Although it is unknown whether Abdul al-aziz al-Amawi was sixteen, or eighteen, what is established is that as a teenager, he was entrusted with a highly important position acting as judge of Kilwa. Kilwa was one of the major East African city-states that traded across the Indian Ocean. From such a momentus beginning, this scholar, born in Barawa, Somalia, in 1838, became an ambassador, writer, historian, lexicographer and translator.
His ambassadorial duties were undertaken on behalf of the Omani (Bu Saidi) rulers, who moved their centre of operations, from Muscat to Zanzibar – where al-Amawi was appointed Qadi (judge), after fulfilling that task so well at Kilwa. The diplomatic travels took him into the East African mainland, as well as along the coast.
Amongst his diverse writings, one of his better known is a history of the Bu Saidi dynasty – which commences with their Zanzibari residence. Another, is the poem Iqd al-la ali (Necklace of Pearls), which pays homage to monotheism.
To bolster levels of literacy amongst the general community, he began the compilation of a Swahili-Arabic dictionary, which was unfinished at his death.
His great facility with words, took him into the world of translation – and inter-faith interaction.
Some of his writings are held in the Zanzibar National Archives, which due to the wealth of their contents, was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Registar.
Abd al-Aziz al-Amawi, died in 1896, holding the judgeship of Zanzibar; a true polymath, respected along the East African coast – from homeland Somalia, to the Comorro Islands.
© Natty Mark Samuels, 2015. African School.