Zanzibari Muslim Moderns

Islamic Paths to Progress in the Interwar Period

September 2024 9781911723820 256pp
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Available as an eBook
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Zanzibari Muslim Moderns is a historical study of Zanzibar during the interwar years. This was a period marked by rapid intellectual and social change in the Muslim world, when ideas of Islamic progress and development were hotly debated. How did this process play out in Zanzibar?

Based on a wide range of sources—Islamic and colonial, private and public—Anne K. Bang examines how these concepts were received and promoted on the island, arguing that a new ideal emerged in its intellectual arena: the Muslim modern. Tracing the influences that shaped the outlook of this new figure, Bang draws lines to Islamic modernists in the Middle East, to local Sufi teachings, and to the recently founded state of Saudi Arabia. She presents the activities of the Muslim modern in the colonial employment system, as a contributor to international debates, as an activist in the community, and more. She also explores the formation of numerous faith-based associations during this period, as well as the views of the Muslim modern on everything from funerary practices and Mawlid celebrations to reading habits. A recurring theme throughout is the question with which many Muslim moderns were confronted: who should implement development? And for whom?


‘An engaging and well-written account of the dilemmas faced by Muslims in Zanzibar in the early twentieth century, as they negotiated a path between European modernity and the precepts of Islam.’ — Iain Walker, author of Islands in a Cosmopolitan Sea: A History of the Comoros

‘Intellectually rigorous, provocative and broadly accessible. Anne persuasively describes the life experiences of Muslim moderns of the antebellum period in Zanzibar through analysis of thought-provoking discourse by Islamist reformists. Read this book to understand Zanzibari life.’ — Hassan Mwakimako, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Pwani University

‘Engages the life history and poetry of a highly influential 20th-century scholar to describe how the modern project was “accented” for Zanzibar’s Muslims, and has significant implications for how we understand the role of East African voices in actively defining Islamic modernity.’ — Caitlyn Bolton, Assistant Professor, Boston College

‘At a time when Islam and modernity are often presented as contradictions, Bang’s book stands out for its nuanced approach. This is the culmination of lifelong research on the path taken by Muslims in Zanzibar, in their move from religious reform to national solidarity.’ — Issa Ziddy, Associate Professor of Religious Education, State University of Zanzibar

‘A brilliant analysis of the life and times of Burhan Mkelle, a Muslim scholar from Zanzibar. Through his writings, Anne Bang reveals the articulation of a uniquely modern Muslim sensibility and its role in shaping culture and education on the islands.’ — Nathaniel Mathews, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Binghamton University


Anne K. Bang is Professor of African Islamic History at the University of Bergen. She has published widely on Islamic intellectual exchanges in the Indian Ocean, and particularly on East Africa. She has also led several projects to bring the scriptural sources of this history to wider attention.

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