Ustadh Mau

Ustadh Mahmoud Mau at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi, 2009 (Source: Ustadh Mau’s private archive)On 20 February 1952, Muslim scholar, poet and imam Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir, commonly known as Ustadh Mau, was born on Lamu island. Since the 1970s, audio recordings and, to a lesser extent, printed versions of his poems have been circulating on the Kenyan coast and beyond. His poetry covers overarching sociopolitical issues and (often practical) matters of concern to the community.

Ustadh Mau never attended a secular state school; he received all his education in Swahili and Arabic from very renowned Islamic teachers at the local madrassa and Islamic institutes. Since 1985 he has been the imam of Pwani Mosque, the oldest mosque on Lamu. He was the first imam on Lamu to give his Friday sermons in Swahili. Beyond his ongoing role as imam, Ustadh Mau ran the family-owned bakery until 2005.

Between 1975 and 1978, Ustadh Mau was actively involved in local politics as a poet. In the election campaigns for the regional member of Parliament, he supported the local candidate, whom he saw as morally upright and a representative of justice. He composed a series of political poems under the title of Kimwondo (“Shooting Star”), in which praised his candidate and critisised the opponent. The poems became popular both within and beyond the Lamu area as its audio-cassette recordings were widely distributed and circulated. It is these compositions that established Ustadh Mau’s reputation as a poet to a wider public.

UstadhMau is a keen book collector. His private library houses Swahili Muslim manuscript poetry in ajami, and booklets and memoirs from the Middle East and India. Besides manuscript and print material, his library treasures include audio cassettes of his Friday sermons, delivered since 1986.  Roughly two thousand items from his personal library are presently being digitised under a MEAP grant (for more information on the digitisation porject see UMADA).

(Source: Ustadh Mahmoud Mau, Mtu wa watu (“A man of the people”): poet, imam, and engaged local intellectual / Kai Kresse and Kadara Swaleh. In: In this fragile world : Swahili poetry of commitment by Ustadh Mahmoud Mau. Leiden: Brill, 2023, pages 10-29.

Selected publications

In this fragile world : Swahili poetry of commitment by Ustadh Mahmoud Mau  / Poetry by Ustadh Mau (Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir). Translated and edited by Annachiara Raia and Clarissa Vierke, in collaboration with Jasmin Mahazi and Azra Ahmad Abdulkadir. Leiden ; Boston : Brill, [2023] (open acess)

Ustadh Mau : wasiya wa mabanati / mahojiano Azwaj Ali Mohamed.
[Lamu] : Maktaba ya sanaa, 2023

Angaliya baharini, mai yaliyoko pwani : the presence of the ocean in Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir's poetry / Annachiara Raia.
In: Lugha na fasihi : scritti in onore e memoria di = essays in honour and memory of Elena Bertoncini Zúbková, Napoli : Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale, 2019, pages 223-250

Mila yetu hufujika (“Our Traditions Are Being Destroyed”); KiswahiliTupijeni makamama (“Let’s Embrace”) / Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir.
In: Morality at the margins : youth, language, and islam in coastal Kenya / Sarah Hillewaert. - New York, NY : Fordham University Press [2019], pages 41–45, 114–120, and 187–190

Texts, voices and tapes : mediating poetry on the Swahili Muslim coast in the 21st Century / Annachiara Raia.
In: Matatu, volume 51 (2019), pages 139-168

Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir (mau): Mshairi mcheza kwao lakini asiyetuzwa / Timammy, Rayya.
In: Lugha na fasihi katika karne ya Ishirini na Moja. Kwa heshima ya marehemu Profesa Naomi Luchera Shitemi, edited by Mosol Kandagor, Nathan Ogechi, and Clarissa Vierke, Eldoret: Moi University Press, 2017, pages 231–242. 

Shaykh Mahmoud Abdulkadir "Mau" : a reformist preacher in Lamu / Rayya Timammy.
In: Annual Review of Islam in Africa, 2014, vol. 12., no. 2, pages 85-90. 

Kiswahili': a poem by Mahmoud Ahmad Abdulkadir to which is appended a list of the poet's compositions in verse / Mahmoud Ahmad Abdulkadir; P.J.L. Frankl.
In: Swahili forum, 2013 (20), p.1-18

Enduring relevance: samples of oral poetry on the Swahili coast / Kai Kresse.
In: Wasafiri, 2011, vol. 26, no. 2, pages 46-49

Thematising Election Politics in Swahili Epic: The Case of Mahmoud Abdulkadir / Rayya Timammy.
In:Songs and politics in Eastern Africa, edited by Kimani Njoguand Hervé Maupeu, Dar es Salaam [etc.] : Mkuki na Nyota Publishers [etc.], 2007, pages 303-314

Lessons from Kimondo: an aspect of Kiswahili culture / Assibi Apatewon Amidu.
In: Nordic Journal of African Studies, 1993, vol. 2, no. 1, pages 34–55

Kimwondo : a Kiswahili electoral contest / Assibi A. Amidu. - Wien : Afro-Pub, 1990

Listen to the recitations of Ustadh Mau's poem 'Wasiya wa mabanati'.

Interview with Ustadh Mau on the making of his library, its meaning and his wish for the future

Timeline of Kenyan poets via DBpedia and Wikidata