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Writings of Mauritania and the Western Saharan (ALA V) is a testament to the vast quantity of unstudied works (most in unpublished manuscripts) of the region.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: This work took almost ten years (2005-2017). The author was intrigued by local African cultures being belittled by incoming cultures, and their importance and distinct self-expression being disregarded by Arab scholars.
Taking a closer look at the heritage of those cultures, which were called “foreign” to indicate their status as alien to prevalent cultures, the author looks for the basis of this deliberate or undeliberate belittlement of a heritage that has been spread all over the African continent simply because it is written using Arabic script.
The author points out that modern scholars disregarded early Arabic writings in vast areas of Africa since Ibn Khaldun because, apart from references to caves or artefacts, those writings paid no attention to the African heritage that was prevalent in the areas those scholars visited, as the remaining cultural production was verbal and unrecordable. Key national African writers did the same in their areas.
This research is the result of collaboration with a number of specialized scholars from countries chosen by the author to establish the extent to which manuscripts from those countries reflect the heritage of Arabic-script manuscripts. The author selected sixteen manuscripts in sixteen languages from all over Africa and arranged them in two volumes. The first volume includes manuscripts in eight languages in the following order: Malagasy, Swahili, Hausa, Fulani, Wolof, Mandingo, Songhay and Tamashek. The second volume contains manuscripts in Berber, Soninke, Serer, Kanuri, Yoruba, Nobiin, Afar and Afrikaans.