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By Khatib Rajab Al-Zinjibari

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Surah al-Hujra't; 49:13).
Some names of places have led to pejorative connotations. A graphical example is the image of AFRICA which was branded as a DARK CONTINENT in Euro-Christian parlance. Its division into sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa is arbitrary and may have political and racial overtones.


AFRICA is erroneously understood as a continent of the White-Skinned People in the north. They are considered as civilized and advanced while the rest of the continent (SOUTH OF SAHARA) is inhabited by Black-Skinned People who are generally considered as uncivilized or never participated in human civilization of AFRICAN history. This is a gross misrepresentation as documentation and linguistic evidence suggest the opposite.
Before AFRICA was coined a DARK CONTINENT it was known by the early Muslim scholars as AFRIQIYYAH or IFRIQIYYAH. These terms are not derived from Latin as some scholars have suggested and do not mean sunny or burnt faces. Contrary to erroneous belief, AFRICA is not named because of a melanin pigmentation or after a well known African historian and geographer Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Umar al-Wazzany (d. 1526), who lost his name to Leo Africanus after his slave-master Pope John Leo Africanus when he was captured in 15th century by Christians from Fez in Morocco.
Because over four centuries before the birth of Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Umar al-Wazzany, several Muslim scholars knew Africa as IFRIQIYYAHI which included the Eastern part of Barbary and the Western part the MAGHRIB (West), the name which is used today. They divided the MAGHRIB into the AL-MAGHRIB AL-DINA (The Near Maghrib), from Tripoli to Bougie, the AL-MAGHRIB AL-WASAT (The Middle Maghrib), from Bougie to the Tãzah Mountains and the AL-MAGHRIB AL-AQSA (Far Maghrib), from the mountains to the Atlantic.
AFRICA is a unique continent in the world. Because it appears to me that it ostensibly asks many QUESTIONS to be answered and possibly by Muslim scholars for three reasons. First, AFRICA is the only continent which is predominately Muslim. Second, the concentration of Muslims are like a shape of a crescent, with a base at the North and its tips are in the East and West. Third, the shape of AFRICA is like an ARABIC QUESTION MARK with a dot of Madacascar.
As if to answer its identity and etymology, early Muslim scholars had different opinions and interpretations. Abdul Hassan Ali bin Hussein al-Masoud (871-957) said that the name IFRIQIYYAHI was after IFRIGO BIN ABRAHA AL-RAISH who built the town of IFRIQIYYAH in the Berber country.
Muhammad Ibn Khaldun (d. 1460) explained that AFRICA was named after IFRIGOS BIN QAIS BIN SEIF, one of the Kings of Yemen. Others believed that AFRICA was named after IFRIQ, known in the Bible as EPHER (Genesis 25:4), and he was the son of QUATURA (Genesis 5:1), the third wife of Prophet Abraham pbuh), the Patriarch of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
On the other hand, Abu Ubaiyad al-Bakr (d. 1094), interpreted IFRIQIYYAH as the QUEEN OF HEAVENS while Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Umar al-Wazzany suggested that IFRIQIYYAH comes from the Arabic word FARAWA (He Divided), since the Mediterranean divides AFRICA from Europe while the Nile River separates it from Asia. Second, AFRICA separates the East and the West. Ibn Abi Dinar gave the same interpretation.
But according to Abu Ubaiyad Bakri al-Andalusi (d. 1094), Muhammad ibn Khaldun (d. 460) and Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Umar al-Wazzany (d. 1526), the word FRIQIYYAHI did not mean the entire continent of AFRICA as we know it today. Abu Ubaiyad al-Bakri stated that the boundaries of IFRIQIYYAH were Barga on the East and Tangier (Morocco) on the West. The name included Tripolitania, Numidian and Mauritania. Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Umar al-Wazzany also distinguished Numidian from IFRIQIYYA, while Abdullah Muhammad Idriss (1099-1166) and Muhammad ibn Khaldun called IFRIQIYYAH the central and northern part of Tunisia.
Later, the Roman Catholic scholars concerted the word IFRIQIYYAH to AFRICA after the destruction of Carthage. They included Barbary and later it referred to North Africa, Maghrib, (MOROCCO), West Africa, Central and South Africa as well as East Africa. But Allah separated both ZANZIBAR and PEMBA from AFRICA in general, and TANGANYIKA in particular by the Ocean.
Etymologically, TANGANYIKA is a compound word from TANGA (Sail) and NYIKA Pori), meaning FOREST or BUSH. Thence, TANGANYIKA means TANGA (LA) PORI(NI) but it seems that some contemporary TANGANYIKAS do not like the word TANGANYIKA but prefer the word TANZANIA, and others are more ZANZIBARPHOBIC because ZANZIBAR has no etymology of PORINIZATION or BUSHNIZATION, contrary to colonial aspiration of TANGANYIKANISTS after the occupation of ZANZIBAR and PEMBA.
