Muslims in Kenya



Allah Almighty approved Islam as the last of Divine religions to make people emerge from the darkness of polytheism to the light of monotheism. Thus Holy Mecca was the cradle of Islam; then the sun of Islam rose and eventually shone on the Globe. In our reportages, we always seek to cover the spread of Islam and to acquaint the dear reader with an idea about the history of Islam in all countries in the five continents; one of these countries is the African Republic of Kenya.


Kenya lies in the eastern part of the African Continent. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the East, Uganda to the West, Victoria Lake to the South West, Tanzania to the South, Ethiopia to the North, Somalia to the North West, and Sudan to the North East.

Area and Population

The area of Kenya is 580,367 square kilometres, its capital and largest city is Nairobi, and its population is 52,574,000 as per 2019 estimates. Indigenous people constitute about 98% of the population. The other diverse ethnic groups include Asian Indians, Europeans (mainly British), and Arabs. Christians form 60% of the population, Muslims 35%, and Jews and other religions 5%.

Kenya’s various ethnic groups typically speak their mother tongues within their own communities. Still the overwhelming majority of Kenyans speak Swahili in addition to their local tongue. Moreover, many learned Kenyans know English – the official language of the country. The official currency is the Kenyan shilling (KES).


The topology of Kenya includes several regions:

The coastal areas: The coast on the Indian Ocean has beautiful shores and coastal salty lakes and Mangrove wetlands. The low plains comprises three fourth of Kenya’s area, and they rise gradually from sea level at the coast to central highlands to a latitude of about 1200 meters.

The Kenyan Highlands: They are to the South West of Kenya, and they include mountains, hills, and plateaus. The eastern side highlands is the site of the highest point in Kenya and the second highest peak on the continent: Mount Kenya, which reaches 5,199 meters above sea level.

Tthe Capital Nairobi

Kenya’s climate varies from tropical along the coast to temperate inland to arid in the north and northeast parts of the country.   The temperature and humidity remain high in coastal areas and nearby valleys, whereas temperature decreases and rain increases in mountainous areas. Further to the north, rain fall decreases.


European colonisation of Kenya began in the 19th century during the European exploration of the interior. First, Imperial Germany set up a protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar›s coastal possessions in 1885. Years later, Britain announced Kenya a crown colony.

Numerous disputes between the UK and the colony led to the Mau Mau revolution, which began in the early fifties, pursuant to the tough feeling of persecution Kenyans suffered from, for when the Kenyan soldiers returned from their service in the lines of the British Army, they found that the colonial authorities had seized their houses and lands and offered them as a reward to the British returning from war. This was in addition to several aspects of oppression the Kenyan people were subject to which included besides seizing their lands and granting it to the White, imposing high taxes on the Kenyans.  The Mau Mau movement launched several wars and minor battles to restore the seized lands, what resulted in the colonial troops arresting a great number of the Kenyan people. Besides, hunger and diseases spread wide in the country.

Finally, Kenya could gain independence on October 12, 1963, with Jomo Kenyatta as its first president. The name of the state of Kenya was derived from the name of this leader. In 1964, the independent Republic of Kenya was formed.

Form of Government:

Kenya is a presidential representative democratic republic, in which the president is the head of state and government. The president is elected for a renewable five-year-term by popular vote in general elections. For the election of the president to be determined valid, he must have at least 25% of the votes cast in five of the counties as well as in the capital. Only then elections would not be repeated.


Kenya has the third largest economy  in sub-Saharan Africa following Nigeria and South Africa with a GDP of 99 billion dollars. Kenya is expected to start producing and exporting oil as of 2021, which would provide greater motives for growth. However, on the short run, Kenya remains exposed to the risks of capital flight due to its weak financial and external centers.

The agriculture sector continues to dominate Kenya’s economy, although only 15% of Kenya’s total land area has sufficient fertility and rainfall to be farmed, and almost 75% of working Kenyans make their living on the land. Agriculture, including forestry and fishing, account to 24% of the GDP. The principle traditional cash crops are tea and coffee. Kenya is effectively leading in exporting fresh fruits and vegetables such as cabbages, onions, and mango among others.

The service industry is also a major economic driver, particularly tourism which is one of the steadily growing and main economic sectors as Kenya is the preferred destination for Safari tours organizers. As for external trade, besides coffee and tea which are the main exports, fresh flowers are a fast-growing export. Cement and pineapples are among others. Imports include: machinery, iron, and petroleum.

