Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Asha Binti Awadh's Awqaf: Muslim Endurance despite Colonial Law in Mikindani, Tanganyika

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Asha Binti Awadh's Awqaf: Muslim Endurance despite Colonial Law in Mikindani, Tanganyika

Article excerpt

"there can be no branch of the law in which Muslim peoples who are subject to the jurisdiction of the British courts, or courts trained in English traditions, have been made to suffer so many frustrations-by the judicial infusion of alien ideas, by misinterpretation or basic ignorance of the Islamic doctrines, and even by what can only be termed a rigidity of mind which ill-accords with this illustrious traditionas the law of waqf."1

-J.N.D. Anderson

Mosques reflect the cultural landscape of coastal Tanganyika, yet the legal structures that sustained them have attracted only sporadic attention over the years. This article examines a conflict between an elderly waqf trustee and the colonial state in the township of Mikindani, Tanzanyika during the 1930s. Most scholarly work on Islam in East Africa focuses on larger, economically important Swahili towns; Mombasa and Zanzibar dominate the historical literature. Moreover, these towns became significant colonial spaces where Europeans established clear economic and administrative institutions. In contrast with these more formal Swahili settlements, Mikindani occupied a liminal position as a Swahili country-town, near a borderlands region within a poorly managed colonial state.2 Overland, Mikindani is roughly 552 km south of Dar es Salaam and forty- kilometers north of the Ruvuma River, in a shallow crescent-shaped inlet on the Indian Ocean.3 Mikindani's historical past was far richer than its condition under European rule.4 The town exhibited contradictory qualities depending upon perspective, its complex social composition, stone houses, and variety of mosques and temples suggested a cosmopolitan space.5 Yet, Mikindani declined in social and economic importance as German and British colonial rule shifted economic activities away from small coastal ports.6 By the 1930s, Mikindani existed on the spatial fringes of the colonial order, a district office with a minimal staff.7 Colonial officials claimed the town was "still a very insignificant place," I argue that this attitude helped to insulate Mikindani's religious endowments from larger shocks delivered by colonial efforts to reconfigure cultural practices to suit imperial economic needs.8

To develop this argument, I will analyze a conflict between an elderly waqf trustee and the colonial state in the township of Mikindani during the 1930s. Asha binti Awadh refused to cooperate when approached by the district officer (DO) and land officer, who wanted to alter the buildings and land under her protection.9 Her indifference to their appeals exposed the presence of a waqf in Mikindani, but more significantly a female mutawalli (trustee) over a decade after the last known female mutawalli in East Africa.10 The British Empire's complaint against Bibi Asha binti Awadh's awqaf opened several avenues of inquiry to understand why a waqf in Mikindani endured longer than the far wealthier waqf held by Bibi Khole and Bibi Jokha binti Hamoud of Zanzibar.11 Two critical questions emerged in discovering Bibi Asha's refusal to cooperate with the colonial state: why did some forms of waqf manage to endure while others faded away? And what role (if any) did women play as benefactors, trustees, and heirs? This case study provides an opportunity to ascertain how an important religious institution endured in Mikindani, for decades despite colonial manipulations. It further shows how new interpretations of inheritance rights affected waqf trustees as colonial laws interfered with African and Muslim practices. Challenges to awqaf rights and disposal by the colonial state revealed how the rhetoric about African rights to land fell away as administrative needs for offices, roads, and other structures took precedence.

Waqf and Colonial Traditions

Several different problems require further explanation before examining the wider implications of Bibi Asha's resistance to the colonial state. In addition to an analysis of how Africans and colonial officials approached legal conflicts during the 1930s, we must rise to J. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.