Approaches to the Quran in sub-Saharan Africa

Toronto, 20–21 May 2011

Venue: The workshop will be hosted by the Textile Museum of Canada, on the occasion of the exhibition on, ‘Magic Squares: the Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture’ (May 18 – November 20, 2011).

Organised by Professor Zulfikar Hirji, York University, Toronto.
Co-sponsored by The Institute of Ismaili Studies and York University, Toronto (Department of Anthropology).

This workshop brings together scholars from various academic disciplines, with an audience of artists, students and community members, to examine a range of issues concerning Islam and Muslim societies in sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on the Qur’aninfo-icon.

The workshop examines the diverse ways in which the Qur’an has been used and interpreted throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly over the last two hundred years. A focused exploration of the way in which Muslims in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa have drawn upon or have been inspired by the Qur’an to articulate their existential and spiritual concerns also aims to generate discussion about the formation, development and future of Islam and Muslim societies in the region. The workshop will explore a range of interrelated themes including:

• Transmission and reception of the Qur’an and Islamic culture in local contexts and local languages with a focus on tafsir, translation traditions and cultures of learning;

• Esoteric interpretations of the Qur’an in ritual practices, religious discourse and transmission of religious knowledge including interfaces, contestations, and rapprochements with exoteric interpretations, and the construction of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heterodoxy’;

• Conservation and preservation of Islamic cultural heritage in sub-Saharan Africa with particular focus on manuscripts libraries of West Africa;

• Religious learning and scholarly authority and networks with a focus on women’s roles and gendered interpretations of Islamic religious texts;

• Expressions and circulation of the Qur’an through material culture, art, popular culture, music and media.

An edited volume including selected papers from the workshop will be submitted for inclusion in the Qur’anic Studies Series 

Workshop: Approaches to the Qur’an in sub-Saharan Africa

Toronto, 20–21 May 2011
Venue: The workshop will be hosted by the Textile Museum of Canada, on the occasion of the exhibition on, ‘Magic Squares: the Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture’ (May 18 – November 20, 2011).
Organised by Professor Zulfikar Hirji, York University, Toronto.
Co-sponsored by The Institute of Ismaili Studies and York University, Toronto (Department of Anthropology).


Friday, 20 May

9:00-9:30 Opening remarks
Zulfikar Hirji (York University) 

9:30-11:00 SESSION 1: The pen/voice: tafsir and translation
Moderator: Amila Buturovic (York University)

Tal Tamari (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris) [link to bio]
Qur’anic exegesis in Manding language and culture (Guinea, The Gambia, Mali). 

Dmitry Bondarev (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) 
Arabic and Old Kanembu tafsir tradition in Borno (northeast Nigeria) as represented in the early Qur’an manuscripts and modern-day Qur’an recitation 

11:00-11:30 Break

11:30-13:00 SESSION 2: In letter/spirit: contested readings of the Qur’an
Moderator: Omar Ali-de-Unzaga (Institute of Ismaili Studies) 

Adeline Masquelier (Tulane University)
Prayer, piety, and pleasure: contested models of Islamic worship in Niger 

Terje Østebø (University of Florida)
The revenge of the Jinn: Salafism and perceptions of change in contemporary Bale (Ethiopia) 

13:00-14:30 Lunch (for workshop scholars and moderators)
Exhibition walk-through with Patricia Bentley (Senior Curator, Textile Museum of Canada)

14:30-16:00 SESSION 3: Imagining/imaging the Word
  Moderator: Sarah Fee (Royal Ontario Museum)

Ruba Kana’an (York University) 
‘And God will protect you from the people’ (Q. 5:67): Qur’anic text on a
talismanic shirt from West Africa (Burkina Faso)

Patricia Bentley (Textile Museum of Canada & York University) 
The patterned imagination: a study of West African textiles in museum collections with regard to the magic squares represented on them 

Beth Buggenhagen (Indiana University, Bloomington) 
Muslim visual cultures and the image economy in global Senegal

17:00-19:00 Exhibition Opening Reception

19:00-21:00 ARTISTS’ PANEL: The manifest and the hidden
Co-sponsored by the Textile Museum of Canada and Subtle Technologies

Moderator: Zulfikar Hirji (York University)

Dialogue-presentations by Jamelie Hassan, Hamid Kachmar, Alia Toor and Tim Whiten 

Saturday, 21 May

9:00-9:30 Opening remarks
  Zulfikar Hirji (York University) 

9:30-11:00 SESSION 4: Ritual prescriptions/scriptural repercussions
  Moderator: Janice Boddy (University of Toronto)

Susan J. Rasmussen (University of Houston) 
The woman who did not become possessed: Tuareg Islam and the problem of gendered knowledge and power in a visitational dream (Niger) 

Kjersti Larsen (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo) 
By way of the Qur’an: soothing emotional and mundane matters in  Zanzibar (Tanzania) 

11:00-11:30 Break

11:30-13:00 SESSION 5: Re/circulating the Word
  Moderator: Wesley Jordan Oakes (York University) 

Scott S. Reese (Northern Arizona University) 
Missionising the ummainfo-icon: Sufi writings and the dissemination of ‘orthodoxy’ in early 20th century Somalia 

Chanfi Ahmed (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin) 
The contribution of West African ulamainfo-icon in the spread of the wahhabiyya teaching in Saudi Arabia 

13:00-14:00 Lunch (for workshop scholars and moderators)

14:00-15:30 SESSION 6: Voicing/reading religious authority
Moderator: Selma Zecevic (York University) 

Joseph Hill (American University, Cairo) 
Women who are men: daughters of Shaykhinfo-icon Ibrahim Ñas and the paradoxes of women’s religious leadership in Senegal 

Kai Kresse (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin) 
Swahili Islamic pamphlets: case studies from Mombasa (Kenya)

15:30-16:00 Break

16:00-17:30 SESSION 7: Trans/formative transmissions
  Moderator: Remi Warner (York University) 

Andrea Brigaglia (University of Cape Town) 
From the tablet to paper leaves: Islamic metaphysics and the symbolism of traditional Qur’anic education in Hausaland (Nigeria) 

Ryan Thomas Skinner (Ohio State University) 
In the name of God: Islam and the interpellation of (im)moral subjects in
Malian popular music 

17:30-19:30 Break & Dinner (for workshop scholars and moderators)

Preserving/mediating the Word: the manuscript libraries of Timbuktu
Moderator: Ruba Kana’an (York University) 
Honoured Guest Lecture
Abdel Kader Haidara (Director, Mamma Haidara Library)
The Manuscript Library of Mamma Haidara, Timbuktu (Mali)

Rahim S. Rajan (Independent) [link to bio] & Harlan Wallach (Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio) 
From naskh and hides to digital bytes – developing digital surrogates of
Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts 

Music Performance 
Waleed Abdulhamid Ensemble
Devotional music inspired by Muslim Africa


Workshop: Approaches to the Qur’an in sub-Saharan Africa
Toronto, 20–21 May 2011
Venue: The workshop will be hosted by the Textile Museum of Canada, on the occasion of the exhibition on, ‘Magic Squares: the Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture’ (May 18 – November 20, 2011).
Organised by Professor Zulfikar Hirji, York University, Toronto.
Co-sponsored by The Institute of Ismaili Studies and York University, Toronto (Department of Anthropology).

