Professor Abdul Mohammed Hussein Sheriff
Birth Date: December 7, 1939
Professor Abdul Mohammed Hussein Sheriff was born on 7th December, 1939 in Zanzibar to the family of Dewji Jamal, which was established there since the 1860s, and were involved in the founding of the first Khoja Shia Ithna’Asheri mosque there in 1880.
He started his primary education in the Gujarati-medium “Sir Euan Smith Madressa” before going to the Zanzibar Government Boys’ Secondary School which was open to all races, and completed his studies in 1960. Thereafter he went to the University of California at Los Angeles where he completed his Bachelor's Degree in Geography and Master’s Degree in African History in 1966. Professor Sheriff then went to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1971 on the basis of his research on the history of Zanzibar.
Since 1969 he taught at the University of Dar es Salaam. From 1977 to 1979 he led the Department of History as an Associate Professor, and chaired the Historical Society of Tanzania. In 1980, he was appointed as a professor at the university until 1996. Furthermore, he was a visiting professor at universities in Berlin, Lisbon, Bergen, Montreal and Minnesota. Important fields for Professor Sheriff have been the research on the Dhow cultures of the Indian Ocean, the history and culture of Zanzibar, and the history and conservation of Stone Town, the old city district of Zanzibar. He has applied his knowledge in directing the restoration of the ceremonial Palace of the Sultan in 1992.
In order to effectuate this restoration, he used local expertise and materials and specially trained a local scientific team and setting up large-scale collections. Furthermore, he set up at the House of Wonders a national history and culture museum of Zanzibar and the Swahili coast. Later he initiated the non-governmental Zanzibar Indian Ocean Research Institute to encourage research on Zanzibar, the Swahili coast, and the Indian Ocean, until 2014 when it had to close down.
Achievements & Awards
On 11th March 2006, Professor Sheriff was honoured with a Prince Claus Fund Award from the Netherlands which was presented by Dutch Ambassador, H. E. Karel van Kesteren for the crucial role he played in the conservation of the cultural heritage of Zanzibar. This is the first time that a Prince Claus Fund Award has been granted to a resident of Zanzibar, and of Tanzania.
An extract from the speech by the Dutch Ambassador during the presentation ceremony of the award highlighted Professor Sheriff’s contribution to preserving history as below:
“Not only, Professor, are you a leading authority on the history and culture of the Indian Ocean. Not only, Professor, were you Advisor on National Heritage. Not only did you publish books on East Africa’s History, including on Stone Town. Not only are you a professional with profound curiosity and dedicated to academic standards, you were also the Principal Curator of Zanzibar’s Museums. When you ‘inherited’ these museums some 14 years ago in this capacity, they were dusty and neglected buildings. Now, the House of Wonders and the Sultan’s Palace are two thriving museums that contribute enormously in putting Zanzibar on the global cultural map.”
The following year he was awarded with a Zeze Award of the Tanzanian Fund for Culture, and in 2007 with the Maxwell Cummings Distinguished Lectureship of the McGill University.
Since his retirement, he has been continuing to give occasional lectures to visiting students, or conduct research on the Zanzibar Stone Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage City, including the latest Master Plan for its development. He is still involved in researching and writing on the history of Zanzibar for schools, and doing research on Islamic Slavery, and Slaveries in Muslim societies.
He has published or edited several books, including
- Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar (1985),
- Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean, (2010);
- and edited with others Zanzibar Under Colonial Rule, (1991),
- The Indian Ocean: Oceanic Connections & the Creation of New Societies, (2014),
- and many articles in journals and other books.
Africa Federation Archive Section
The Archives Section of AFED had organised the “Chalo Jangbar” expedition in December 2022 where the participants, thirty in total, boys and girls had the opportunity to meet Professor Abdul Sheriff at the famous “Bustani” – (Garden) in Zanzibar town which was also used as graveyard for the Sheriff Dewji Jamal family. Professor Sheriff enlightened the group on the history, challenges and dangers faced by the pioneers, among them were the Dewji Jamal family of Zanzibar, during migration from India to East Africa, bringing about appreciation and awareness of the sacrifices given by our ancestors, whose dedications, commitment and devotions bore the fruits which we are enjoying today, proudly known as the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheries of Africa. You can view the informative session by clicking the following link: https://youtu.be/1Y_I3Bk25zM
Professor Abdul Sheriff has played a crucial role in preserving Zanzibar’s cultural heritage. A consummate professional with a profound knowledge of, curiosity and dedication to academic standards, he has worked for several decades on raising historical awareness among students and the general public. His contributions to Tanzania and to our community are immense - a living example of the attributes of a person who respects and cares about the historical records, cultural heritage for identity and self-esteem. Professor has assured Africa Federation Archives section of his full support and guidance whenever required, he also handed over to Archives section some important records of the past he had preserved for many years.
- We pray to Almighty Allah (s.w.t.) to bless Professor Abdul Sheriff with increased tawfeeqat to continue to serve the nation, community, and all of humanity. May Allah (s.w.t.) grant him good health, happiness, and prosperity. Aameen.
ARCHIVES SECTION OF THE AFRICA FEDERATION
Date: 21st April 2023 (30th Mahe Ramadhan 1444 AH)