Paper Abstract: There is no doubt that heritage is one of the most important things that should be maintained and preserved. It sometimes represents the records of a whole nation, shedding light on its history, glory and characteristics. The Islamic civilization is known to have made significant contributions to enriching human thought. Muslim scholars understood the meaning of the Quranic verse “Nun. By the pen and what they inscribe”. So they started writing and authoring books. Old explorers such as Abdallah Al-Bakri, Ibn Hawqal, Yaqut al-Hamawi, Ibn Battuta, and others, played a key role in highlighting Islamic heritage, especially in western Africa. I would like to contribute to the research on Arabic-Script Manuscripts in Black Africa by shedding light on the Manuscripts Department, Fundamental Institute of Black Africa, University of Dakar, which plays a vital role in preserving our Arab and Islamic heritage through efforts aimed at collecting, studying and publishing this heritage.
This paper will cover several points, including the causes of preserving our Arab and Islamic heritage and how the French colonialism paid attention to Islamic heritage (manuscripts) in western Africa for special purposes, leading to the creation of the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa in the first half of the past century, and the establishment of the Manuscripts and Islamic Studies Department. The paper will also look at the division of manuscripts at our Department into collections, indicate their age and some famous and important works among them, look at the development and use of manuscripts after Senegal’s independence, and the problem we face in relation to preserving manuscripts. The paper will conclude by highlighting the importance of our Arabic-script manuscripts and the attention they receive from scholars.
Paper Abstract: Soon after its founding in 670 CE, Kairouan (al-Qayrawān) became an important crossroads and scholarly center, especially well-known as the home of the early jurist Saḥnūn b. Saʿīd (d. 240/854), the local historian Abu l-ʿArab al-Tamīmī (d. 333/944), and the prolific Mālikī scholar Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī (d. 386/996). It is not surprising to learn then, that texts from all three of these scholars are found among hundreds of manuscripts that form the library of the “ancient mosque” of Kairouan. What is astonishing, however, is the age of the manuscripts in this library. It includes a fragment of Saḥnūn’s Mudawwana that has a reader’s remark (samāʿ) from AH 235, five years before Saḥnūn’s death, and manuscripts in Abu l-ʿArab’s own handwriting. This library is, arguably, the single most important collection of early Arabic legal manuscripts in the world, containing twenty-three of the thirty oldest Islamic literary manuscripts known to exist (excluding Qur’ans).
In this paper, I will briefly survey the history of this collection, both how it was constituted and how it has been studied in the past 100 years. In addition to major finds from recent scholarship, I will also highlight the work being done by Tunisian conservators to catalog and preserve this important remnant of Tunisian cultural heritage, currently housed at the National Laboratory for the Preservation of Manuscripts in Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia.
Paper Abstract: The Arabic manuscript heritage is the most prolific heritage in the universe, and African manuscripts, whether in Arabic or in African dialects written with the Arabic alphabet, are considered a part of, a substitute for and a continuation of the Arabic literature in African regions.
The subject matter of this paper is a historical, paleographical and codicological review. In other words, it is an overview of the genesis of these books and the evolution of their contents. Therefore, it discusses their calligraphy, its types, origins and transcription methods, and the use of the Arabic alphabet for their writing, in addition to other paleographic issues related to African calligraphy. In its essence, it touches on the used writing tools and materials such as vellum and paper, and researches the ways in which they were manufactured or imported and presents the opinions of some of the great specialists in African books such as the French orientalist Octave Houdas, 1916 AD, and the British orientalist John Hunwick, 2015 AD. Then, we pose the following question: Are these suggested readings possible? The answer will be partial, because what is available in our hands of this heritage is scarce and most of it dates back to the nineteenth century with a small part written and copied before that time. Also, because this heritage was neglected and marginalized by the natives and French orientalism which gave all the attention to the Arab heritage in North Africa. In general, this heritage is still in the stage of collection, discovery and indexing, and has not yet reached the stage of studying, drawing conclusions and making judgements, despite the efforts made by international organizations such as the UNESCO in an attempt to collect this heritage in order to write a new history for West Africa. The oral source was the dominant element in writing this heritage since the eleventh century, similar to what we see in the Tarikh Al-Fattash chronicle and the History of Sudan of Abdul-Rahman al-Sa’di, and others like Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti except for the translations of some of his contemporaries and those who preceded them especially in his two books Nayl Al-Ibtihaj and Kifayat Al-Muhtaj, which are both based on Ibin Farhoun’s Al Dibaj Al Mouthahhab, 799 Hijri. The oral source remained the basis of knowledge until the end of the twentieth century.
The contemporary Malian thinker Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1901-1991) said: “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”. (In French: Quand un vieillard meurt c’est une bibliothèque qui brûle).
The evidence for the importance of this heritage and the necessity of researching its private collections in particular is that from time to time it leads to the discovery of precious Arab works like what happened in 1999 when the Al Darouri Fi Sina’at Al Nahu of the great philosopher Ibn Rushd, 595 Hijri, was discovered after it had been lost for several centuries.