Paper Abstracts in order of presentation:

Tal Tamari (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris)
Qur’anic exegesis in Manding language and culture

After surveying what is known of Qur’anic exegesis in different regions of Africa, this paper will present the findings of field research concerning several languages, especially Manding (Bamana, Maninka, Mandinka, and Dyula speech forms), carried out primarily in Mali but also in Guinea and The Gambia. In these areas, the entire Qur’an is read aloud, orally rendered into and commented upon in the local language, in two contexts: for a wide audience, in the month of Ramadan; as a subject of the advanced curriculum, in traditional forms of Islamic education. Brief passages may also be cited and commented upon in the Friday sermon, in public preaching, and in the madrasa (modernising Islamic schools). In accordance with what appears to be a general practice in West Africa, the Arabic text is parsed into syntactical units, then translated – unit by unit – into the local language. Analysis, which will be extensively illustrated by Manding oral commentaries collected in the field, will focus on: their basis in Arabic written texts; Qur’an reading and recitation styles; the specialised vocabulary created by scholars (usually from Manding roots) to express religious concepts; specific syntactical features of scholarly discourse; and stylistic and rhetorical features.

Dmitry Bondarev (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
Arabic and Old Kanembu tafsīr tradition in Borno (northeast Nigeria) as represented in the early Qur’an manuscripts and modern-day Qur’an recitation.

The annotated Qur’an manuscripts written in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries by the scribes of the Borno Sultanateinfo-icon represent a unique corpus of tafāsīr in Arabic and Old Kanembu – a Saharan language that was used for Qur’anic interpretation at that time.  These bilingual annotations provide direct evidence for the intensive study of tafsīr at a time when Borno was at the height of its political power and religious influence in the region.  The paper is organized as follows. Section 1 provides a description of the digital collection of the Borno Qur’an manuscripts. Section 2 discusses a wide variety of commentaries in Arabic both well known (totaling to twelve identified tafāsīr) and unidentified (seven titles and three authors). Section 3 introduces commentary to the Qur’an in Old Kanembu and in the language known locally as ‘Tarjumo’, a descendant of Old Kanembu. Tarjumo functions synchronically only as a language of commentary on texts written and read in Arabic. It is unintelligible to the speakers of modern Kanembu and its sister language Kanuri and can only be understood by people who have received special education. Section 4, finally, addresses the relation between the commentaries in Arabic and Old Kanembu/Tarjumo.

Adeline Masquelier (Tulane University)
Prayer, piety, and pleasure: contested models of Islamic worship in Niger

Since the early 1990s in Niger a state-controlled, ostensibly monolithic Islamic tradition has evolved into multiple modes of Muslim religiosity, some of which actively denounce the secularism of the state and the erosion of religious values. The spread of reformist Islam contributed to the hardening of doctrinal differences and the sharpening of religious identities, sparking intense debates over the correct practice of Islam. Prayer has been the object of particularly virulent debate between rival religious factions. Because of how it sets the tempo of daily life in Muslim communities, prayer is synonymous with Islam in Niger. Whether or not they perform the five daily prayers, Muslims are referred to as ‘those who pray’. In communal prayer, the faithful publicize their fellowship and unity. Distinctions or deviations in styles of worship which may prove acceptable in private, inevitably become declarations of specific religious orientations. As visible expressions of religious membership, they also become part of struggles for the control of public space. In this essay I explore the contentious debates surrounding worship that took place in the provincial town of Dogondoutchi, and I highlight how liturgical issues, themselves an index of cleavages emerging within society, provided an effective means through which Muslims reinvented themselves as custodians of endangered Islamic values. Although so-called traditionalist Muslims were compelled to articulate cogently their interpretation of the Qur’anic scripture in the face of Muslim reformists’ criticisms, they continued to rely on the legitimizing weight of tradition and the value of commonsense to justify particular ritual conducts.

Terje Østebø (University of Florida)
The revenge of the jinn: Salafism and perceptions of change in contemporary Bale (Ethiopia)

The re-emergence and rapid expansion of Salafism from the early 1990s has transformed and reconfigured the religious landscape in a number of localities in Ethiopia. One of these localities is Bale, an Oromo area, a stronghold for Salafism, and the focus for this paper. Largely apolitical in character, the Salafi movement in Bale has been overly concerned with existing religious practices, and has arduously attacked pilgrimages to local shrines, the celebration of mawlid al-Nabi, and has in general sought to cleanse Islam from any traits of Oromo cultural elements, considered as unlawful. Underscoring the role of Islamic scripture as the sole authority for enjoining what is right and condemning what is wrong, the Salafis have brought a more cognitive approach to texts, challenging earlier ‘magical’ understandings and usages of scriptures as talismans and amulets with curative powers. The Word, the Salafis claim, is the only legitimate guide for religious purity, and must hence be read and understood.

Although religious changes have been extensive and highly visible, there are, not surprisingly, certain degrees of continuity from earlier conceptions. This paper seeks to move beyond oft-used dichotomies which position recent Islamic reformism as disconnected from the past which it seeks to correct, as “alien” to the African context, and addresses the complexity of appropriation and accommodation of impetuses for change. The point of departure for my paper is a story I collected during my fieldwork (2005-2007) in Bale, and which I have called “The revenge of the jinn”. The story is about a group of jinn, frustrated over the decrease of offerings brought to them, taking revenge upon the people. Through a detailed analysis of the story, my aim is to discuss the alterations brought by the Salafis – with a focus on the complexity of continuity and change. I will demonstrate that although earlier conception of Islam was challenged, many of the localized perceptions of earlier spiritual forces remained relevant among the reformists. Moreover, focusing on the context of the text, I will discuss how a changed approach to Islamic scripture – with a more clear-cut emphasis on the actual content and meaning of texts – has been decisive for the process of change, and, at the same time, demonstrate how this approach is being accommodated to the locality of Bale. In sum, I believe my findings enhance our understanding of contemporary Islamic reformism as inherently connected to the dynamic character of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ruba Kana’an (Textile Museum of Canada)
‘And God will protect you from the people’ (Q. 5:67): Qur’anic Text on a talismanic shirt from West Africa  

This paper examines the Qur’anic and other textual content written on a talismanic shirt from the early 20th century Burkina Faso (T91.0091) now in the Textile Museum of Canada. The aim of this study is to understand the Qur’anic text used on this shirt in relation to similar texts found on talismanic shirts from West Africa, as well as other Muslim contexts, including the esoteric use of the ‘99 names of Allah’. I will argue that while expressed in a local idiom, talismanic shirts and the use of Qur’anic text as a talisman, is a common practice that can be found throughout the Muslim world in different historical periods.

