to Bungoma.
  • During the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway line, the Asian Muslims reached Kisumu and formed Islamic families’ settling along the railway lines.
  • Villages like Manyatta were started by these Muslim settlers.
  • They acted as a stimulus in the Islamic activities in the area and in 1901, they constructed the Railway Mosque.
  • The Jamia Mosque and Madrassa in Kisumu were constructed in 1924.
  • The presence of Maalim Mwinyi Aqida Jeshi was also instrumental in the spread of Islma in the area.
  • In 1909, Nasir bin Ali with the help of other Arabs, laid a strong foundation of Islam at Kendubay.
  • The natives inter married with the Arabs, Asians and Swahili traders to increase the number of Muslims in the area.

The role of Nabongo Mumia in the spread of Islam in Mumias

  • He welcomed the Arab and Swahili traders in his territory and extended to them African hospitality.
  • He converted to Islam and was referred to by a Muslim name Muhammad.
  • He asked his chiefs and subjects to embrace Islam.
  • He used to practice Islamic rituals like Swalat, Saum and often used the Islamic greetings.
  • He allowed the Swahili traders to settle in Mumias and interact with the natives.
  • He organized missionary activities through his chiefs.
  • During his leadership, Muslim missionaries from Tanganyika were invited in order to preach Islam and settle disputes according to the Sharia.

Islam in Uganda


  • Uganda was ruled by Kings who hailed from various Kingdoms.
  • They include the Baganda (which was the most powerful), Bunyoro, Lango, Acholi and Toro kingdoms.
  • Muslim traders from the coast first arrived in Uganda in 1844.
  • The leader of this troup was Sheikh Ahmad bin Ibrahim from Tanganyika, who visited the courts of Kabaka Suna of the Buganda kingdom.
  • This kingdom used to call their kings by the title ‘Kabaka’. during this visit, they found out that the king used to order for the execution of people for the sacrifice of their pagan gods.
  • Sheikh Ahmad questioned this traditions and Kabaka Suna became interested in his beliefs.
  • Sheikh Ahmad then assigned Muley bin Salim to teach the Kabaka about Islamic beliefs.
  • However, Kabaka Suna died before embracing Islam and was succeeded by Kabaka Mutesa 1.

The role of Kabaka Mutesa 1 in the spread of Islam in Uganda

  • Kabaka Mutesa 1 succeeded Kabaka Suna in 1860 A.D.
  • This was a time when many Arab traders were visiting Uganda in search of ivory.
  • Barter trade existed between the Baganda and the Muslims with the exchange of ivory for goods like cloths, utensils, cotton, fire arms among others.
  • However, the most important tool for trade among the Baganda, were the fire arms.
  • They needed to use the superior weapons like guns to fight their enemies like the Bunyore Kingdom.
  • The good relationship between the Muslim traders and the Buganda Kingdom made the later to be interested in Islamic teachings.
  • In 1865 A.D, Kabaka requested the Muslim traders to start teaching Islam to the natives.
  • Mutesa declaired himself a Muslim in the same year and ordered his chiefs and the rest of the Kingdom to embrace Islam.
  • Kabaka had his tutor, Ali, who taught him some Arabic and how to recite the Qur’an.
  • The Baganda kingdom enjoyed Islamic rites for a long period of time with Kabaka himself declaring Islam as the state religion.
  • He made considerable efforts to strengthen Islamic teachings in his empire.
  • Among them include:
    • He ordered all his chiefs and subjects to embrace Islam and send messeges with gift to the neighbouring kingdoms asking them to join Islam.
    • He declared Islam as the state religion.
    • He held Qur’an recitation forums at his palace.
    • He offered employment to many Muslims as clerks and secretaries.
    • A central mosque was constructed in his palace and ordered all his chiefs to construct mosques in their regions.
    • He also encouraged family mosques to be constructed.
    • He stopped the Baganda tradition of killing people after the death of the King.
    • He approved the use of the Islamic calendar in his kingdom.
    • Islamic rituals like prayers, fasting were observed freely.
    • He strictly observed the daily and Jumua prayers.
    • The Arabic greeting was made the greeting of the state.
    • He ordered animals to be slaughtered according to the Islamic law.
  • Even though the Kabaka professed Islam, he refused to accept the Islamic circumcision rites because a Baganda king was forbidden from shedding blood.
  • This made some devoted Muslims to refuse to pray behind him.
  • They even refused to eat meat slaughtered by his butchers.
  • Kabaka was angered by this and he ordered for the execution of more then seventy Muslims as others ran to Zanzibar to seek refuge.
  • This incident was followed by the arrival of Christian missionaries led by H.N Stanely.
  • They visited the court of the Kabaka and convienced him to join Christianity.
  • In 1870, Mutesa converted to Christianity.
  • This conversion was a boost to the Christian mission and the leader of the Mission asked for more missionaries to be sent from Europe.
  • The Kabaka however reverted back to Islam in 1881 and went further to declaire Islam the state religion.
  • He died in 1884 professing Islam and was succeeded by his son, Kabaka Mwanga.
  • Kabaka Mwanga continued to enjoy the service of the Muslims which made him gain considerable influence.
  • He however did not convert to Islam or Christianity but chose to remain a traditionalist.
  • Mwanga then declared a war on the Christians by first plotting for the murder of Bishop Hannington then ordering for the execution of twenty two catholics and some Protestants.
  • This angered both the Muslims and Christians who united to overthrow him.
  • He sensed a strong opposition and felt he would be defeated.
  • He then fled across Lake Tanganyika.

