African Islamic History



From:           Randy Pouwels, University of Central Arkansas
Date sent:      19 Apr 95

I'm curious to find out how much interest there is out there in teaching about African Islamic History. I'm considering writing a short (200-300 pp.), inexpensive historical introduction for general readers and for classroom use, probably with Westview Press. I'd appreciate knowing what thoughts anyone might have regarding such a text -- i.e. on Africa generally, rather than a strictly regional (say, West African or East African) approach.

Also, for those who care to respond, how do you treat the subject? Do you teach an entire course on it, or is it simply a (major?) component of another course you teach? If a book like this were to be made available to you, what kind of an approach would you prefer? Regional? Chronological? Thematic?

Me? I'm doing a lot of swatting up on the subject yet.

Date sent:      Sun, 23 Apr 1995
From:           Benjamin D. Branch, North Carolina A & T

I am not Interested in African Islamic History. I just want the facts. History from any religous perspective always seems biased to me. I would prefer a linguistic analysis and correlation of Traditional African History and its impact on all religions of the world. No one religion has a monoply on THE CREATOR THE UNIVERSE. Murder is murder, and all religions have at some point in time became more political than spiritual.

Date sent:      Sun, 23 Apr 1995
From:           Bob LaRue, Fairview Hign School, Boulder, CO

Hum, that was an interesting interpretation of the projected book on African Islamic History [ed. note: the post from Benjamin Branch]. I understood the proposed book to be about the history of Islam in Africa and not necessarily an Islamic interpretation of African history. I hope the author pops in on this one.

Also, just because a work comes out of a religious tradition does not mean that it is inevitably incorrect. One must be aware of the potential of bias when reading anything by anyone. "Just the facts"? We will all be surprised when that becomes possible! Is it even desireable? I hold plenty of irrational biases (and some well reasoned ones) against organized religion, but this post ignores the assumption that we are intelligent readers and can/must exercise judgement in our exploration of history.

Date sent:      Sun, 23 Apr 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mt. Holyoke College

I would be very interested in a good introduction to Islam in Africa. Every couple of years I teach a seminar on Religions of Africa and the Diaspora, and I have been looking for the kind of work you describe which might go hand-in-hand with primary sources such as some of the writings from the jihad of Usman dan Fodio. Organization does present a bit of a problem since one does need to bring out geographical and temporal differences, and yet a thematic approach makes sense too. More power to you in thrashing through these issues.

From:           Beth Buggenhagen, University of Chicago
Date sent:      Sun, 23 Apr 95

I think it is more useful to analyze the syncretism of Islamic and inigenous African practices and significations. I have not heard that "Africa Islamic History" is history from the point of view of Muslims, but rather it connotes the history of Africa in terms of the movement of Islam through Africa.

I also don't think it is possible to understand the "facts" of history in the West African context (where I work) without taking into account the impact of Islam on the area, politically and spiritaully. If you are interested in the biases of history I suggest you read Gyan Prakash.

I think the impact of indigenous African religions on world religions could best be accomplished by studying African survivals in diaspora communities such as Islamic survivals in the practice of Christianity by slaves in the Americas, for example.

I am not sure what you are trying to argue by making the point that no one religion has a monopoloy on the creation of the universe but if you are interested in African cosmology perhaps you might want to look at Marcel Griaule's "Conversations with the Ogatemelli".

Date sent:      Sun, 23 Apr 1995
From:           Tim Carmichael, Michigan State University

I'd like to see a book approaching African Islamic History thematically. I think it would be a difficult project, but it would be a welcome change from the "Islam in(s)..." (i.e. Islam in Ethiopia, Islam in Tropical Africa, etc.). The only book like this I know of is Bravmann's "African Islam," but I recall that it deals primarily with material culture and is only about 100 pages long.

Date:       Mon, 24 Apr 1995
            Richard Corby, University of Arkansas-Monticello

Randy, have you seen Hiskett's *The Course of Islam in Africa*? It came out last year and although I checked it out from our library, I really haven't read much of it yet. We do need a book which treats Islam in the entire continent and which is appropriate for undergraduate courses.

I don't teach a course on Islam in Africa but I do make it a major component of my survey on the continent. When I teach Africa through fiction for upper division students, I use at least one work in which Islam is important--Ba, *So Long a Letter*; or Kane, *Ambiguous Adventure,* for instance.