More particularly, the paper considers the way in which the Qur’anic and other textual materials on the shirt inform us about the various amuletic uses of the Qur’an in Muslim contexts as well as the theological rationales and the diverse juridical arguments that are often used to support or prohibit such practices. It also problematizes the manner in which these talismanic shirts tend to be interpreted as ‘folk’, ‘syncretistic’, or ‘heterodox’ expressions of Islam, in contrast to notions of ‘high’, ‘pure’ and ‘orthodox’ practice. Such arguments are particularly germane to the study of Islam in Africa.

Patricia Bentley (Textile Museum of Canada)
The patterned imagination: a study of West African textiles in museum collections with regard to the magic squares represented on them

The Patterned Imagination examines certain non-figurative repeat patterns in order to better understand their unique role in the production of cultural meanings. The specific focus is on a constellation of patterns that emerge from magic squares, especially as they appear on West African textiles in an Islamic context. Magic squares are represented, both explicitly and implicitly in patterns, on many Islamic West African textiles as talismans with the power to effect protection and healing for the wearer. Since the textiles under study are encountered at the Textile Museum of Canada, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I ask the question, ‘how has the meaning of their patterns changed through their move from their originating space into an institutional space, whether physical (museum) or virtual (photo, cinema, Web-based representation or academic discourse)’?

Beth Buggenhagen (Indiana University, Bloomington)
Muslim visual cultures and the image economy in global Senegal

If there is a Muslim visual culture, a particular way of seeing in Muslim West African societies, what is the place of photography in these visual worlds? In this paper I analyze the visual manifestations of trans-local trade circuits organized under the aegis of Tariqainfo-icon Muridinfo-icon.  The Murid way emerged in Senegal at the turn of the 20th century as an agrarian movement seeking autonomy from French colonial rule. Today, the vast majority of Murid men and women engage in global trade networks. As Murid traders weave cargo and currency through official and unofficial spaces of the global economy, challenging regulatory authorities along the way, they also circulate the media of social production along these same routes: religious texts and images, cloth, and photographs and videos/DVDs of life cycle ceremonies. In this paper I consider the ‘visual practice’ (Roberts and Roberts 2003) of matrimonial photography in trans-local Murid households. These portraits, along with other forms of value such as cloth and objects of adornment, circulate in a visual economy concerned with hierarchy and rank based on a beautiful birth (rafet-u-juddo), which manifests itself as honour and wealth. These images capture outer beauty (sanse) and project inner grace (baraka) by drawing on the tension between zahirinfo-icon, the visible, and batininfo-icon, the invisible prevalent in Sufi thought. How and when are objects of wealth made visible through dress, display, and bestowal, and at what points are they concealed or withheld from circulation? As forms of display and concealment, how do portraits work the contradictory forces of conservation and change, of the seen and the unseen, and the pleasures and pressures of give and take? And how do these images enable women to keep something back from the pressure to give (Weiner 1992)? How does the historic shift in portrait photography from capturing the jikko, or essence of the person, to multiplying surfaces (Pinney 2001, Buckly 2000), or ways of seeing the image, relate to wider structural transformations in Murid social worlds. To answer these questions I focus on the production, circulation and reception of these visual objects to understand how processes of social production unfold in contexts of transnational migration marked by political uncertainty and fiscal turbulence.

Susan J. Rasmussen (University of Houston)
The woman who did not become possessed: Tuareg Islam and the problem of gendered knowledge and power in a visitational dream

This essay explores the connections between gender, altered states, and cultural representations of Islam. The focus is upon ‘battles’ between spiritual beings, namely, the soul (iman), ancestors (Kel Arou or Kel Nad), spirits mentioned in the Qur’an (djinn or djinnoun), and the ‘spirits of the wild’ (Kel Essuf) among the Tuareg (Kel Tamajaq) of rural Niger, West Africa, as illustrated in a case study: a woman’s dream, her consultations with an Islamic scholar/diviner, his prescribed ritual, and the spiritual and social outcomes of these processes in a semi-nomadic, Muslim, socially stratified rural community of Tamajaq-speaking Tuareg in the rural Air Mountains. The first portion of the paper presents a critical overview of anthropological studies of two kinds of altered states spirit possession and dreams, and argues for integrating them to reveal additional aspects of their connections to religion and gender. There is an emphasis upon works from Muslim communities in Africa. The next portion of the paper analyzes the central question: of why this woman, who dreamed of a spiritual being diagnosed as the soul of her deceased husband who had died far from home, did not follow another path frequently followed by persons who experience nostalgia, solitude, or ‘the wild’ (essuf) in Tuareg society: namely, possession by the Kel Essuf spirits of the wild, solitude, and nostalgia, followed by exorcism in some cases, or by a pact with the spirits conferring divining powers in other cases (Rasmussen 1995, 2001, 2006).  The analysis explores similarities and differences between concepts of spirits, ancestors, and souls in Tuareg cosmology and philosophy, which derive from Islam and also pre-date it.  The analysis also examines key players who shape the interpretation of spiritual beings and influence their impact: namely, medico-ritual specialists whom many Tuareg consult for non-organic and other illnesses, who include male Islamic scholars and female medicine women. There is analysis of ways the dreamer/patient and healer understand themselves and dreams, as well as altered states more broadly in relation to gendered religious authority and knowledge, in a society where many women enjoy high social prestige and independent property ownership, but also struggle over changing gender relations, and negotiate over Qur’anic and local cultural interpretations of Islam that are sometimes flexible and interwoven and sometimes contradictory and competing. The data suggest finer nuances than rigid binary oppositions in differences between ‘official/organized’ scriptural and textual religions and so-called ‘popular’ or ‘indigenous’ religions, and suggest alternatives to interpreting altered states as either solely resistance or solely accommodation. More broadly, the essay explores the connections among gender, altered states of dreams and possession/mediumship, and circulating religious authority and knowledge (Crapanzano 1973, 1992; Lohmann 2003), in terms of overlaps, accommodations, and dissonance between Islam and local cultural interpretations of Islam (Boddy 1989; Masquelier 2001; McIntosh 2004, 2009; Rasmussen 1995, 2001, 2006).