Influence of Christianity in Uganda

  • We have earlier seen in this chapter that the coming of the Christian missionaries in Uganda saw the conversion of Kabaka Mutesa 1 to Christianity.
  • This was the beginning of the spread of Christianity in a state that had seen Islam flourish.
  • By 1877 A.D. more Christian missionaries had arrived in Uganda.
  • Missionary activities aimed at wiping out Islam were organized and many Muslims converted to Christianity.
  • In 1890, the Muslims by the help of Lugard, an agent of Imperial British East Africa (IBEA) were removed from Bunyoro.
  • The colonial government had now taken control of Uganda, both economically and politically.
  • The government supported Christian missions while blocking any attempts of the Muslims to liberate themselves.
  • In 1833, Captain Mac Donald spearheaded the removal of Muslims from top administrative positions.
  • The government offered gifts to the chiefs and the royal Kabaka family annually for supporting them.
  • The Christian missionaries established their mission schools with the aim of facilitating Bible teachings and spreading Christianity.
  • Muslims were denied access to formal education offered by the mission schools who were opposing the establishment of government schools.

Islam in Tanzania

  • The trade caravans from Arabia started arriving at the shores of Tanzania as early as 8th century.
  • These traders established themselves mostly at the coastal strip towns of Pangani, Tanga, Kilwa and Pemba.
  • It was not until 1830 A.D that they were able to acess the interior of Tanzania.
  • Sayyid Said was by then the Sultan of Zanzibar and had a strong influence both politically and religiously.
  • Great expansion of Islam in the interior of Tanganyika began during the German colonial period.
  • The Swahili were employed by the colonial government as messengers, guides.
  • Tabora and Ujiji were the two major areas where the Muslim traders arrived first.
  • We shall therefore look at the spread of Islam in these two areas:


  • Tabora is in central Tanzania and is inhabited by the Wanyamwezi.
  • This area was ruled by Chief Mirambo.
  • Through the Arab traders, Sayyid Said established good relationship with chief Mirambo.
  • The Arabs kept visiting Tabora to get important trade goods like ivory, slaves and precious stones.
  • The trade activities between the Arabs and the inhabitants of Tabora resulted in the Arabs building a small Swahili town near Tabora.
  • This town acted as an important deport for trade goods and a resting place for the caravans arriving from the coastal towns or Arabia.
  • Chief Mirambo used the Arab traders to strengthen his rule.
  • This made the Arabs to easily interact with the natives and teach them Islam.
  • Most of his chiefs accepted Islam and spread it further to the southern shores of Lake Victoria and the Southern strip of Lake Tanganyika.
  • The Arab and waswahili traders employed the Wanyamwezi convertees as potters, messengers, solders and traders.
  • As they moved further into the interior, they were able to convience many others to embrace Islam.


  • This was a town close to Tabora and a trading and resting centre for the Swahili traders moving across to Congo.
  • Ujiji had important trade items like bananas and ivory which encouraged the Arabs to keep visiting the area.
  • The Muslims established a good relationship with the inhabitants of Ujiji thus influencing their culture and religion.
  • This area was close to the sea which gave the Arabs easy access.
  • It also had a good flourishing port that was used to receive and transport goods by the traders.
  • Muslim teachers arrived from Ujiji and helped in the spread of Islam in the area.
  • Ujiji had more than fifty flat roofed Arabic houses that hosted the Swahili and Arab traders.
  • Increase in the number of converts saw the construction of mosques and madrassas to facilitate teaching of Islam.
  • Mohammad bin Hamid, commonly known as Tipu Tipu was a renowned trader who lived in this area and helped to protect the Arab traders.