Main Landmarks:

The Capital Nairobi: Home to thousands of Kenyan businesses and over 100 major international companies and organizations, Nairobi is the center of business in east Africa with its towering buildings and broad streets.

  • Mombasa: Known as the white and blue city in Kenya, Mombasa is the country’s oldest and second largest city. Its coasts along the Indian Ocean are among the most attractive tourist cities as the coast of Kenya is one of the best places to practice fishing and diving.
  •  Lamu Island: Lamu Island is a port city and island just off the shore of Kenya in the Indian Ocean to the North East of Mombasa. Founded in the 12th Century, Lamu was designated a UNESCO site as it is one of the longest established and best preserved remaining settlements in Kenya.
  • Kenya National Museum: It displays a wide range of historic, cultural, and local collections.
  • Mount Kenya: It is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. Mount Kenya is located in the Central Heights to the east of the Great East African Rift Valley. An area around the center of the mountain was designated a National Park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Islam

The Dark Continent witnessed several Islamic migrations including the migration of Muslims to the Republic of Kenya. In fact, the arrival of Islam was as early as the first Hijri Century around year 65 AH, particularly under the rule of the Umayyad Caliph Abdulmalak bin Marwan. The main reason behind these migrations was the mutual commercial relations between the countries on the southern coast of the Arab Peninsula – Arabs before Islam – and the eastern coasts of Africa.

Later on, Muslims migrated to Kenya to flee from the rule of the Umayyad Caliph. This was asserted by the discovery of Islamic ruins in the ancient city of Lamu – the history of which goes back to 830 AD. In 1984, the ruins of an old mosque were found in this ancient city. Eventually, Muslims established Islamic cities along the coast between the 12th Century to the 15th Century AD.

We also notice that Arab tradesmen played an important role in spreading Islam after mixing up with the Kenyan people. They sought to reconcile between Islam and the Kenyan customs, what endeared Islam to the indigenous people. Thus they embraced Islam individually and collectively. Some historians mentioned that Omani Azd tribes were also influential in spreading Islam through their migration to Lamu City and the suburbs of the City of Mombasa.

Mount Kenya

Later on, the country ushered into a new era as it came under the Portuguese colonialism that lasted for two centuries. Afterwards in 1840 AD, the eastern African coast became under the Zanzibar Sultanate.

Furthermore, Islam arrived to North East Kenya through the Somalis who knew Islam since 800 AD. The Mumias in the west of Kenya also came to know Islam via Tanganyika, likewise the Kikuyu Tribes who were the most widespread ethnic groups in Kenya.

As for Senja Island, thousands of Arab and Persian Muslims arrived there and established a town and built a mosque resulting in many Africans embracing Islam, and consequently, a new generation of Swahilis. A new language also appeared in East Africa – the Swahili Language which included Arab, Persian, and African terms. It became one of the most important African Languages, and the meanings of the Holy Quran were no soon translated into it.

Muslims in Kenya established several associations and societies overlooked by the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. The Islamic Institute in Nairobi is the oldest Islamic association as it was founded in 1963. Moreover, modern Islamic schools with advanced curricula and Quran Memorization Schools were also established nationwide.

No doubt, Muslims exerted great efforts to face the many impediments they met especially the Christianization movement that was brought along with the Portuguese Colonialism first followed by the German-British Colonization in 1896. That ended in the outbreak of several revolutions including the Yenu Revolution in 1890 AD and the Mazury Revolution in 1896 AD. The Christianization movements made use of colonialism and allotted large amounts of money to establish schools, churches, and hospitals. They also developed academic and vocational education.

Muslims Today

Muslims form a significant part of the Kenyan society – one third of the population – though some sides seek to present Muslims as minorities in the African societies in general. However, despite all of these attempts, many Kenyans – especially the learned and students – are embracing Islam. Muslims are concentrated in areas with economic and strategic importance – an effective factor that helps in bettering the living conditions on the private and public levels as well. The living status of Muslims in Kenya ranges between average and poor, like the overwhelming majority of the population, as most of them work in the agricultural sector and social services.