Kjersti Larson (University of Oslo)
By way of the Qur’an: soothing emotional and mundane matters in Zanzibar

This paper explores how the Qur’an or rather, the words of the Qur’an, is understood and practiced as medication, dawainfo-icon, among so-called ordinary women and men in Zanzibar Town. Thus the paper focuses uses of the Qur’an in both ritual and social life. The presence and evocation of the Qur’an obviously induces a ritual context, still the Book and its rehearsed words also forms part of the more mundane settings of everyday-life. Hence, I will critically examine how the Qur’an combines and conflates what is often denoted as a distinction between a ritual and social space. A common Zanzibari approach to the Qur’an, its meaning, materiality and properties, mirror, one the one hand, a particular understanding of how the religious may easily conflate with what is usually seen as the social, moral and political fields. On the other hand, a Zanzibari use and understanding of the Qur’an is constantly bringing to the fore specific socio-cultural values in all their complexity. Following from this, my aim is thus to argue how the Qur’an as it is practiced and understood in Zanzibar, both reflect and generate a society where the religious is social and the social is religious and where human religious authority remains fluid and rather difficult to delimit, mark and embody over time as well as across spatial boundaries.

The discussion will be grounded in data collected through social anthropological fieldwork conducted in Zanzibar from 1984 until present, focusing particular ethnographic cases both questioning and illustrating how the Qur’an may be involved when matter of emotional and mundane matters are investigated and sometimes, solved in this particular society along the East African coast. 

Scott S. Reese (Northern Arizona University)
Missionising the umma: Sufi writings and the dissemination of ‘orthodoxy’ in early 20th century Somalia

On a spring morning in 1921, Shaykh Abdullahi al-Qutbi led a string of camels out of the coastal town of Berbera and into the Somali interior. Rather than loaded with trade goods, his pack animals were carrying copies of his latest work, al-Majmu’a al-Mubaraka—The Blessed Collection. The Majmu’a was a compilation of pamphlets that ranged across a number of subjects from diatribes against his own Qadiriyya order’s perceived enemies the Salihiyya to instruction on attaining the path to annihilation of the self in the presence of God. Within its pages, however, a surprising amount of space is devoted to what at first might seem far more mundane subjects. These include rudimentary instruction in the Five Pillars of the faith, proper prayer ritual and social etiquette, advice on writing contracts that were legal within the parameters of Islamic law, and guidance in distinguishing the permitted (halal) from the forbidden (haram) in every day life. The treatment of topics that would have been routine to most Muslims in a work of esoteric knowledge was no accident. Their inclusion was part of al-Qutbi’s mission to spread not only the teachings of his Qadiriyya order into the Somali hinterland, but also to extend the reach of ‘orthodox’ knowledge into what many considered the furthest reaches of the Islamic frontier – a place where herders and agriculturalists might call themselves Muslim but where the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnainfo-icon were often only vaguely recognized.

The 20th century is regarded by many as a period in which scripturalist and modernist reformers increasingly dominated Muslim public discourse. Utilizing the printing press and new means of communication such as steam travel and the telegraph, reformists were able to disseminate their teachings further and faster than ever before. However, as the example of Shaykh Abdullahi demonstrates, they were not the only ones to use these new technologies to transmit particular visions of the faith. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Sufi Shaykhs such as al-Qutbi spread their teachings throughout the Somali interior. While seeking to propagate the esoteric teachings of Islamic mysticism, individuals like al-Qutbi were also concerned with more basic beliefs among the peoples of the interior. In their estimation, superstition and local custom dominated rural society while the most basic teachings of the Holy Book were often unknown. They sought to remedy this deficiency by distributing works such as the Majmu’a to Qur’anic teachers in villages and hamlets in the hope of spreading what they viewed as a more proper faith. A close reading of the mystical literature produced in Somali before the middle of the last century indicates that the Majmu’a al-Mubaraka was hardly an anomaly. Printed hagiographies and collections of mystical poetry provided similar guidance to the faithful on how to follow a path derived from the teachings of the holy scriptures. Utilizing these and other sources, this paper examines the efforts of Somali Sufis to bring the lessons of these texts to their brethren in the hope of truly extending the boundaries of the faith and banishing the dark shadows of superstition through the light of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunna of God’s Prophet.

Abdallah Chanfi Ahmed (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)
The contribution of West African ulama in the spread of the wahhabiyya teaching in Saudi Arabia

The focus of my presentation is the history of some West African ulama who decided to emigrate (i.e., to perform a hijrainfo-icon) from their homeland when they had lost their jihadinfo-icon against European colonial armies. They decided to escape Christian rule and to move into the heartland of the Islamic world – the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Instead of a temporary exile, which is normally the meaning of hijra, they settled there permanently. By means of a description of the hijra route and the presentation of some biographical notes of these ulama, the first aim of my paper is to show how the fates and the life stories of these African elites were closely related to the colonial history of West Africa. This migration’s history, namely, the emigration of Muslims from West Africa to Sudan, and then to Mecca and Medina, as a result of the European colonization, represents an aspect of the colonial history in Africa that has been neglected despite its importance. The second aim of my paper is to show the contribution of these West African ulama to the education system of Saudi Arabia and in the propagation of the wahhabiyya doctrine inside and outside Saudi Arabia, especially in West Africa. At the methodological level, the question I explore here is about the connection between biographies and social structures.

Joseph Hill
Women who are men: daughters of Shaykh Ibrahim Ñas and the paradoxes of women’s religious leadership in Senegal

The considerable literature on the history and social organization of Sufi Islamic groups in West Africa has focused almost entirely on highly visible male leaders and their political implications. Researchers’ biases have conspired with local gender practices to obscure women’s, sometimes decisive, exercise of religious authority. This paper discusses several daughters of the Tijani Sufi shaykh, Ibrahim Ñas, in Senegal who act as Islamic leaders and teachers. While these women are widely recognized as Qur’an teachers, internationally influential Islamic authorities, channels of their father’s divine blessing (baraka), their formal appointment as Sufi spiritual guides who regularly induct male and female disciples into the Sufi order is far less widely known.

In exercising and justifying their religious leadership, these women both utilize and undermine conventional attitudes toward proper Muslim women’s piety and social roles. On the one hand, they present their teaching and leadership roles merely as natural variations on their roles as mothers and keepers of the home. Furthermore, they associate the interior dispositions expected of pious Muslim women with the inner nature of the mystical knowledge that is central to this Sufi movement’s growth. Yet on the other hand, they appeal to Sufi doctrines seeking the transcendence of all distinctions to argue that gender distinctions are illusory. Yet rather than eliminate gender categories, they follow Sufi texts in claiming that, in a mystical sense, a spiritually advanced woman is a man.

