Abdallah, Sayyid (Ali bin Nasir) (Writer)

(ca. 1720-1820) poet

Little is known of the life of Sayyid Abdallah bin Ali bin Nasir, a poet and Muslim theologian of East African descent who wrote in Swahili. He is the author of two seminal poems of Swahili classical literature, Al-Inkishafi, or The Soul’s Awakening, and the Takhmisa, or Songs of Liongo. Though these two are his only known poems, it is likely that he wrote several other Swahili poems, as yet not attributed to him.

The Soul’s Awakening is a religious song that describes the horrors of hell for those who forsake the counsel of Islam. According to Professor Cora Agatucci, the song tells the story of the fall of Pate, a city-state in Africa, as an example of the “vanity of earthly life” (African Timeline). Nasir wrote the song after 1749, which makes it one of the earliest examples of written Swahili poetry. It remains unfinished but is an excellent early example of Swahili ritual songs by a pioneer in the language.

A Work by Sayyid Abdallah

Al-Inkishafi: The Soul’s Awakening. Translated by William Hichens. Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1972.

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