Born in Zanzibar on February 12, 1912 to a well distinguished family, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy studied the Qur'an from Fatma Hamid Said (1854-1936), a student of Sheikh Amin bin Ahmed who taught Qur'an at Jongeani village, where Sheikh Abdullah Farsy was born and raised.
Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy memorised the Qur'an and large portions of Ahadith at a very young age. His strong desire for Islamic and secular education was insatiable and while other people of his age engaged in leisurely activities, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy was almost always seen deeply engrossed over a new Islamic book. He loved reading so much so that most of his life was engaged in his huge home library.
When Sheikh Abdullah Saleh al-Farsy died, he was the most accomplished and respected ulama in the Swahili-Islamic World. His incomparable contribution to Islam reached its peak with the publication of his 807-page QUR'AN TAKATIFU (Glorious Qur'an), the first accepted complete translation into Swahili.
This enthusiastic and brilliant young scholar was lucky because at that time, Zanzibar retained some of the centuries old Islamic educational institutions. They were filled with students under the guidance of intellectual ulama such as Sheikh Abu Bakr bin Abdullah bin Bakathir (1881-1943), a renowned student of Sayyid Ahmed bin Abu Bakr al-Sumait (1961-1925) whom Sheikh Abdullah Saleh considered him as the greatest Islamic scholar East (and Central) Africa has ever produced.
In 1922, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy enrolled the BARZA MOSQUE after two ULAMA (Scholars) asked him to do so. First, was Sayyid Hamid bin Mansab (1902-1965) who taught him RISALATUL JAMI'A, an elementary Islamic Studies. This IMAM (Leader) of FORODHANI MOSQUE died during the DARSA at the GOFU MOSQUE. He was a student of Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Rahman Makhzymy (1877-1946), one among the teachers of Abdullah Saleh Farsy. Second, was Sayyid Alawy bin Abdul Wahab (1902-1960) who taught him 12 books on FIQH, Arabic and commentary of MARDFIN RABBIYYAH about inheritance.
Besides mastering the rudimentary teaching of Islam at the BARZA MOSQUE, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy excelled in Arabic grammar. In his 20s, he was writing Arabic poems, indicating the high level of education that the Zanzibar ulama were capable of disseminating at the time.
Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy studied under the tutelage of many great ulama such as Sheikh Ahmed bin Muhammad al-Mlomry (1873-1936) who taught him 25 books, including the TAFSIR (Exegesis) known as the JALALAYN, after Jalal al-Din Mahali (1389-1450) and Jalal al-Din Suyut (1445-1505), eminent Shafi'i ulama of Syria and Egypt, respectively.
When Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy completed all his instruction at the BARZA MOSQUE, Sheikh Ahmed bin Muhammad al-Mlomry allowed him to teach at the BARZA MOSQUE during Ramadhan under his supervision, analogous to an internship in our modern parlance.
He studied from Sheikh Abu Bakr (1881-1943), the son of Sheikh Abdullah bin Abu Bakr Bakathir (1860-1925), a student of Sheikh Ahmed bin Abu Bakr al-Sumait. Sheikh Abu Bakr bin Abdullah bin Bakathir who taught him more Fiqh than other ULAMA in Zanzibar, attended the DARSA of Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsi to give him incentive. He appointed him the IMAM for WITRI from 1933 until October 28, 1939, when he also allowed him the Qur'an reciter in the GOFU MOSQUE and led the FAJR prayers until 1966, when he was replaced by his sister's son Saleh bin Salim bin Zagar.
Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy studied from Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Rahman al-Makhzymy many volumes of FIQH (Jurisprudence), including FUTH AL-MUIN and IKNAI, which was first taught by Sheikh Abdullah bin Abu Bakr bin Bakathir in 1917 at the GOFU MOSQUE. He also taught him the science of determining the proper hours of worshipping and direction of the QIBLA. Although Sheikh Abdullah Saleh first studied MINHAJ AT-TABIN by the GREAT Shafi'i ULAMA Sheikh Zakariya Muhyddin Yahya Sharaff ad-Din al-Nawawi (1213-1277), he then studied it from Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Rahman al-Makhzymy.