Operating largely from within their own bedrooms, the daughters of Shaykh Ibrahim Ñas significantly shape this Islamic movement’s operation within Senegal and its globalization. This paper discusses several of these daughters, focusing especially on two of the best known, Sayyida Mariyama Ñas and Sayyida Roqiya Ñas. Both run multiple Islamic schools, have a powerful voice in the community’s operation in Senegal, have a significant following in other West African countries, and are known even in the Middle East as religious authorities. Sayyida Mariyama was recently interviewed on Al Jazeera and described how she had acted as an envoy of the Senegalese government to Middle Eastern countries. Both are most famous for teaching the Qur’an, which is not only God’s word but is part of nearly every Senegalese Muslim’s childhood and by extension can be associated with maternal nurturing. Because these elder children of Shaykh Ibrahim Ñas appear in public meetings far less often than their brothers and do not bear certain formal titles that only men bear (such as ‘Khalifa’), they are easily overlooked as leaders; yet younger brothers defer to their seniority. Sayyida Mariyama Ñas, for example, is sometimes treated as the senior representative of the Sufi group in Dakar even though her younger brother bears the title of ‘Khalifa’ there. Paradoxically, in this Sufi context where forms of truth and authority presented as ‘hidden’ are often viewed as the highest and most legitimate, the hidden nature of these women’s authority often serves to heighten their prestige and perceived piety.

Kai Kresse (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)
Swahili Islamic pamphlets: case studies from Mombasa

In East Africa, as well as in other parts of the Muslim world, reference to the Qur’an unifies Muslims as a religious community as much as it separates different Muslim groups from each other. Differences in the interpretation of the universally identical text (in classical Arabic) matter here, and indeed make all the difference between competing schools of Islamic thought and their followers. This can be seen in local Islamic texts as well as in the conduct of and communication among Muslims. Competing interpretations of the Qur’an (or common assumptions about this) shape an underlying basis for arguments and discussions that we can observe in publications and everyday life – in this case in East Africa, and specifically the Swahili coast and Mombasa as a regional publishing centre. Depending on context and circumstance, such differences may be left implicit or they may be picked up on and emphasized (e.g., for rhetorical reasons).

Drawing from long-term anthropological research in Mombasa and textual research on Islamic pamphlets, books and newspapers in Kiswahili, I will focus mainly on two prominent local publications, and read and contextualize them with a view to such dynamics. The first one, Uwongozi (Guidance), was first published in 1944 during the British colonial era and is a selection of brief scholarly and social commentaries addressing the Muslim community of the early 1930s, by Sheikhinfo-icon Al-Amin Mazrui (1891-1947), the initiator of modern Islamic reform in East Africa. The second, Sauti ya Haki (Voice of Justice), is an Islamic newspaper quarterly published between 1972 and 1982 by his student and protégée Sheikh Muhammad Kasim Mazrui (1912-1982). Both writers also began to translate the Qur’an into Kiswahili – a project which their student/peer Sheikh Abdalla Saleh Farsy successfully completed in 1969.

Along the lines of my ethnographic research, I will use these readings as entry-points to illustrate some aspects of internal diversity of Islam in East Africa, and tensions between significant groups of regional Muslims. These can be explored further, with more or less emphasis on the role of the Qur’an itself, with a view to social relationships among Muslims in everyday interaction.

Andrea Brigaglia (University of Cape Town)
From the tablet to paper leaves: Islamic metaphysics and the symbolism of traditional Qur’anic education in Hausaland (Nigeria)

This paper looks at the allo (Hausa term for al-lawh), the wooden tablet formerly used throughout the Muslim world for the teaching of the Qur’an, and still adopted in most traditional West African Qur’anic schools. The paper focuses on the role of the allo in the first stages of traditional Islamic education in Hausaland (Northern Nigeria) and on the symbolism associated with it. A special emphasis is placed on discussing the anthropomorphism of the different physical shapes taken by the allo through the different stages of traditional qur’anic studies. Far from being a mere substitute of paper as a support of learning before the latter became easily (and cheaply) available in the region, the allo continues to be considered in many of the traditional Islamic schools as the necessary support for writing the Qur’an in the elementary stages of education. The allo, in fact, is not simply a material tool for writing, but it is an item charged with a complex net of symbolic meanings. The allo allows the student to conceive his learning as the re-enactment (and not only the transmission) of the original process of Revelation, of the ‘descent’ (nuzul) of the archetypal, eternal Qur’an from the heavenly ‘Preserved Tablet’ (al-Lawh al-mahfuz) to the Prophet Muhammad.

Ryan Thomas Skinner (Ohio State University)
In the name of God: Islam and the interpellation of (im)moral subjects in Malian popular music

In this paper, I examine Islam as a morally steeped and widely deployed discursive resource in the verbal art of urban popular music in Bamako, Mali. My focus is on the inter-textual and inter-subjective references to Islamic thought and practice in three distinct, though frequently overlapping genres of vocal performance: praise song, rap, and dance band lyricism. Within these genres, I observe how Malian vocalists invoke Islam as a sign of religious ideology to interpellate individual listeners as ‘moral subjects’. By ‘ideology’, I mean those paradigmatic systems of social and cultural hegemony (such as religion), which prescribe (without wholly determining) modes of identification in society. Drawing on Althusser’s notion of ‘interpellation’ in which subjects are positioned within ideological systems through the vocal and gestural call-and-response of the hail (“Hey you!”), I attend to the specifically, though not exclusively Islamic morality of subjects called forth – or interpellated – in live and mediated musical expression. As a politics and poetics of (mis)recognition, I am also interested in the anticipated, though ultimately highly variable, and sometimes totally unforeseen listener responses to Islamic interpellation in Malian popular music, in which listening is understood as a dynamic, structured and structuring practice of ideological subject formation.

Taken together, my three case studies reveal Islam, as an ideological sign of musical interpellation in Bamako, to be a variable and fluid vehicle of moral ‘subjectivation’ in the Malian capital. The moral subjects produced by the vocalized ‘call’ of Islam in Malian popular music are irreducibly plural, in whom various shades of Islamic morality co-exist with other moralizing ideologies, articulated through, in my studies, ethno-linguistic, generational, political, and commercial, as well as other religious affiliations. Yet, in all cases, the voice of Islam re-sounds as a vital and privileged discursive resource in Bamako popular culture. Through the hybrid musical sign of a common faith, artists and audiences attempt to re-call – in the form of recurrent interpellating gestures of vocal expression and reception – their moral subjectivity in what is perceived to be an increasingly immoral world. Despite the heterogeneity of the ‘Islam’ they invoke, this popular musical public produces an aesthetic of moral interpellation that is surprisingly coherent and consistent, from which a locally salient urban Bamakois morality emerges. In all cases, Islamic thought and practice is juxtaposed with other social and cultural signs of moral subjectivity to frame public discourse and ethically orient public selves. Of course, these inter-textual framings and inter-subjective orientations do not always articulate as anticipated, revealing the spectre of (mis)recognition to haunt the very morality that is called into being.