Muslims are distributed on the eight counties in Kenya as follows:

  • The Coast: Mombasa is its main city. Several tribes reside in the south of this county, and Muslims mount to 80% of the population, while in the west Muslims form 26% of the population.
  • The Eastern County: (30% are Muslims).
  • The North Eastern County: (99% are Muslims).
  • Central County: (15% are Muslims).
  • Nairobi County: It includes a large committee of Arabs, Indians, and Africans. It is the center of most of the Islamic associations.
  • Rift Valley County: (6% are Muslims).
  • The Western County: (7% are Muslims).
  • Nyanza County: It includes a significant number of Muslims, and one of its most important landmarks is the famous Victoria Lake.
    Al rahma mosque
Islamic Associations:
  • The Islamic Institute in Nairobi: It was established in 1963 with aids and efforts of the charitable people. The institute works on several levels: the Islamic Call through lectures, books, education, establishing modern Islamic schools with developed curricula, and establishing schools for memorization of the Holy Quran.
  • National Union of Kenya Muslims: It was established in 1968 by Mohamad Salem Bilaleh. It aims to unite the Muslims in Kenya especially the Muslims of the coastal areas. It has several branches. However, its role retreated in Kenya after the foundation of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.
  • The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM): It was formed in 1973. It is the official representative for Kenya Muslims before the Kenyan government. It contacts the government to draw the policies for Muslims and to guarantee their rights. Most leaders and the administrative staff of the council were at the same time ministers and members in the parliament. It is an umbrella body for Ulama Council and Kenya Council of Imams and Ulama (KCIU) which are specialized in religious affairs and the affairs of the mosques in Kenya. It includes 12 members, and it has four branches. It carries awareness programs and social programs for mosque imams to improve their educational levels…

The goals of the council may be wrapped in the following points:

  1. Uniting the word of Muslims in Kenya.
  2. Representing Muslims as an official religious institution that speaks in the name of Muslims in Kenya.
  3. Establishing Islamic projects in the country including schools.
  4. Obtaining scholarships for Muslims to study abroad.
  5. Playing the role of a link between the representatives of Islamic societies in Kenya and the Kenyan government.

National Muslim Leaders Forum: It includes 15 members who represent Islamic councils and institutes in Kenya. It has 6 branches in the various counties in Kenya. It plays the role of the Islamic power that practices pressure on the government to support Muslim issues and rights, especially that Muslims form the majority in two of the eight counties in Kenya, and they are represented by 10% of the members of parliament, four ministers, and 10 assistant ministers.

Masjid Society in Nairobi: This society is very active in the field of the Islamic Call. It also supervises 25 schools and tens of mosques. It also facilitates cooperation with the teachers sent by Dar Al Iftaa in Kenya.

Machakos Institute for Islamic Studies: This institute includes a boarding place for students from Tanzania and Malagasy Republic (Madagascar) and other faraway places. Boys and girls study in this institute which is very active in the field of the Islamic Call. Many residents in Machakos embraced Islam on the hands of teachers from this institute. Moreover, following the establishment of the institute, the small mosque of the town became crowded with believers what pressed on the mosque administration to expand it.

The Islamic Society: The society has a school for boys and girls. It includes about 769 Muslim and non-Muslim students. This society had supervised other schools which it later shut down for poor financial capacities.

Muslim Woman Society: Its members are Arab and African women. It runs several schools which offer girls a sound Islamic education.

Rahmah Center for Memorization and Studies of the Holy Quran: It offers its services for 20 thousand of the residents of Ajara and the nearby towns. It includes three educational classes and an administration office in addition to sanitary facilities and places for ablution among other facilities that serve more than 100 students.

This is in addition to many societies and institutions including:

  • Islamic Charity Society.
  • Muslim Youth Society in Nairobi.
  • The Islamic Institution.
  • The Holy Quran Institution in Nairobi.
  • Islamic Call Society in Mombasa.
  • The Islamic Pakistani Society in Mombasa.
  • The Arab African Women Society in Mombasa.
  • The Islamic Somali Society in Nairobi.
  • Islamic Reform Society.
  • Social Welfare Society for Muslims inNorth and East Kenya.
  • Ulama Council: It was established in 2005 AD, and its seat is in Nairobi.
  • The Islamic Forum
  • Lamu Center for Muslim Youth in Kenya.
Jamia Mosque in Nairobi – Kenya

Muslims have more than 20 thousand mosques in Kenya, 200 in Nairobi alone. Among the main mosques are:

Jamia Mosque in Nairobi: It was constructed between 1925 AD and 1933 AD, and it was expanded later to comprise several annexed edifices. It overlooks several activities including:

The Call Activity: It includes a radio program, visits to public and religious schools, universities, and prisons, supervising Friday preaches in the various mosques, delivering general lectures, and offering an intensive course for newcomers to Islam.