Date sent:      Mon, 24 Apr 95
From:           Abdin Chande, Gettysburg College

I concur with Tim Carmichael's call for "a book approaching African Islamic History thematically." Last semester I taught a course (here at Gettysburg college) known as "Islam in Africa." It wasn't quite a success, I can tell you that, mainly due to the problem of available texts.

I used Hiskett's book which the students found too specialized for their level of understanding. The situation is even worse for East Africa as the available texts (originally written as doctoral theses) were even more inappropriate as college primers.

From:           Randy Pouwels, University of Central Arkansas
Date sent:      24 Apr 95

Thank you for the ideas on a text for African Islamic History.

I wish to reinforce Bob LaRue in saying that such a book is intended to be an interpretation of the history of Islam in Africa, or perhaps more accurately, of religion among Muslims of Africa. (Another common fault people fall into -- though unintended -- is the Orientalist one, i.e. that there is a monolithic Islam.) Naturally, too, I would want to be current in what I say (i.e. a "high level, current historical work"), so the problem is not only one of breadth, but in being reasonably up-to-date.

Balance is another problem. As everyone knows, the great preponderance of research on Islam in Africa has been on the Sudanic zone. East Africa, for instance, almost always gets overlooked or just mentioned in passing. This is becoming a major problem, as I see it, with West and East African Islamicists not even being aware of what's being done in the field outside of their specialty. This extends, as well, to employment and the training of Ph.D. candidates interested in the subject. People just don't seem to be interested in breaking out of their old habits of mind. The proposed work(s) partly will be a response to this need.

Tom Spear mentions a particular publisher, Longmans. Actually, I already have a publisher -- or perhaps more accurately, two. Nehemia Levtzion and I and about twenty-eight other Islamicists currently are proposing a Cambridge History on the subject, and, assuming we get the final green light, we hope to complete the project by the middle of 1996. This, however, will not be the sort of book I'm describing, namely a short, inexpensive overview for possible classroom use. The latter is something, if I go ahead with it, which will be published by Westview Press.

I think a combination of chronological and thematic approaches will be used. Eugenia Herbert mentions the need for something to go along with primarty sources, among which she mentions the writings of dan Fodio. In the latter vein, and if she's interested in a major East African source, I recommend Sh. Abdallah Salih Farsy's book on the Ulama of East Africa. (Pub. by the University of Wisconsin African Studies Ctr. under the title, *The Shafi'i Ulama of East Africa, ca. 1830-1970: A Hagiographic Account*.)

Date sent:      Mon, 24 Apr 1995
From:           Martin S Ottenheimer, Kansas State University

I'm glad to see the mention that Eastern Africa is too often neglected in discussions about Islam in Africa. It has been an interesting and important part of the Islamic world. I hope the Comoros get included, too.

Date sent:      Mon, 24 Apr 1995
From:           Alvin Hughes, Austin Peay State University

I am interested in seeing a book or info which treats the differences between Arab Islam in Africa and African Islam. Perhaps an examination of the Brotherhoods will be useful to make this distinction. Did Islam split and debate religious doctrines similar as to what occurred in Christianity with the division into the Roman Church and The African Church and later the Eastern Church? Is there any thing truly African about Islam? If not, then Islam must be treated as any other destructive outside influence which contributed to the demise of African civilization. Keep us posted on your progress.

From:           P.K.Muana, University of Sheffield
Date sent:      Tue, 25 Apr 1995

[re: Randy Pouwels idea of an introduction to Islam in Africa]

Interesting enterprise. Your task may benefit from an incisive examination of "the islamisation of traditional African religions" rather than only the "Jihadic" imposition of Islam. You may want to note that the traditonal African cultural milieu was conducive for the dissemination of Islam especially in the lower West African belt.

Date sent:      Tue, 25 Apr 1995
From:           Paul S Landau, University of New Hampshire

I too have noticed the paucity of student-accessible material on Islam in West Africa, so that one has to rely on "The Africans" series and lectures if one covers it. Especially Usman dan Fodio: and I'd like to know what English language Fodio primary material Eugenia Herbert uses.

The problem, really though, is the great number of monographs and the absence of syntheses. I don't see why more of us aren't proposing books like Dr. Pouwels is suggesting: good regional or subject syntheses, that one might use, say, three or so of in an Intro Africa course. A while back someone (Prof. Klein?) said he favored Crowder's (ed.) *History of West Africa*. It is too much involved with the details, though.