In 1997, Omar Ramadhan Mapuri formally called Oscar Raphael Mapuri, born in TANGANYIKA but lives in ZANZIBAR told the students in Pemba, the sister island of Zanzibar the etymology for TANGANYIKANIZATION of ZANZIBAR, according to his political justification:
This interpretation for political justification can be traced back in 1983, when Bibi Rabia Muhammad Hamdan observed that the name ZANZIBAR is an irksome among the people of TANGANYIKA. She strongly opposed to TANZANIA VISIWANI (Tanzanian Islands), coined by some TANGANYIKAS with reference to ZANZIBAR ISLANDS. Bibi Rabia Muhammad Hamdani was very articulate and outspoken to defend the identity of the word ZANZIBAR in the global map in general, and East Africa in particular. KUDOS Bi Rabia Muhammad Hamdan and her group of ZANZIBARIS!
Bi Rabia Muhammad Hamdan was right because geographically, ZANZIBAR ISLANDS are a part of the East African region. But historically, culturally and etymologically their ties are strongly attached to the Arabo-Persian influences. Unlike TANGANYIKA, the ZANZIBAR has too much history in Africa, next to Egypt but too little geography in the continent.
ZANZIBAR has been described in the much quoted PERIPLUS MARIUS OF ERYNTHRIAN SEA by a Greek sailor who visited the East African coast. His document written in 50 C.E. was translated into English by Wilfred Schoff entitled; THE PERPLUS OF ERYNTHRIAN SEA (Circumnavigation of the Indian Ocean) which alludes the East African coast as AZANIA, known as AL-AJAM (Al-Foreigner) or the Persian.
AZANIA is a Greeco-Roman coinage, and the corruption of AL-AJAM for the BAR AL-KHAZAM or the land between the RAS AL-HAFUN an the RAS AL-KHAYR in Southern Arabia. The word AZANIA was popularized by the famous British Orientalist, Williams Harold Ingram in his popular book ZANZIBAR: ITS HISTORY AND PEOPLE (1924) though the word is uncommon in ZANZIBAR. But it is so famous in South Africa that the Azania People Congress (APC) and Azania People Organization (AZAPO), were formed for the South African liberation.
ZANZIBAR is called ZINGIS in the early writings of Claudius Ptolemy (d. 150), an Alexandria geographer and astronomer. ZANZIBAR is also mentioned as ZINGION in TOPOGRAPHICA CHRISTINA by Cosmos Indicopleutes during the sixth century when he was a monk of Sana'a monastery in South Yemen, from where Islam was revived in ZANZIBAR, which is sometimes called ZANJ or ZINJI, collective noun frequently occurs in medieval Arabic texts with reference to the people of ZANZIBAR.
Occasionally, it is used as a toponym or more frequently, it is employed as an ethynonym. Therefore, BILAD AL-ZANJ (The Country of Zanj) ar ARDH AL-ZANJ (The Lan of Zanj) are for the toponymic use. The broken plural ZUNUJ apparently refers to ZANJ group as well as persons.
David Pingree, cited by Marine Tolmachwa, the earliest mention of ZANJ in (East) Africa is found around 780 from the excerpts of al-Fazari, an astronomer. According to Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, the word is first mentioned in connection with a horrendous history, the tragedy in 680 at Karbala where Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was martyred by the army of Yazid in the seventh century, the period in which Islam reached ZANZIBAR.
After the great tragedy, the members of Hussein's family were made captives and brought to Kufah in Iraq and to Damascus in Syria. It was here the term ZANJ was mentioned in a poem of Ali, the son of Hussein. Abu Makhnaf quoted Sahl, an eyewitness who stated: "When the captives were brought to Damascus; I saw the markets closed (to celebrate the victory)...the captives entered from the gate of Khezran..." and Ali bin Hussein was saying: "I am being led in Damascus without honour as though I am a ZANJ who has lost his helper; I wish that neither I would have seen Damascus, nor Yazid would have seen me going from on place to another." This episode is taken from MAQTAL AL-HUSSEIN written by Lut Yahya al-Yazid, known as Abu Makhnaf.
The Arabic Dictionary, AL-MUNJID by Father Louis Maaluf of the Catholic Mission in Lebanon says: "Abu Makhnaf (d. 774), one of the oldest historians wrote numerous books about the historical events of the first century of al-Hijra." Abu Ja'far Muhammad Jabir al-Tabari (837-923) has preserved many of his writings in his history.