Media Activity: It is represented in Friday bulletin which has been issuing in English for over ten years. About 12 thousand copies are being distributed after Friday prayers weekly all around Kenya.

The Library Activities and Information Services.

Social Services Activities: That include burial services, transmission of the dead, family resources center, responding to catastrophes and emergencies, distributing food…

Educational services: That include aids for needy students, and a training institute in the mosque that aims to offering vocational training for Muslim youth. That is beside information technology programs, clothing industry technology, and programs for teaching the Arabic Language and Islam.

Sheikh Thani Bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services (RAF) inaugurated lately 14 new mosques of diverse areas in four counties in the Republic of Kenya to be at the service of thousands of Kenyan Muslims. The construction styles of the 14 mosques also vary, and praying rooms for women were annexed to some of them. The mosques were distributed over towns and cities in Kenya as follows: Nine mosques in the North Eastern County, four of which in the towns of Garissa City, 3 mosques in the towns of the cities of Cilani, Gilory, and Thika, and two mosques to the west of Kenya in the towns of Mombasa City, and two mosques in the Coast County in the towns of Tanarifa and Malindi cities, and a mosque in the Central County in the City of Embu. These mosques offer their services to more than 100 thousand Muslims among the residents of these areas and towns. The main services are: sessions for memorization of the Holy Quran, for teaching the principles of mathematics and reading, for rules for the recitation of the Holy Quran, and for religions lessons.

Islamic Schools

Islamic education prevailed in East Africa prior to the European colonization of the region. Arabic was the language of education during that era; however, when Britain occupied Kenya, the view to traditional teaching altered. Muslims refused to enroll their children in missionary schools; still they did not develop their own educational curricula; thus employments remained limited to non-Muslims. Muslims still boycotted public schools, and eventually they could not introduce the Arabic Language and religious studies to public schools curricula.

Following World War II, Mombasa Islamic Institute was founded and later changed to a vocational institute. An Arabic school was established in the City of Chila more than 25 years ago. Some forty schools branched from it all around Kenya. The Islamic religion and the Arabic Language are being taught in these schools which now are in need for advanced curricula and financial support.

Parklands mosque- Nairobi
Kinds of Islamic Schools:

There are three kinds of Islamic schools in Kenya:

  1. The Arabic Islamic Schools: These schools teach the Arabic Language and religious studies. They may add several other courses such as the English Language, but they do not teach modern sciences. Among these schools is Tawheed Center.
  2.  Night Schools: These schools give night classes in the Arabic Language and religious studies for students who are enrolled in public schools during the day. Among these schools are Al Munnawwara Islamic Schools, Al Inaba School for Girls, Saleheen School, Ma’az School.
  3. Integrated Schools: Such schools teach students both curricula at a time: They teach the curriculum approved by the Kenyan Ministry of Education for elementary classes in addition to teaching the Arabic Language and religious studies.
Muslims Challenges and Demands

The majority of Islamic leaderships unanimously agree that the Islamic Kenyan society face two kinds of prominent challenges that threat the Islamic identity and existence:

The challenges that face Muslim communities from within: On top of these challenges comes weakness in religious and modern education rendering Muslims at a lower social status despite all attempts to overcome that and despite managing to establish modern schools. In fact, some ten modern schools were established but this remains insufficient. Moreover, poverty spreads among Muslims – a defect which is being addressed by several civil organizations.

The external challenges that face Muslims: Muslim leaderships assert that Muslims in Kenya suffer from sweeping Christianizing flux in addition to pervasive Jewish control over the country. This requires swiftness in reorganizing the lines of Muslims in Kenya and rearranging the Islamic Call through developing its means and techniques in a way that meets the challenges of the time.