A while back I advised a textbook maker on a proposed compendium of primary sources for southern African history. I remember the problem was, while there was a surfeit of elite sources, there were very few voices of common folk -- like Women of Phokeng. Why couldn't there be a "primary-source" *social history* reader, with aspects of women (urban-rural), Christian hymns and prayers, songs, blue-book entries, police reports, some apartheid laws' texts, mining inspectors reports, union bylaws, court transcripts, etc., in addition to Mandela and the Charter, etc.? We have Callinicos's books, that incorporate much of this stuff in a narrative format; what about a longer version, without the narrative? One could design lectures around it.

Please don't say, "Good Idea! Do it."

I have high hopes for the new Vansina-Thompson-Feierman-Curtin book, by the way.

Date sent:      Wed, 26 Apr 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mt. Holyoke College

Thomas Hodgkin's *Nigerian Perspectives* contains a good assortment of documents from the Sokoto Caliphate, including the exchange between Bello and al-Kanemi.

As to the idea of an anthology of non-elite sources, it's great. But I think it would have to be a collaborative effort since none of us can cover the continent. But White & Vail ahve certainly suggested what can be done with songs (as have others)--perhaps there should be a way to include more arts in general. CD technology may make it possible to include visual and musical materials before long. I always play a lot of music in classes and students in this generation are really clued into it.

The internet may make a potential collective effort more feasible...

Date sent:      Thu, 27 Apr 1995
From:           MONICA VAN BEUSEKOM, SUNY at Plattsburgh

There was a query about primary sources on Uthman dan Fodio. I have used the chapter on the jihad of Uthman dan Fodio in David Robinson and Douglas Smith's textbook *Sources of the African Past*. Though this book was published in 1979, I believe it is still in print. The chapter includes an introduction followed by exerpts from 30 different documents.

                Editor's Note:
                My understanding is that the book is
                no longer available from the publisher.
                Would that it were!  I have found it
                useful as well.

Date sent:      Thu, 27 Apr 1995
From:           Peter A. Rogers, Williams College

Re: P. Landau's message on primary sources on the Fulani jihad in N. Nigeria(and to the general discussion on the history of Islam in Africa):

Most of the published material is old (late 1950s/60s) but accessible. And not too much has gone on lately in terms of new historical interpretation (though see Burnham & Last "From pastoralist to politician: the problem of a Fulbe "Aristocracy", *Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines*, 1994 (313-357); and don't overlook Boyd & Last "The role of women as 'agents religieux' in Sokoto" , *Canadian Journal of African Studies*, 1985 (283-300), or even Boyd's study of Nana Asma'u).

As to texts related to the jihad:

  1. M. Hiskett, "Material relating to the state of learning among the Fulani before their jihad," *Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies*, 19 (1957): 550- 78.
  2. Hiskett, "Kitab al-farq: a work on the Habe kingdoms attributed Uthman dan Fodio" *BSOAS*, 23 (1960): 558-579. Description, Arabic text, English translation, analysis, discussion of sources. An important ideological text.

3. Hiskett, "The 'Song of the Shaihu's Miracles": A Hausa hagiography from Sokoto" *African Language Studies*, (SOAS) 12 (1971):71-107. An example of hagiographic versification in Hausa (with Arabic meter) from c. 1870, composed by the Shehu's son, probably for performance to a general public. Based on a poem written by Gidado dan Laima, an eyewitness to the jihad. Hausa text with line-by-line English translation. Very clear narrative of episodes in the Shehu's life and of the jihad & its meaning.

4. Bivar, A.D.H. "The Wathiqat ahl al-Sudan: A manifesto of the Fulani jihad." *Journal of African History*, 2 (1961): 235-43. Good background to style, sources, political significance, and place amongst dan Fodio's other writings. English translation only, but wonderful photographic plates of the actual manuscript [I've made overhead projection copies of these and other manuscript facsimilies from different periods and parts of W. Africa to visually demonstrate various orthographic styles, intellectual lineages, and genres of writing/correspondence--on this note, see Bivar, "The Arabic calligraphy of West Africa", *African Language Review*, 7 (1968): 3-15 + plates]

5. In my seminar on Language & History in Africa this semester, we read, in the context of pre-colonial Islamic scholarship, Goody's article "Restricted literacy in northern Ghana", in his edited *Literacy in Traditional Societies*. Not too much of the empty orality/literacy framework, but a tremendous amount & breadth of discussion about writing, koranic education, Gonja-Kano trade & scholarship from the 18th & 19th cent., etc.