Another eminent author who described ZANJ was Uthman bin Amr bin Bahr al-Furqayam al-Basr, famous as al-Jahiz (776-869) himself of Zanzibar origin. He distinguished ZANJ as LUNGUJA (Unguja) and (the sister island of) QUMBALU (Pemba) in a geographical identity. Ethnically, he classified them as ZANJ, HABASH, NUBIANS, ZANGHAWA, MEROE, BERBER, FEZZAN, COPTS and even SIND, HIND and SIN, among others.
Yaquot bin Abdullah bin Hamawi al-Rumi (1179-1229) of African origin stated in his book, Mul'jãm al-Buldãn (Geographical Dictionary), that the QUMBALU (Pemba) is a populated island inhabited by Muslims. He said that the ZANJIS are the descendants of Prophet Nouh (pbuh), while Abdullah bin Hassan bin Ali bin Hussein bin Ali al-Masoud (913-956), who in his book titled Muruj al-Dhahãb wa-Manãdin al-Jawhãr (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems), who spoke Swahili and visited ZANZIBAR several times discussed both the ZANJ and the HABASH in his ZANJ DUNIA SAIR AL-HABASH (The Zanjis Apart From Ethiopians) in their collective terms.
Etymologically, the word ZANZIBAR is derived from the Persian word, ZANG-E-BAR or more correctly, ZANG-I-BAR. According to the Persian lexicography, the -I(E)- designates the genetic nomina tempori which has a connection or relationship with water, sea or place where something is found in a great abundance.
The word ZANG-I-BAR in Persia or ZANJ-I-BAR in Arabic, literally means BLACK PEOPLE LAND and it has no derogatory connotation as claimed by Christian Missionaries and Negrophobics. Marina Tolmachewa, a Russian Orientalist pointed out that the implication of the inferiority was not always present, nor was particularly strong in the African context.
The transmutation of ZANG-I-BAR into ZANZ-I-BAR is due to the fact that the -I- of the Persian genetic nomina tempori, changes the nasal sound -NGI- into -NZI- in Swahili. However, the three consonants and different form of pronunciation of words, suggest that ZANJ is Arabic in its origin. The three radical consonants are typical in Arabic, the name ZANJ-I-BAR as pluralistatum (singular of plural) which designates not only a land for BAR in Arabic and Swahili, but for place and people simultaneously.
ZANZIBAR is therefore a Perso-Arabic word, contrary to the common held belief that the word is exclusively Arabic in origin. Unlike Arabic, the suffix -BAR- in Persian lexicography is a formative syllable used to construct nomina loci where something is found in multitudes and in connection with sea or ocean but not the Peninsular, subcontinent or mainland as in the case of BAR ARAB (Arabian Peninsular) and BAR HINDI Indian subcontinent) in Arabic.
It can be argued that if ZANZIBAR were not the Islands, the country could have been called ZANZ-I-STAN (The Land of ZANJIS), such as AFGHANIST (The Land of Afghans) or PAK-I-STAN (The Land of Purity), according to Persian as opposed to Arabic language. But the modern etymology of PAKISTAN is a conglomeration of (P)unjab, (A)fghania, (K)ashmir, (I)ran, (S)indh, (T)ukharistan, (A)fghanistan and Baluchista(N), according to PAN-ISLAMISM against British imperialism.
Besides the linguistic relationship between Swahili and Sumerian, the Persians introduced horns to the ZANZIBAR ISLANDS. In its museum, there are two ancient horns. They belonged to the Shirazi rulers who were enthroned as MWINYI MKUU, one who has great power for political leadership. There are pictures of horns on many old tombs-stones such on the KABURI (grave) of prince Haroun at Chwaka in PEMBA. Haroun was the son of Muhammad AbdulRahman, famous as Mkame Ndume.
We are not sure of the etymology of PEMBA but the Swahili word for horn is PEMBE, used by Shirazi rulers in PEMBA and the southern region of the ZANZIBAR ISLAND as symbols of their power. The paraphernalia of horns as power are mentioned in the Old Testament that Zedekiah ibn Khanaanah prepared two horns to symbolize the power of the Kings of Judah and Israel (1 Kings 22:11 and 2 Chronicles 18:10). The presence of horns in ZANZIBAR indicates the existence of ancient organized Perso-Arabo civilization and their local Serikali, a Swahili word for government in Farsi (Persian) language.
It seems that Perso-Arabic civilization existed in ZANZIBAR ISLANDS before the birth of the Prophet 'Issa (Jesus), upon whom be peace despite other countries like Central Africa, ZAIRE (CONGO), Bahr al-Ghazal (Southern Sudan) or East African such as TANGANYIKA, UGANDA and KENYA have no knowledge of using horns as symbol of leadership as in ZANZIBAR and PEMBA before their ISLAMIZATION.

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Last updated December  2007 Copyright Mahmood Fazal 2005 - All Rights Reserved Created By Husain Fazal