The canonical standing of this book in Zanzibar goes back to Imam Abu Hamid bin Muhammad al-Ghazzali (1058-1111), professor of Nidhamiyyah Shafi'i Muslim Academy in Baghdad. He was a student of Imam of HARAMAYN Ahmed Malik al-Jawayti (d. 1085) to Ayoub al-Buwati (d. 845), a student of IMAM Mohammad Idriss al-Shafi'i (767-820), founder of the Shafi'i School, the most dominant in both Zanzibar and Egypt. Sheikh Muhsin bin Ali bin Issa Barwan taught him at the GOFU MOSQUE. He was the first ulama, who in 1944, allowed Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy to teach JALALAYN at the BARZA MOSQUE during the Ramdhan. Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy after studied it under Sheikh al-Amin Ali bin Abdullah bin Nafi al-Mazrui (1875-1947), who popularized the profound ideas of ISLAMIC MODERNISM as expounded by Muhammad Abduh (1845-1905), teacher of Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad Mlomry at Al-Azhar University of Egypt. Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy also received several IJAZA (Certificates) from Sheikh Umar bin Ahmed bin Abu Bakr al-Sumait (b. 1896) who taught him several books on FIQH, MANTIQ (Logic) and HADITH, among others. Unfortunately, this great ULAMA left to Yemen in 1965 due to Zanzibar dictatorship under the Christian-led government of Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
The intellectual performance of Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy in secular education was equally impressive. He was so excellent in his secular education at the Central Primary School which he joined in 1924, that the English teacher did not know which specific class to enroll him. Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy completed the recommended eight-year primary education for five years only.
Among his famous school teachers were Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed bin Seif (1900-1940) and Sheikh Abdul Bary hired by Sayyid Ali bin Humoud (1902-1911) from Al-Azhar University. For twenty years in Zanzibar, Sheikh Abdul Bary propagated Pan-Islamism and Islamic Modernism against British imperialism before the publication of QUR'AN TAKATIFU.
The QUR'AN TAKATIFU by Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy was written between 1950-1967, when ideas of nationalism and secularism in Zanzibar were vague. According to Dr. Imtiyaz Yusuf, QUR'ANI TAKATIFU reflects the influences of Islamic Modernism of Sayyid Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) and Muhammad Abduh (1845-1905) as a response and component of Islamic intellectual thought in Zanzibar
But QUR'AN TAKATIFU was also a response to the Swahili translation of the Qur'an undertaken by the Rev. Godfrey Dale, a Christian Missionary in Zanzibar. His translation was meant to help the African Christian teachers employed by the University Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), founded in 1873 by the the Rev. Dr. David Livingston (1813-1873) in Zanzibar.
The translation contains 542 pages and 142 pages of comments for the (non-Arabic) text. It was published in 1923 by the London-based Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The translation was written according to the so called Zanzibar Swahili.
Because his translation reflected
the Christian apologetics and was not acceptable to Muslims, Sheikh Mubarak
bin Ahmed bin Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyah Muslim in East Africa started
his translation in 1936 which was approved by Christian Missionaries and
Orientalists in Zanzibar:
In order to challenge the Christian and Ahmadiyah translations, it was deemed essential to have an "authoritative" translation of the Qur'an. This task was shouldered by Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy, who had prayed to Allah (SWT) that he should not die until he finished his Swahili Qur'anic translation.
This noble idea began when he published his first book called MAISHA YA MTUME MUHAMMAD (pbuh) which was followed by SURA ZA SALA NA TAFSIRI ZAKE (1950). Before Sheikh Abdullah Saleh expressed his criticism of the Ahmadiyah translation in booklet; UPOTOFU WA TAFSIRI YA MAKADIANI, he had already published translation and commentary of SURAH YASEEN, AL-WAQIYAH and AL-MULK with the Arabic text prior to the publication of Qadiyani in 1953. They were printed by A.A. Vasingstake in England and published in 1950 at Zanzibar.