Al huda mosque – south Nairobi
Shia in Kenya

Shia Muslims in Kenya did not have an effective presence before the mid of the 19th Century, when a group of pious Shia men came from the Indian peninsula. Though they were quite few, they were very rich what enabled them to establish schools and centers to practice religious rituals without undergoing any Islamic Call activities. However, the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 gave them the motive to stage campaigns to call for Islam and spread the sect of Ahlulbeit (Peace be upon them).

The first delegation of Shia Ithna Ashari scholars arrived at Kenya in 1982, and they could gain the hearts of some pious men to their sect. Though there are no precise statistics on the true number of Shia in Kenya, they have a strong magnitude on the ground by virtue of their activities and societies widespread in most of the areas.

The ethnic origin of the Shia of Kenya:

The Khoja Ithna Ashari Shia: They are among the main Shia groups in Kenya. By the onset of the 19th Century and the 40s of the 20th Century, the pioneer Khojas came from the Indian Peninsula and resided in Zanzibar and several coastal cities such as Mombasa and Lamu.

They mainly reside in Mombasa, Nairobi, and Nakuru. They are among the most active groups on the level of the Islamic Call.

Al-khoja mosque

We may wrap the activities of the Shia sect in Kenya according to the following areas:

1 – The Capital Nairobi: There are several centers for Shia including:

  • – Al Rassoul Al Akram (PBUH) School
  • – Jaafar Academic School
  • – Pac Road Clinic
  • – Jaafari Club in Lavington suburb
  • – The Cultural Center: Its seat is in the center of Nairobi. It teaches the Arabic Language and Islamic studies. It issues several magazines including Risalat-a-Taqreeb, Tawheed Magazine, Risalat-u-Thaqalain, and Al Huda Magazine for Kids.

2 – Lamu City: Shia activities originated from this city for its religious and historic importance. Several Shia centers are found in the city including:

  • Safaa School that comprises elementary, intermediate, secondary, and university levels.
  • Ahl Al-Bait Society in Lamu: It supervises Al-Safa Center, and it is supported by Kuwaiti and Lebanese businessmen.

3 – Matindoni City: It is the seat of an elementary school supported by the Shia.

4 – Garissa City: In this city, the Shia purchased a piece of land to build an overall worship compound.

5 – Malindi City: In Maweni town in Malindi, the Shia established a center that comprises an elementary school, a public library, and a mosque.

6 – Mombasa City: It is a vital and ideal example of the general life of Khoja Shia in their celebrations, lamentation sessions, and their various life aspects. There they established a secondary school that combines between religious studies and the Kenyan curriculum. They have a remarkable activity in this city which is the capital of the coast. The virtuous Shia there did not yield for the challenges they meet. They founded Amir Al Mumineen (PBUH) Hawza in 1986. The Hawza includes a praying room, a Husseiniyah for men and women, a school with 24 classes, a washroom for the dead with shrouding facilities, administration offices, a residence for the Imam, a residence for the employees, a fitted kitchen, and a public library.

More than 2000 pupils had so far been graduated from the Hawza, some of whom were dispatched abroad to complete their education, and others were sent to other areas to guide people and introduce them to the Shia sect.

The Shia are also active in the health domain. They have clinics near Sheikh Dor Mosque. They further have several religious endowments in Vibingo.

7 – Machakos: It is the seat of a center for Shia. It has a boarding place which is in fact an institute to train callers for Islam and religious students who come from the various areas in Kenya to enable them to be able to assume the call for Shiism.

8 – Shimoni: Shias have a mosque and an elementary school there as well as several mosques in faraway villages.

9 – Nakuru: It is considered one of the main centers for the spread of Shiism. Shias have several centers there including:

Husseini Majales in Nakuru
  • Rassoul Akram (PBUH) Center: It comprises a school with kindergarten to secondary classes in addition to a mosque, a boarding place, a farm, and an institute for preparing Callers for Islam.
  • – Bilal Center: It is the headquarters for the Shia in the area. The center has a printing press to publish books, an institute, a conference room, a residence for callers and employees, besides an integrated school with kindergarten to secondary classes.
  • The religious endowment has a commercial center for investment. Its revenues are used to cover the costs of the Islamic Call, to fund activities, and to offer soft loans.
  • – Nakuru Lake Center: It lies in a poor neighborhood, and it includes a religious school.
  • Al Imam Al Azam Center: It is a four-story building that includes a center for newcomers to Islam and an institute for boys.