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Habib Swaleh - Founder

Riyadha Mosque

HABIB SWALEH – FOUNDER
His name is Swaleh bin Alwy bin Abdallah bin Hassan bin Ahmad bin Abdallah bin Ahmad bin Harun bin Abdulrahman bin Ahmad bin Abdallah bin Sheikh Muhammad Jamaalu Leyl. His noble lineage ascends upto and through Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (R.A) with his wife Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). Imam Ali bin Abi Talib is the a first cousin (paternal) of the Prophet.

Habib Swaleh’s father Sayyid Alwy was born and raised in the Commoros Islands. Like his ancestors, Sayyid Alwy grew up to become a very devoted Quranic teacher. He was also a talented tailor and thus was nicknamed “Fundi Alawi” by his peers, although in the Commoros Islands the title “fundi” (literally translated as Master in English) also referred to “teacher” easpecially Quranic teachers. Sayyid Alwy married, Maryam binti Ali, a commorian native from the Nye Rajab clan and through her Habib Swaleh was born in the year 1852 C.E. in Singani.

Habib Swaleh had the following brothers:
Twahir, Abdullah, Abdulrahman (Mwenye Abudi), Muhammad
Sayyid Alwy was blessed with a very long and fruitful life. When he died in 1895 C.E, he was well over a hundred years old. The Young Habib Swaleh was brought up in a very religious and academic environment. His own father had initiated him in the learning of the Qur’an at a very tender age. As a teenage boy, himself and the famous Zanzibari scholar Sayyid Abubakar bin Ahmad bin Smeit were put under the tutorship of the Great Commorian scholar Sayyid Muhammad bin Abdullah (Mwenye Ba Hassan). Sayyid Muhammad bin Abdullah had acquired his scholarship in the Hejaz and was a student of the Mufti of Mecca, Sayyid Ahmad bin Zayn Dahlan, for many years. Sayyid Muhammad bin Abdullah was Sayyid Alwy’s paternal uncle, thus was Habib Swaleh’s grandfather.

In 1870 C.E Habib Swaleh aged 18 years travelled to Lamu to visit his uncle Sayyid Ali bin Abdullah whad migrated and settled there in 1847 C.E. The main reason for the visit was to seek medication for a illness which had affected his legs.

Upon reaching Lamu, Habib Swaleh took to learning under the then Lamu’s top scholars including his uncle. After a year, his father ordered him to go to the Commoros Islands and even sent his son, Sayyid Muhammad, to travel back with him. By this time, Habib Swaleh had greatly fallen in Love with Lamu and did not want to go back to Commoros Islands but he had no choice and had to accompany his brother back home.

Habib Swaleh was never again happy with life in Comoros Islands. It is said his unhappiness was due to the extravagant lifestyle that was prevalent in the Islands as that time especially during the weddings. He stayed in the Commoros Islands for about one year leading a very segregated lifestyle, he refused to mingle with his friends and even family members. He longed to go back to Lamu. This strange behaviour worried his parents very much and after consultations and on the advice of Sayyid Muhammad bin Abdullah (Mwenye Ba Hassan), Habib Swaleh’s father allowed him to travel to Lamu. A jubilated Habib Swaleh moved to Lamu and never went back to the Commoros Islands.

In Lamu, Habib Swaleh became very active in studies and for many years learnt under very able scholars such as:

  • Sayyid Alwy bin Abu Bakr Ashatry
  • Al-Habib Abu Bakr bin Abdulrahman Al-Hussein (Mwenye Manswab)
  • Sheikh Ali bin Muhammad Al-Maawy
  • Sayyid Ahdal bin Abu Bakr Al-Ahdal


On graduation in Islamic Studies, Habib Swaleh was made the Imam of Sheikh Biladi Mosque in the Langoni area where he remained the Imam until the completion of the construction of Riyadha Mosque. At Sheikh Biladi and Riyadha mosques, Habib Swaleh taught many students who later became leading scholars in East and Central Africa in their own right. Among his most famous students include:

  • Sheikh Salim Juma’an Al-Qaiswary
  • Sheikh Muhammad bin Ali Al-Maawy
  • Sheikh Ali bin Hassan Al-Qumury
  • Sheikh Fadhil Khalifah Mansurin
  • Sayyid Ahmad Badawy – his son
  • Sayyid Aidarus – his son
  • Sayyid Ali bin Sayyid Ahmad Badawy – his grandson.


Indeed the list of Habib Swaleh’s students is endless.
He was also blessed with a very large family. He married several women and bore a number of children. This was no doubt one way of propagating and populrising the mission of Riyadha amongst a cross section of Lamu residents of different classes and strata.

His main achievement was the founding of the Riyadha Mosque and its Academy. He was the pioneer scholar who revolutionised the system of Islamic education in the whole of East and Central Africa by introducing boarding facilities for students. When he opened his boarding Islamic school in Lamu in 1889 C.E even the most famous English missionary schools in East Africa were non existent.

His other major achievement was the initiation of the annual Maulid Festival in Lamu which has become a major yearly international event with visitors across the globe flocking to Lamu during the celebrations.
Apart from being a Qur’anic teacher, Habib Swaleh was also a very talented physician who specialised in classical arabic medicine.

He lived a very humble, religiously devoted and fruitful life and passed on in 1935 C.E in Lamu where his tomb still attracts many devotees.

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