Abdel Kader Haidara (Director, Mamma Haidara Manuscript Library in Timbuktu, Mali)
The Mamma Haidara Memorial Library, Timbuktu, Mali

The Mamma Haidara Library was started by Abdul Kader Haidara, former employee of the Ahmed Baba Institute (IHERI-AB). After leaving the centre he devoted all of his time and energy to preserve his own family’s manuscript collection and was successful in setting up the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library, which was the first of its kind in Mali. The Haidara family is renowned for its scholars and judges. Abdul Kader’s father, Mamma Haidara, was not only a judge (qadiinfo-icon), but also a scholar who taught classical Islamic sciences such as Jurisprudence and Arabic Grammar. His personal library dates back to the 16th century and is one of the largest and oldest collections in the city. This library was established by Mamma Haidara’s forebear, Mohamed El Mawlud, and was handed down to his descendents, generation after generation. Mamma Haidara added to it substantially, buying manuscripts while studying in Egypt and Sudan. He also studied under local scholars in the village learning centres of Arawan and Boujbeyha, procuring manuscripts there as well. In addition to his Timbuktu library, Mamma Haidara had also established an archive in the village of Bamba. Mamma Haidara’s efforts were by no means restricted to the collation and preservation of manuscripts. He also established collaborative relationships with other manuscript libraries in the region, facilitating research and exchange. When Mamma Haidara died in 1981, he not only left behind a tremendous legacy for his son, Abdul Kader, but also a passion for manuscripts and an education in basic cataloguing and conservation skills.

Rahim S. Rajan (Independent) & Harlan Wallach (Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio)
From naskh and hides to digital bytes - developing digital surrogates of Timbuktu’s historic manuscripts

In 2005, Aluka (since merged with JSTOR) began a dialogue with members of library and scholarly communities, expressing an interest in helping to solve some of the challenges faced by libraries in Timbuktu. In January 2007, Aluka entered into a formal partnership with SAVAMA-DCI (L’organisation Non Gouvernmentale pour la Sauvegarde et la Valorisation des Manuscrits pour la Defense de la Culture Islamique), a Timbuktu-based NGO whose mission is to help private manuscript libraries in Mali safeguard, preserve, and understand their intellectual treasures. As part of this project, Aluka also partnered with two academic groups, Northwestern University’s Advanced Media Production Studio (NUIT A&RT NUAMPS), led by Mr. Harlan Wallach, and the Tombouctou Mss Project at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Historical Studies. This project provided SAVAMA-DCI with the resources to catalogue 600 manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara and Imaminfo-icon Essayouti Libraries in Timbuktu and equipment and training in digitizing 300 of these manuscripts. 

Our presentation will detail the original impetus and vision behind the collaboration as well as the various steps involved in creating a formal collaboration between the core partners. During the course of the project, there were four trips to Timbuktu by the administrative, training, and implementation teams. This timeline involved concurrent development work across two continents on the broad range of components needed to successfully deliver on the project goals. We will also discuss the project’s implementation, results to date, and finally, concluding remarks about future directions and prospects.


Workshop: Approaches to the Qur’an in sub-Saharan Africa
Toronto, 20–21 May 2011
Venue: The workshop will be hosted by the Textile Museum of Canada [LINK to], on the occasion of the exhibition on, ‘Magic Squares: the Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture’ (May 18 – November 20, 2011).
Organised by Professor Zulfikar Hirji, York University, Toronto.
Co-sponsored by The Institute of Ismaili Studies and York University [LINK TO], Toronto (Department of Anthropology).

Workshop Participants in alphabetical order:

Omar Ali-de-Unzaga
Dr Omar Ali-de-Unzaga is the Academic Coordinator of the Qur’anic Studies Unit at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), London. He gained his PhD from the University of Cambridge and is currently preparing a monograph called ‘A Philosophical Reading of the Qur’an: Exegetical thought in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren (Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-ṣafāʾ), as well as a translation and critical edition of the Epistle ‘On Character Traits’ of the Ikhwān al-ṣafāʾ. He is also the Series Editor of the Qur’anic Studies Series published by Oxford University Press in association with the IIS.

Abdallah Chanfi Ahmed
Abdallah Chanfi Ahmed is trained in Islamic Studies and in social history. He has written on a variety of topics related to Islam in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly East Africa, including Sufi revival, Muslim preachers, and Islamic education and NGOs. He is the author of numerous books and articles including: Islam et Politique aux Comores (2000); Ngoma et Mission Islamique (da’wa) aux Comores et en Afrique Orientale. Une Approche anthropologique (2002); Les Conversions à l’Islam fondamentaliset en Afrique au sud du Sahara. Le cas de la Tanzanie et du Kenya (2008) and the introduction to a special issue on “Performing Islamic Revival in Africa” (Africa Today 54, 4: 2008). His current research investigates the role of West African ulama in Mecca and Medina in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Patricia Bentley
Patricia Bentley (BA, Hon. AOCAD) is a textile expert and an award winning museum education specialist and exhibition designer. In her position as Senior Curator at the Textile Museum of Canada, she develops and implements programs for children, students and lifelong learners. She has also curated and designed several exhibitions, including Drawing with Thread, The Lion King of Mali, Dance of Pattern, The Blues and The Cutting Edge. Bentley’s authoring projects for the Web include Canadian Tapestry: the Fabric of Cultural Diversity and the game and explore site In Touch: Connecting Cloth, Culture and Art. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at York University, investigating magic squares from mathematical, artistic and socio-cultural perspectives. She is the curator of Magic Squares: The Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture.

Janice Boddy
Janice Boddy is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on Muslim Sudan and N.E. Africa.  She has published numerous articles and book chapters and three books, Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan (U. Wisconsin Press, 1989), Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl (Knopf and Random House 1993), and Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan (Princeton U. P., 2007). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto.