Paper Abstract: Ancient manuscripts are compiled by scholarly institutions based in various historic cities such as Timbuktu. As a sum of knowledge passed down from generation to generation, they contain valuable information and represent an essential reference source in the fields of thought, religion and the creation of social and family ties. In Africa, the written word and, even more so, manuscripts, permeate the social fabric and contribute to the construction of society’s historical, cultural and educational edifice in various ways. Manuscripts inform emotions and ideas and bring individuals together. As with any handwritten tradition, that of Africa materialises the spoken word while ensuring its perpetuity; that it is preserved and communicated across time and space. Thus, in West Africa, across the immense Sahara and practically all along the Niger River, from Guinea to Nigeria, passing through Mali and Niger, from Guinea to the Atlantic Ocean, passing through Senegal and Mauritania, societies were permeated by written culture. The need to write and own manuscripts became a sign of social distinction. Teachers, pupils and scholars owned manuscripts which they transcribed or purchased for their studies. The pride of a scholar was measured by the number of manuscripts on his bookshelf. This contribution aims to trace the history of how the handwritten tradition evolved in Africa and particularly in West Africa.
Paper Abstract: Old Kanembu, one of the earliest written languages of the Sahelian Africa, was used in the Qur’an manuscripts produced between the 17th and the early 19th centuries in the Borno Sultanate in what is now northeast Nigeria and southeast Niger. The manuscripts host dozens of Arabic tafsīr sources, testifying to a rich exegetical tradition going back many centuries. Old Kanembu survives in its modern-day offspring called Tarjumo, which is a formally acquired language used among the speakers of Kanuri and Kanembu in studying Arabic grammar and in ceremonial bilingual recitations of the Qur’an and other religious Arabic texts. Being a highly specialised linguistic code, Old Kanembu/Tarjumo is unintelligible to lay speakers and it is always dependent of the source Arabic text. However, Old Kanembu exerted influence beyond the exegetical context and there is evidence that a poetic register used for independent composition in vernacular drew on Old Kanembu grammar. This talk will look into a 19th-century manuscript with a poem written in modern Kanembu. The poem exhibits some grammatical features which are common in Old Kanembu of the Qur’an manuscripts. Why such features have not been retained in the modern-day Kanuri and Kanembu religious poetry remains an open question to which some ideas will be offered.
Paper Abstract: Current studies on Islam in Senegal have focused on the political influence of the country’s four powerful Muslim brotherhoods – Qadiriyya, Tijaniyya, Muridiyya, and Laayen – on electoral outcomes and state politics. The few researches recently produced focus exclusively on Wolof Islamic literature, leaving out an important pioneering Pulaar Islamic literature whose cultural reach extends beyond national boundaries. As the first to embrace Islam in Senegal, the Haalpulaar (literally the speakers of Pulaar/Fula) have used ‘Pulaar Ajami’ (Arabic scripts used to transcribe the Pulaar language) for centuries. These texts were written by local Islamic authors affiliated with the branch of the Tijaniyya Muslim Brotherhood historically founded by Algeria-born Ahmad al- Tijani and spread in West Africa by Umar Taal (ca. 1796 – 1864) and his descendants in Senegal, Mali and Guinea. The current project aims to digitize a total of 6,000 pages of text in Senegal and Mali based on the guidelines of the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, which funded the project. In this paper, we intend to present a brief description of about 4000 pages of the Arabic manuscripts that we have collected and digitized so far. By targeting these rare sources, the project provides access to a rare material in the hope to facilitate investigation of Islamic Africa’s intellectual contribution to world civilization, as well as the study of Islamic literatures, languages and linguistics. Furthermore, the digitized manuscripts may provide crucial information on African Islamic thought and culture, currently facing scrutiny due to the increased anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Paper Abstract: The Yoruba (southwest Nigeria) constitute the second largest ethnic group in Nigeria. The earliest evidence of the presence of Islam and literacy goes back to the 16th/17th century. The earliest history of the people, which is traced to the latter part of the 17th C, was in Yoruba language but in the Arabic script (Ajami). This makes Yoruba one of the oldest African languages with an attested history of Ajami. (Cf. Mumin & Versteegh 2014; Hofheinz 2018). However, the oldest, extant Yoruba Ajami exemplar is a 19th C Islamic verse (waka) by Badamasi Agbaji (d. 1895- Hunwick 1995). There are several items of Yoruba Ajami in poetry, personal notes, esoteric knowledge (Cf. Bang 2019), among others. Nevertheless, Yoruba Ajami remained idiosyncratic and not socially diffused, as there was no standardized orthography. The plethora of dialects, the absence of a central promotional institution, among others, are responsible. My paper will examine the efforts (Abdussalām (1992), Yūsuf (1997), Amīn (1998, 2000), Abdulhameed (2008, 2013), and ISESCO (2014f) towards the establishment of a standard Yoruba Ajami orthography for sacred and mundane usages among the locals, sufi orders, and educational institutions. It will analyse the obstacles that impeded the success of the efforts and how to overcome them. How a standard Ajami orthography can popularize the diffusion of knowledge and information in a digital scholarly and social milieu will be discussed.