A basic text on the history of Islam in Africa is sorely needed, though considerations of regional & historical features make this a daunting task. I agree that Hiskett's book on West African Islamic is too dense, perhaps even for a course specifically on West Africa! The thematic/comparative approach might work the best. Good luck and keep in touch.

Date sent:      Fri, 28 Apr 1995
From:           Martin Klein, University of Toronto

On the Islam discussion, I would like to see a good book on Islamic history. I have never done a course on Islam, but I do 26 week courses, in which I always have at least one week on Islam. On the Sokoto jihad, I have used Hiskett, but in recent years, I have been using the David Robinson and Douglas Smith reader.

The problem is not simply with Islam. I constantly have a problem which is probably shared by most Africanist faculty. The good readings are either too long or too specialized. My students do not like text books. Nor do i. Even the texts I like, they read irregularly. Occasionally, I cover part of the course with a book I like, Graham Connah's *African Civilizations*, for example, or several books on the slave trade.

What I would like to see is a series of short works, designed to cover a week, two weeks, maybe three weeks of a course and specifically written for North American undergraduates. An additional problem with texts is that we do not all organize our courses the same way. A series of short paperbacks would provide flexibility.

I could think of three different types of book that might be interesting:

  1. A short general synthesis. A model of this would be the lucid

    little book Tom Spear and Derek Nurse wrote on the Swahili.

  2. Debate books on controversial subjects. Either two authors or

    one author with critical comments by several others. Sometimes, it is hard to get debate into the course because the only good reading is too monolithic.

  3. Short readings book. I have been interested recently in life

    histories, but the only one that is short enough and cheap enough to put in students' hands is Timothy Keegan, *Facing the Storm*.

I like libraries, but my students do not. The library here is reluctant to buy multiple copies. Sometimes, I order something for my survey in order to have multiple copies for my seminar. Students also read things only the 24 hours before a class discussion or seminar session. The best bet is books they can buy, though they also dislike expensive reading lists.

Date sent:      Sun, 30 Apr 1995
From:           John Humwick, Northwestern University
                < >

Monica Van Beuskom noted Robinson's collection of translated materials for the Dan Fodio jihad and mep notes that it is out of print. What is in print now (and containing lots of translated extracts) is Hiskett's *The Sword of Truth*. A second edition with a new (and contraversial preface) was published in paper back by Northwestern University Press in April 1994. It appeared in a series on "Islam and Society in Africa". Here is the full list:

Northwestern University Press
Series: Islam and Society in Africa
General Editors: John Hunwick & Robert Launay

*Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad b. Idris and the Idrisi Tradition*, by R. S. O'Fahey, 1990.

*Religion and National Integration in Africa: Islam, Christianity and Politics in the Sudan and Nigeria*, edited by John O. Hunwick, 1991.

*Historical Discord in the Nile Valley*, by Gabriel Warburg, 1992.

*The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan*, by Ali Salih Karrar, introduction by R.S. O'Fahey, 1992.

*The Letters of Ahmad b. Idris*, edited, translated and annotated by Einar Thomassen, Bernd Radtke, Rex S. O.Fahey, Ali Salih Karrar and Albrecht Hofheinz, 1993.

*Assaulting with Words: Popular Discourse and the Bridle of "Shari'ah"*, by Abdullah Ali Ibrahim, 1994.

*Holymen of the Blue Nile: the Making of an Arab Islamic Community in the Nilotic Sudan, 1500-1850*, by Neil McHugh, 1994.

*The Sword of Truth*, by Mervyn Hiskett, second edition with a new preface by the author, 1994. $19.95. Paper.

*An Islamic Alliance: 'Ali Dinar and the Sanusiyya, 1906-1916*, edited and translated with an interpretive essay by Jay Spaulding and Lidwien Kapteijns, 1994.

*Sufi and Scholar on the Desert Edge: the Heritage of Muhammad b. 'Ali al-Sanusi*, by Knut S. Vikr, forthcoming.

Inquiries regarding any of these may be made to Business Manager, Northwestern University Press, 625 Colfax St., Evanston, IL 60208.

Those interested in the Islamic factor in African history/Muslim societies in Africa might also like to check out "Sudanic Africa" an annual journal of sources, many of which are translations of documents etc from Arabic and from African languages. You can get a preview of this (and a selection of reviews, notes and communcations, through the Web. Go to:

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