Dmitry Bondarev
Dmitry Bondarev’s (MA, PhD, St. Petersburg State University, Russia) research interests cover African linguistics (Saharan languages with a focus on Kanuri/Kanembu), the history of writing in Arabic based scripts (Ajami) in Africa, and annotated Qur’anic manuscripts in West Africa. In 2003 he started analysing Old Kanembu – an archaic (and virtually unknown) variety of Kanuri as attested in Qur’an manuscripts. During his fieldwork trips to north-east Nigeria and south-east Niger in 2005-2010 he worked on Kanuri and Kanembu dialects including an offspring of Old Kanembu (Tarjumo) used by Islamic scholars for Qur’anic studies. As a lead researcher, he is involved in the Early Nigerian Qur’anic manuscripts project (SOAS/AHRC) and in a DFG/AHRC funded international project on Old Kanembu with colleagues at Asien-Afrika-Institut, University of Hamburg. He is a regional editor (sub-Saharan Africa) of the “Encyclopaedia of Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Africa”, University of Hamburg.

Andrea Brigaglia
Andrea Brigaglia holds a PhD in African Studies from the University of Naples “L’Orientale” and is currently a Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Cape Town. His main field of research is the intellectual history of Islam in Northern Nigeria, with a particular focus on tafsir, as well Arabic and Hausa religious writings by Northern Nigerian scholars. He has also done research in Ghana and Chad.

Beth Buggenhagen
Beth Buggenhagen is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She completed her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology in 2003 at the University of Chicago. She has conducted fieldwork in Dakar and Tuba, Senegal, and in the North American cities of Chicago and New York City. Her current research interests include circulation and value, material and visual culture, and gender and Islam. She is the editor (with Anne-Maria Makhulu and Stephen Jackson) of Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities (University of California Press, 2010). She is also the author of the forthcoming book, Muslim Families in Global Senegal: Money Takes Care of Shame (Indiana University Press, 2011), which analyzes how Senegalese Murid migrants have circulated cargo and currency through official and unofficial networks globally. Muslim Families in Global Senegal focuses on trade and the transmission of enduring social value though cloth and religious offerings. Highlighting women's participation in these networks and the financial strategies they rely on, Beth Buggenhagen reveals the connections between economic profits and ritual and social authority. These strategies are not responses to a dispersed community in crisis, but rather produce new roles, wealth, and worth for Senegalese women in all parts of the globe.

Amila Buturovic
Amila Buturovic (PhD, McGill) is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at York University. Her research interests span the intersections of religion, culture, and identity, especially in the context of Islamic societies. She is also interested in the theories and practices of translation and polyglossia, and has written on that subject in relation to Arabo-Islamic Spain and the Ottoman Balkans. Her publications include many articles and essays on these varied subjects. She is the author of Stone Speaker: Medieval Tombstones, Landscape, and Bosnian Identity in the Poetry of Mak Dizdar (2002), and a co-editor, with Irvin C Schick, of Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History (2007). Her latest research concerns the spaces and culture of death in Bosnia, focusing on the questions of continuity and discontinuity in the eschatological sensibilities, epigraphic texts, and commemorative practices in Bosnian cultural history.

Sarah Fee
Sarah Fee is Associate Curator of Eastern Hemisphere Textiles and Costume at the Royal Ontario Museum. She holds degrees in Anthropology and African studies from Oxford University and the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris. Her research and publications have focused on the textiles in Madagascar, particularly on women, weaving, and ceremonial exchange among the southern Tandroy cattle herders. Most recently, her work explores the historic connections between trade and cloth production along the western Indian Ocean rim.

Abdel Kader Haidara
Sheikh Abdel Kader Haidara is heir, director, and curator of the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library at Timbuktu, Mali, which is the largest of 22 private libraries in the City of Timbuktu, and out of the 120 in The Republic of Mali. He is one of Timbuktu‘s leading manuscripts experts, and the son of a renowned local collector, Mamma Haidara. He was 17 when his father died and left the collection in his hands. He was enlisted to collect manuscripts for the newly established Ahmed Baba Institute for Documentation and Research in Timbuktu, the first concerted efforts to save Mali‘s ancient manuscripts that opened in 1970. He was successful in collecting more than 20,000 manuscripts for the Institute. It was later that he was able to raise enough money to open the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library, through the help of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University, who visited Timbuktu in 1996. The Andrew Mellon Foundation and other international friends have enabled the library to construct a new permanent home for its collections, which opened to the public in 2000. Today the library holds over 10,000 ancient manuscripts and many printed books. This family library has been in the Haidara family since before the 16th century. Abdel Kader Haidara is the honored guest and keynote speaker for the workshop.

Joseph Hill
After receiving his PhD in Anthropology from Yale University in 2007, Joseph Hill taught at Yale University, the University of Rochester, and the American University in Cairo. His ongoing, collaborative research project documents a transnational Sufi movement, the Tijaniyya Ibrahimiyya, in West Africa, looking at its urbanization, globalization, and integration into contrasting political and cultural contexts. His fieldwork has concentrated on Senegal and Mauritania, with additional research among West African Muslims in New York and Cairo. The leitmotif underlying his academic writing is the question of how multiple claims of truth and authority are accommodated and contested through discourses of “visible” and “hidden” truths. He has explored this theme in articles on language, gender, cosmopolitanism, sovereignty, and globalization. Currently, he is writing a book on women who act as Sufi leaders where religious authority is strongly associated with men. He shows how women both utilize and undermine prevalent gender roles to support their leadership. Although women’s authority and influence are largely hidden due to the expectation that pious women must not seek visibility, women’s leadership decisively impacts the spread and governance of Sufi groups.

Zulfikar Hirji
Zulfikar Hirji (DPhil, Oxford) is Associate Professor at York University in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. As an anthropologist and social historian, he is interested in how human societies articulate, represent and perform understandings of self, community and other in contemporary and historical contexts. His research focuses on Muslim societies in a range of historical and contemporary contexts. He is particularly concerned with the diverse ways in which Muslims express and articulate issues of deep human concern as well as matters of daily life. He also interrogates knowledge produced about Muslims, by academics and others. His research interests have lead him to study a range of issues including the production and performance of identity, the role of cultural workers and social movements, the dynamics of family networks and inter-generational migration, the socio-legal formation of communal identity in colonial contexts, and form and context of urban violence in religiously plural societies. He has conducted archival research and ethnographic fieldwork in various parts of the world including East Africa, South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and North America. He is co-author and co-editor (with F. Daftary) of the Ismailis, An Illustrated History (IB Tauris & IIS, 2008), and editor of Diversity and Pluralism in Muslim Contexts (IB Tauris & IIS, 2010). He is currently co-editor of the Routledge Indian Ocean Series. In 2011, he has been an academic consultant for the Textile Museum of Canada exhibition and program on Magic Squares: The Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture, and has completed his first film, ‘Pushpanjali: A sensory invocation’, which is part of an ethnographic research project on the life-world of Tehreema Mitha, a Pakistan born, USA based, dancer-choreographer. Other current research projects include a critical biography of Sheikh-Sir Mbarak al-Hinawy (1896-1959), the second liwali of the British coastal protectorate at Mombasa.