His main translation based on the JALALAYN as his classical source, began to be published one JUZ at a time in 1956 and by 1961 twelve JUZ were published. Due to financial problem, the complete translation sponsored by the Islamic Foundation, appeared in 1969. A generous donation from the Sultan of Qatar, Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali Thani made it possible to distribute 4,000 copies free of charge and offered the remaining 3,000 copies for the reduced price of ten shillings. Since 1950s to 1960s were the era of an intense anti-Ahmadiyah campaign by the JAMAAT EL-ISLAMI in Pakistan, the meritorious efforts of Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy received a welcome support from Sheikh Abdul Maududi (1903-1979), the Chief of JAMAAT EL-ISLAMI. Despite the differences of approaches and attitudes between Islamist trends in Pakistan and in Zanzibar, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy made no distinction between Ahmadiyas and Qadiyanis as opposed in Pakistan. He simply called them MAKADIYANI (Qadianis) or MAKAFIRI (Infidels).
It was Islamic Foundation of Nairobi, an organization sympathetic to JAMAAT EL-ISLAMI, published Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy's translation. Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy stated that Maududi had given his personal consent for the publication of QUR'ANI TAKATIFU. Likewise, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy acknowledged the translation of Maududi's QUR'AN FAHMI KE BUNYADI USUL (Msingi wa Ufahamu Quran) and allowed his introduction of commentary TAFHIM AL-QUR'AN (1949) in QUR'ANI TAKATIFU.
After completing his Teachers Training College (TTC), Sheikh Abdullah became a primary school teacher (1932-1947) and following a series of promotions for his hard work and diligence, he was appointed the Inspector General of Primary Schools in Zanzibar and Pemba (1949-1952) by the British Colonial Administration operating from the Sultan's palaces. He was later made the Principal of the Muslim Academy Secondary School (1952-1956) before being appointed the Headmaster (1957-1960) of the Arabic Medium School. He performed HAJJ (Pilgrimage) in March 1960 and left the Ministry of Education in 1967 when he was a teacher at the Teachers' Training College.
In 1960, he was appointed as the Chief Kadhi of Zanzibar, a post he held for seven years until he migrated to Kenya. He left Zanzibar after the bloody CRUSADE in the name of the ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION on January 12, 1964 that rocked the whole African history and installed one of the most brutal dictatorships, hostile to Islamic identity in Zanzibar.
His host in Kenya was Sheikh Muhammad Kassim al-Mazrui, a lifelong friend and fellow student under Sheikh al-Amin bin Ali al-Mazrui, who taught Islam in Zanzibar. Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy was no stranger in Kenya where his reputation as a leading scholar had preceded him. The retired Sheikh Muhammad Kassim al-Mazrui who recommended him to the post of Chief Kadhi of Kenya, a request that President Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1979) had no misgivings about him. For over 14 years till the time of his retirement in 1980, he was the Chief Kadhi of Kenya, a titular function he performed so remarkably.
Besides his Qur'anic translation, which is so popular that it was nearly impossible to get a copy, Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy authored over 100 books and pamphlets in both Arabic and Swahili. About half of them were published but some of his published books are difficult to get them such as the IMAM SHA'FI NA WANAVYUONI WA AFRIKA MASHARIKI (Imam Mohammad Idriss al-Shafi'i (767-820), and the Great Muslim Scholars in East Africa), which qualifies to be his doctoral dissertation.
Sheikh Abdullah Saleh Farsy
passed away on November 9, 1982, barely eight months after he had left
Kenya to join his family in Mascut, Oman. This death was mourned throughout
East Africa. While the loss to this East African Muslim is irreparable,
his legacy will remain for along time etched in memories, his accomplishments
and achievements, a proud monument of his unrivalled devotion to his beloved