Paper Abstract: Mauritania straddles the historiographical division of Africa into imaginary zones shaped by medieval North African Muslim writers and later intensified by the French colonial experience — namely the ‘White,’ Arab North, and the ‘Black,’ indigenous, sub- Sahara. This imaginary geographic and cultural division of ‘Africa’ literally erased Mauritania (and its Saharan neighbours) from scholarly consideration; and, in so doing, rendered their Arabo-Islamic intellectual traditions invisible or ‘coloured’ them through invented notions of racialized Islam – most infamously ‘L’Islam Noir’ (Black Islam) and L’Islam Maure (Moorish Islam). Despite bourgeoning interest in the Arabo-Islamic intellectual heritage of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the region’s manuscript culture, Mauritania remains understudied. Academic works have largely focused on the socio-political and economic history of Mauritania, but her remarkably influential intellectual contributions to Islamic scholarship in the region and abroad— as attested by the numerous quotations of Mauritanian authors and works in the Maghreb, Saharan, and Sub-Saharan regions from the 17th century onwards—has yet to be thoroughly documented and explored. Charles S. Stewart’s (2016) The Writings of Mauritania and the Western Saharan (ALA V) is a testament to the vast quantity of unstudied works (most in unpublished manuscripts) of the region. As academic studies of the Arabo-Islamic manuscript tradition and culture of areas like Timbuktu, Nigeria, and Senegal continue to expand, my study hopes to highlight the important written intellectual culture and manuscript heritage of Mauritania, and its influence on the rest of the region. My paper will focus on some private collections in Nabbaghiyyah, a scholarly village in the southwestern region of Mauritania. It will examine the [uncatalogued] rich collections owned by Shaykh Muhammad Faal aka Bah, a prominent scholar and founder of the famous Nabbaghiyyah theological seminary (mahdara), and other scholarly families in the village. Furthermore, I will analyze the genres and content represented in these manuscript collections, discuss their histories, material culture, and how some of these texts are taught and used at contemporary traditional centres of Islamic learning (mahadir).
Paper Abstract: Until recently, the Islamic manuscripts with annotations in Soninke written in Arabic script remained unnoticed in European libraries and private collections in West Africa. The paratextual materials in these manuscripts, especially references to local intellectuals, give insights into connections between the texts, individuals, and places. A careful study of the paratexts leads to the identifications of distinct groups of manuscripts, aligning them with scholarly networks. Very often the actors of these networks are recognisable in their individual roles as teachers and students. The interplay between the local languages they used in writing point to specific methods of Islamic education that connected various ethnic groups. The paper will demonstrate how manuscript evidence can be used to reconstruct a larger picture of the Islamic learned tradition in the Senegambia and Mali of the 18th–20th centuries.
Paper Abstract: Arabic-script manuscripts in Sub-Saharan Africa represent a huge wealth of material for studying African civilizations and culture. They are countless, spreading over a vast area. Recent catalogues of manuscripts in Sub-Saharan Africa will remain incomplete as long as many manuscripts are kept in private libraries.
This paper seeks to highlight the circumstances and factors that contributed to the creation and spread of the manuscripts culture and its historical traditions, both in Arabic and local “foreign” languages in Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on key social changes that gave rise to this big volume of writings, the need to use Arabic script to write in local languages, and the communication channels that contributed to the spread of this trend.
We will look at the main historical periods that saw the rise of these writings, with focus on the nineteenth century given its big production, and examine the Hausa-speaking countries as an example, due to the spread of a variety of Arabic-script local manuscripts in them.
This paper analyses the following:
The key circumstances and factors that contributed to the creation of the manuscripts culture in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The spread of historical traditions of Arabic and foreign manuscripts;
Intellectual, social and political channels that contributed to their spread.
Types of texts and their historical significance.
Paper Abstract: Berber forms part of the culture of a number of African peoples. For example, in southern Morocco, Sous Berber is the main language of communication.
Throughout history, local scholars interacted with Islamic theology and Arabic linguistics, resulting in cognitive intimacy between Berber and Arabic script and creativity in dealing with various cognitive issues, including manuscripts.
The Sous people used Arabic script to write a large part of their religious and Arabic knowledge. This shows the importance of Arabic in their eyes and the emergence of knowledge production that serves it, such as Berber manuscripts that are dictionaries, codes and writings in Arabic scripts for Berber-speaking people. These are spread in several libraries in Sous.
This paper will look at excellent examples of Sous manuscripts in Arabic script that tried to explain Arabic knowledge and culture, examining their characteristics and the main topics they cover, and focusing on the phenomenon of Arabic-script dictionaries.
Paper Abstract: In this paper, I propose to build on earlier research into reading marks in Qur’anic manuscripts. That research, by Dutton and others, highlights the fact that orthographic conventions (for diacritics, vowel marks, etc…) which wre used in Kufic manuscripts are markedly different from the conventions used in later manuscripts, and indeed those of modern printed editions produced in Egypt and elsewhere. There appears to be an assumption that this difference can be traced back, at least in part, to the localized practice of North Africa.
The present paper looks at the survival of the conventions of Kufic manuscripts in handwritten copies of the Qur’an from Africa. In particular, I will consider the use of colored dots in texts from Morocco and Nigeria. I will argue that the remarkable survival of these orthographic features in the modern period not only serves to assert a local identity, but also to connect with a larger, ancient tradition of writing the Qur’an.
Paper Abstract: Close study of the song-text manuscript anthologies connected with the Andalusian music traditions of Morocco reveals some distinctive features that taken together suggest a vibrant sub-culture linking this musical tradition to prestige, erudition and other social values in late-medieval/early modern Morocco, especially in Fez. Some characteristics in common with other genres include the basic methodologies of manuscript writing (scoring and framing of the text box, and so on); the use of relatively high-quality papers; finely executed maghribī mujawhar script; and occasional annotations and corrections added as marginalia (sometimes in the original hand, sometimes not). Features that set many of these manuscripts apart from other genres include elaborate use of coloured inks, including gilt; and occasional use of decorative maghribī thuluth headings, often in several colours. The papers of these manuscripts are especially interesting, because through them we may trace the transition from old or antique laid paper to modern wove paper parallel with the technological developments in Europe, but later by some decades. Even as late as the 1930s, when printing had overwhelmed commercial book production, aficionados of the music were still having high-quality handwritten copies made of these anthologies, demonstrating the social prestige of owning and displaying such documents in the context of Arab-Moroccan culture.