The Roles of Jumbes and Akidas in the Spread of Islam in Tanzania

The Jumbes and Akidas were appointed as administrators in their communities, hence played a very influential role to their subjects in the spread of Islam.

  • They embraced Islam and this influenced their subjects to convert to Islam.
  • They adopted the Islamic culture and traditions i.e. mode of dressing, housing and greetings that were influenced by the Arabs.
  • They practiced polygamy thus increasing the Muslim population.
  • They accepted the establishment of mosques and madrassas as symbols of Islamic identity.
  • Some leaders preached Islam to their subjects. Most of them converted to Islam.
  • Their political and economical position in the society made them have wider social interaction with their subjects and this made them to be gradually attracted to Islam.

Contributions of Muslims in East Africa


  • They contribute to the formation of constitutions for their countries.
  • Muslim’s serve as representatives in the houses of parliament and the senates for their respective countries.
  • Muslims contribute ideas in the running of the government.
  • Help in peace keeping through sermons in the mosques.
  • Muslims have been included in different parliamentary committees to spearhead reforms in their countries.
  • Muslims have been included in different Parliamentary Committees to spearhead reforms in their respective countries.
  • They are ambassadors who represent their countries in other nations.
  • The Kadhi’s office in the judiciary plays an intermediary role between the Muslim and the governments.
  • Participate in civic education forums.
  • Serve in the defence forces in different categories.


  • Participate in the education sector as educationists, administrators, Curriculum developers, head teachers, tutors, writers, examiners, policy makers, and school managers.
  • They establish homes and orphanages for the destitute members in the society.
  • Establish relief organizations like WAMY, MUSLIM AID to assist in disaster management e.g. food relief programs.
  • Provide water and sanitation services by establishing water projects such as wells to reduce water shortages to the members of the society.
  • They initiate welfare programs such as monthly ration supply, monthly financial services to the widows, burial services and other welfare services.
  • They set up association to promote Medicare services which train doctors, nurses and also facilitates research on health matters.
  • Participate in the environmental conservation programmes such as African Muslim Environmental Network in executing their action plans to promote environmental sustainability.
  • Participate in sports and games both at local and international levels.

Economic development

  • Muslim traders and business men are engaged in the wholesale and retail business.
  • Have made contributions in the transport and communication sector as managers, workers, transporters and clearing and forwarding services.
  • Have also engaged in commerce and industry either as a worker or employers.
  • They are also working in Agriculture and animal husbandry.
  • Working in fisheries involved in commercial fishing.
  • The newly introduced Islamic banks provide employment and promote banking industry.
  • They participate in the printing and publishing industry as Publishing managers, authors, writers, book reviewers, editors and employees.
  • They are also in Hotel business and also work and run the tourism industry.
  • Participate in the international business.
  • They run or sponsors institutions which offer skills necessary for employment or self- employment.

Challenges faced by Muslims in East Africa

  • Even though Islam spread in most parts of East Africa, and has been embraced by most ethnic groups as a universal religion of truth, there were challenges that continually faced the Muslims in this region.
  • Among these challenges were:
    • Arab traders were associated with slave trade which negatively impacted on the spread of Islam.
    • The East African Coast had unfavourable weather conditions. i.e. The weather was either too hot or too cold.
    • The Arabs suffered from tropical diseases.
    • The arrival of Christian Missionaries and spread of Christianity slowed down the Islamic activities in East Africa.
    • Some of the communities were too harsh and hostile on foreigners and would attack their troops.
    • The colonial government supported the Christian Missionaries while sidelining any attempts to spread Islam or Muslim activities.
    • The Muslims lacked organized missionary activities to advance the spread of Islam.
    • The Arabs had very little knowledge of the interior and had a difficulty in moving around the interior due to thick forests, hills and mountains that were impassable.
    • Muslims in East Africa lacked unity which made it difficult to co-ordinate the spread of Islam.
    • The Muslims lacked Islamic books (like Qur’an or Hadith) and other materials that would guide the converts in understanding Islam better.
    • Portuguese conquest of the East African Coast led to constant attacks to the Arab traders.
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