This study traces the origins, growth and transformation of traditional Islamic higher education in the coastal region of Kenya from 1850 to 1978. The study was guided by the following objectives; to examine the arrival of Islam and its contribution to the emergence of traditional higher Islamic education in the coastal region in Kenya in the period 1850-1900; interogate the social, economic, religious and political factors that led to the growth of non-formal and formal Islamic education in the coastal region from 1850-1978 , examine institutions which offered traditional higher Islamic education in coastal towns, assess the curriculum of this education from 1850-1978,examine the impact of British colonial rule on the development of traditional higher Islamic education in coastal Kenya in the period 1900-1963 and demonstrate the impact of Independence on the growth of Islamic higher education in coastal towns of Kenya from 1963 to 1978. The study employed John Dewey‟s egalitarian/problem solving theory, Emile Durkheim‟s theory of moral and sociology of education, Al-Ghazali‟s and Al-afendi”s theory of Islamic education. The study adopted a descriptive research design and used the historical method in the collection of data. Oral interviews, Archival material and library research were used in identifying, collecting and collation of data for this study. The data collected was analyzed qualitatively using historical techniques of narration, description, inference and logical explanation. The study findings were presented as a critical narrative of the rise, growth and decline of traditional higher Islamic education in coastal Kenya from 1850-1978.
The study established that traditional higher Islamic education in Kenya emerged as a non-formal system of education conducted in mosques and informal lessons conducted in private houses of Islamic scholars who came to visit Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar and the Comoro islands in the 19th century A.D. Traditional higher Islamic education was in three levels: basic education, primary education and higher education. In 20th century traditional Islamic higher education changed from non-formal to a formal education with a comprehensive curriculum.This system of education was offered in specific institutions established in the towns of Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa and Zanzibar. The study also found out that the achievement of independence in Kenya led to establishment of secular education, which marginalized Islamic systems of basic, primary and traditional higher education. Muslims who wanted to access traditional higher Islamic education had to seek admission in Islamic universities in North Africa, Middle East and South Asia.