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October 27, 2020

Black History Month

This month we have put together a series of blogs, that will focus on and celebrate, the rich Islamic history and culture of some of the countries Islamic Relief works in.

In this blog, we will explore the history and culture of Kenya, Islamic relief started working in Kenya back in 1993


Independence: 12th December 1963
Population: 47 million (2019)
Religion: Christianity, Islam
Official Languages: Swahili, English

Kenya has one of the Muslim oldest communities in the region, Muslims can be said to have been culturally and socially the most influential community in Kenya prior to the beginning of the colonial era in 1895. After all, for a large part of its history, the administration of the coastal area by the Indian Ocean remained completely in the hands of Muslim states. Islam was first introduced to the region in 685 by Muslims from Oman, and the first mosque was built in 830. The interaction that developed along economic and religious lines further developed through marriages and gave birth to the mixed Arab-African culture and language of Swahili.

After the 1200s, thanks to maritime trade, coastal cities such as Mombasa, Kilwa, Lamu, and Malindi were established with completely Muslim populations. Today around 11% of Kenya’s population is Muslim and these populations are found almost entirely on the eastern coast. The port city of Mombasa is one of the most vital economic, cultural, and religious hubs in the country. The city has a long history as a trading hub but also a dark one has been marked by slavery, conquest, and war.

Ruins of Fort Jesus in Mombasa

Vasco da Gama was the first known European to visit Mombasa, receiving a chilly reception in 1498. Two years later, the town was sacked by the Portuguese. In 1502, the sultanate became independent from Kilwa Kisiwani and was renamed Mvita (in Swahili) or Manbasa (Arabic). Portugal attacked the city again in 1528. In 1585, a joint military expedition between the Somalis of the Ajuran Empire and the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, led by Emir ‘Ali Bey, successfully captured Mombasa and other coastal cities in Southeast Africa from the Portuguese. Despite this, the Portuguese reconquered the town in 1589, and four years later they built Fort Jesus to administer the region. The Portuguese would rule the town for 109 years until the capture of Fort Jesus in 1698, by the Imamate of Oman.

Mombasa was relinquished by Oman to the British East Africa Association and later the Imperial British East Africa Company, the city came under full British administration in 1895. The city became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate in 1897 until the capital was shifted from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1905.

Notable Muslims

Ali Mazrui

Ali Mazrui was an academic, professor, and political writer on African and Islamic studies and North-South relations. He was born in 1903 in the port city of Mombasa, Kenya. Mazrui attended primary school in Mombasa, where he recalled having learned English specifically to participate in formal debates before he turned the talent for writing. Journalism, according to Mazrui, was the first step he took down the academic road. In addition to English, Mazrui also spoke Swahili and Arabic.

Mazrui set off a tsunami of criticism in 1986 by writing and hosting “The Africans: A Triple Heritage”. He was the son of Al-Amin Bin Ali Mazrui, the Chief Islamic Judge in Kadhi courts of Kenya Colony. His father was also a scholar and author, and one of his books has been translated into English by Hamza Yusuf as “The Content of Character”, to which Ali supplied a foreword. Ali Mazrui died in New York in 2014 aged 81, his work continues to impact African studies and he is regarded as one of Africa’s foremost intellectuals.


Although Kenya is centered at the equator, it shares the seasons of the southern hemisphere: with the warmest summer months in December–March and the coolest winter months in June–August, again with differences in temperature varying by location within the country. Due to the vast amounts of highlands in the country, Kenya is a leading producer of tea and coffee. The country is also the third-leading exporter of fresh produce, such as cabbages, onions and mangoes. Small farms grow most of the corn and also produce potatoes, bananas, beans, peas, and chilies.

Tourism also plays a huge role in the economy of the country, in fact, Kenya hosts the largest Safari park in the world. The Masai Mara Game Reserve is located in the southwest of Kenya, running along the Tanzanian border and occupying a 1,510 km square area. Kenya is currently the third-largest tourism economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife – tourism generated 7.2 billion and 1.1 million jobs to the Kenyan economy in 2018. 


Kenya has a diverse population that includes many of the major ethnic-racial and linguistic groups found in Africa. There are an estimated 47 different communities, with Bantus (60%) and Nilotes (30%) constituting the majority of local residents. Cushitic groups also form a small ethnic minority, as do Arabs, Indians, and Europeans.

Incorporating the spices of the early Arab settlers, the tastes of the East African Indian railway workers, and the sweet offerings of the Swahili coastline, the local food scene in Kenya is diverse, rich, and delicious.

Ugali is the main Kenyan staple. It’s a dish made of maize flour, though it’s sometimes made of millet or sorghum flour. It’s made by adding the maize flour to boiling water until you get a dough-like consistency. It’s a bodybuilding food and a good source of iron

Mandazi is a popular fried doughnut sugar-coated doughnut most often savored at early-morning school breaks. Infused with delicious hints of cardamom and sweet coconut milk, mandazi is found generously covered in icing sugar. It is mainly eaten with tea and coffee after a meal.

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