His full name is Swaleh bin Alwy bin Abdallah bin Hassan bin Ahmad bin Abdallah bin Ahmad bin Harun bin Abdulrahman bin Ahmad bin Abdallah bin Sheikh Muhammad Jamaalu Leyl. His lineage is reportedly traced from Ali bin Abi Talib. Imam Ali was married to Fatimah al-Zaharai, the daughter of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Ali was also the first paternal cousin of Muhammad.
Habib Swaleh’s father Sayyid Alwy was born and raised in the Comoros Islands. Like his ancestors, Sayyid Alwy grew up as a very devoted Qur'anic teacher. He was also a talented tailor and was thus nicknamed Fundi Aluwi by his contemporaries. In the Comoros Islands the title fundi ( may literally be translated as Master in English) it may also be referred to mean a teacher especially the one who teaches the Qur'an. Sayyid Alwy married Maryam binti Ali, a Comorian native from the Nye Rajab clan and through her Habib. Swaleh was born in the year 1852 in Ikoni. Habib Swaleh had the following brothers: Twahir, Abdullah, Abdulrahman (Mwenye Abudi) and Muhammad. Sayyid Alwy was well over a hundred years old on his death in 1895. Habib Swaleh's father had inducted him in the learning of the Qur'an from a young age. As teenage boys, Habib Swaleh with Zanzibari scholar Sayyid Abubakar bin Ahmad bin Smeit were put under the tutorship of the Comorian scholar Sayyid Abal-Hassan bin Ahmad bin Abdullah (Mwenye Ba Hassan d. 1883). Sayyid Abal Hassan bin Ahmad bin Abdullah had acquired his knowledge in the Hejaz at the same time as scholars including the famous Mufti of Mecca Sayyid Ahmad bin Zayn Dahlan and Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al-Mazrui (d. 1896). Sayyid Abal-Hassan Bin Ahmad Bin Abdallah Jamalal-layl was an elder cousin of Habib Swaleh and was also the teacher of the famous Zanzibari scholar Sayyid Ahmad bin Abubakar bin Sumayt (d. 1925).
In 1870 Habib Swaleh, who was by then 18 years, old travelled to Lamu to visit his uncle Sayyid Ali bin Abdullah (d. 1913) who had migrated to Lamu and settled there in 1847. The main reason for the visit was to seek medication for an illness which had affected his legs. Upon reaching Lamu, Habib Swaleh took to learning under the then Lamu’s renown scholars including his uncle, Sayyid Ali bin Abdullah. After a year, his father ordered him to return to the Comoros Islands and sent Habib Swaleh’s elder brother, Sayyid Muhammad, to go along with him.
Habib Swaleh stayed in the Comoros Islands for about a year, then his father allowed him to travel to Lamu; he returned to the Comoros Islands.
He initiated the annual Maulid Festival in Lamu, which became an annual event. attracting visitors from all over the world. Habib Swaleh was also a herbalist who specialized in Islamic traditional medicine. He died in 1935 C.E in Lamu. He was also a physician.
- * Pouwels, Randall L. (2002). Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800-1900. Cambridge University Press. p. 199.
- Bang, Anne K. (2003). Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860-1925. Routledge. pp. 100–101. ISBN 0-415-31763-0.
- Romero, Patricia W. (1997). Lamu: History, Society, and Family in an East African Port City. Markus Wiener Publishers. ISBN 1-55876-107-1.