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» Book Review – “Settling in a Strange Land” by Cynthia Salvadori

A new book chronicles early stories of Punjabi Muslim pioneers in Kenya

Settling In a Strange Land consists of narratives from Punjabi Muslim families who trace their roots back to the pioneers who came in those early days without sophisticated machines, when pure muscle power literally moved mountains.

This book by the late historian Cynthia Salvadori, published by the Park Road Mosque Trust, was conceived in December 2004 when then Pakistani High Commissioner to Kenya H. E. Syed Zahid Hussain approached Basheer Mauladad to suggest a book on the Punjabi Muslims in Kenya.

At the same time Masud Quraishy, a professional photographer, was spurred by the need for Punjabi Muslim photographs for the African-Asian Heritage Exhibition at the National Museum in Nairobi. He started seriously collecting old photographs.

In 2007, an ad hoc group was formed under the umbrella of the Park Road Mosque Trust, made up of Basheer Mauladad, Masud Quraishy, Anwar Sheikh, Salim Lone and Shaila Mauladad Fisher.

Cynthia Salvadori was invited to author the book, and the group started collecting interviews, articles, stories, photographs, maps, and all sorts of records in earnest. Once all the diverse material was collected, compiled and edited, designer Sufyan Slatch made it presentable in book form.

The book begins with a map of pre-Partition Punjab, the land of the five rivers (punj : five, ab : river), and is divided into four main parts:

‘Building the Railway, Manning the Administration’ covers the railway workers, from soldiers to teachers.

‘Communal Institutions’ describes mosques, madrassas, Muslim associations, schools, social and cultural associations and sports.

‘Punjabi Panorama’ covers the entrepreneurs and professionals who literally broke new ground connecting the interior of the country.

‘JNI – the Ties that Bind’ explores Janaza (funeral), Nikah (marriage) and Idd (religious celebration), the three events that bind all Muslims. This also recognizes and gives credit to the many mixed marriages that took place in that time, and the descendents thereof.

Finding a specific story amongst the detailed 228 pages is facilitated by a comprehensive index, compiled by Salvadori’s assistant, Shaila Mauladad Fisher.The appendices include a 2.7 metre long Shajraa (family tree) of Mahmood Qureshi, spanning 42 generations, as well as a section of stories and anecdotes that are ‘Best left Anonymous’.

This book will be an interesting source for both Punjabis and non-Punjabis, and those who know living descendants of these extraordinary pioneers.

Salvadori's introduction states “It is not to denigrate the contributions of the many people of the many other Asian communities […] which have been better organized […] the hopelessly disorganized, highly individualistic Punjabi Muslims have never […] published anything. So now, before memories fade and the last of the people who remember the old days pass away, we have compiled this book so that the stories of the Punjabi Muslims in Kenya will not be entirely forgotten”.