Ruba Kana’an
Ruba Kana’an (DPhil, Oxford) is the Noorinfo-icon Chair in Islamic Studies at York University. A specialist in Islamic art, the urban histories of pre-modern Muslim societies, and the interface between art and law in Muslim contexts, she has held the posts of Dean and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Research Fellow at Oxford University and Visiting Fellow at the Aga Khaninfo-icon Programme for Art and Architecture at Harvard University. Professor Kana’an has undertaken a number of academic research projects including a study of institutions of architectural patronage in Ottoman Palestine including the waqf, and the manner in which pre-modern Muslim societies created civic space. This research formed the basis of two articles published in the journals Levant (2001) and Muqarnas (2001). Her research has also taken her to Oman where she carried out a comprehensive survey of Oman’s historical mosques focussing on their socio-legal development and artistic influences. An important aspect of this survey concerning the uniquely decorated mihrabs of Ibadhi mosques is published in Islamic Art in Oman (2008). Most recently, her interest in the confluence between art and law in Muslim contexts has lead to the re-assessment of the relationship between artist and patron in medieval Muslim societies. Her first article on this topic, “The de jure ‘Artist’ of the Bobrinski Bucket: production and patronage in pre-Mongol Khurasaninfo-icon and Transoxiana”, was published in Islamic Law and Society (2009), and the second will appear in Ars Orientalis in 2012. She is currently working with the Textile Museum of Canada on a talismanic shirt from West Africa.

Kai Kresse
Kai Kresse is Vice-Director for Research at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin. An anthropologist, philosopher, and Africanist by training, he joined ZMO from the University of St Andrews, where he was Lecturer in Social Anthropology between 2002 and 2009. He was Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College (Oxford) in 2005. His research interests include African philosophy, cultural philosophy, philosophical anthropology, and the anthropological study of knowledge and intellectual practice; ethnographically, they include the investigation of historical axes and social networks across the Indian Ocean, Swahili texts in social context, Islam in East Africa, and African literature. His current ethnographic research focuses mainly on East Africa and the Swahili coast in postcolonial Kenya, with a view to wider African and Indian Ocean contexts. He developed a conceptual approach to the anthropology of philosophy in his monograph Philosophising in Mombasa (Edinburgh University Press, 2007). Other books include Struggling with history: Islam and cosmopolitanism in the western Indian Ocean (ed. with Edward Simpson, Hurst & Columbia University Press, 2007), Knowledge in practice: expertise and the transmission of knowledge in Africa (with Trevor Marchand) (Edinburgh University Press, 2009), and Sagacious Reasoning: Henry Odera Oruka in memoriam (with Anke Graness) (Peter Lang, 1997).

Kjersti Larson
Kjersti Larsen holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from University of Oslo, Norway. She is Professor at Department of Ethnography, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo where she, in the period 1992-1996, was Head of Department. Larsen has also been Adjunct Professor at the Department of Development Studies, University of Life Science, Norway. She was a member of the ICARDA Board of Trustees in 2003-2009. Larsen has been a visiting scholar at Centre for Cross-Cultural Research on Women, University of Oxford; Centre d’Études Africaines, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales; International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden University, Netherlands. She conducts research in Muslim societies in East Africa; at the Swahili Coast (1984-present) and in Northern Sudan (1997-2008). Larsen has several international publications including, Where Humans and Spirits Meet: The Politics of Rituals and Identified Spirits in Zanzibar (Oxford, 2008).

Adeline Masquelier
Adeline Masquelier is Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. She studied anthropology at the University of Chicago where she received her PhD in 1993. She is currently editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa. She has conducted extensive research in Niger and has published essays on a range of topics including spirit possession, Islam and Muslim identity, youth, twinship, dress, medicine, and witchcraft. Her books include Prayer Has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger (Duke, 2001) and Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town (Indiana, 2009) which won the Melville J. Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association in 2010.  She is editor Dirt, Undress, and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body’s Surface (Indiana, 2005). Her current research focuses on youth culture in Niger.

Wesley Jordan Oakes
Wesley Jordan Oakes is undertaking a PhD in Social Anthropology at York University. His research examines processes of place-making among young Somalis in London’s East End. He is interested in understanding the relationships and networks that sustain migrant and cosmopolitan Muslim identities, and how these identities are negotiated in light of unfolding debates in Britain over immigration, integration, citizenship, ‘race’, and human rights.      

Terje Østebø
Terje Østebø is a scholar of religion and an assistant professor at the Center for African Studies and the Department of Religion, University of Florida. His research interests are Islam in Southern Ethiopia, contemporary Islam and Islamic reform in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, ethnicity and ethno-nationalism. Publications include Localising Salafism: Religious Change among Oromo Muslims in Bale, Ethiopia, forthcoming (Brill, 2011); “Local Reformers and the Search for Change: The Emergence of Salafism in Bale, Ethiopia”, forthcoming in Africa, 81, 3, 2011; “Une économie salafi de la prière dans la région du Balé en Éthiopie”, in Afrique Contemporaine, 231 (2009); “Growth and Fragmentation: The Salafi Movement in Contemporary Bale, Ethiopia”, in Roel Meijer (ed.): Global Salafism: Islam's New Religious Movement (Columbia University Press, 2009); “The Question of Becoming: Islamic Reform Movements in Contemporary Ethiopia”, in Journal of Religion in Africa, 38, 4 (2008).

Rahim S. Rajan
For the past ten years, Rahim S. Rajan has played a critical role in the development and availability of online educational and scholarly resources serving the global academic and research community. Prior to joining The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Special Initiatives group in April 2011, he was based in New York City working as a Content Development Manager at ITHAKA. In that role, he worked with publishers, researchers, archives, museums, and libraries around the world to bring online their scholarly publications and collections for the benefit of students and faculty. Prior to that, he was a member of the founding management team at Aluka – a digital and not-for-profit start-up created with assistance from ITHAKA, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Arcadia. Aluka successfully worked with more than 100 global partners to make available online a large mass of scholarly materials from and about Africa. At Aluka, he played a critical role in creating African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes – an online collection that includes high-quality, scholarly, visual and spatial documentation of more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites and cultural landscapes from across Africa. Prior to joining Aluka in 2005, he was the Assistant Director for International Library Relations at JSTOR. In this role, he helped expand JSTOR’s international reach by working to build awareness and access among libraries across North America, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Europe. Prior to joining JSTOR, he assisted his family in the repatriation of his family’s seized assets in Rwanda. He also co-led an expedition to the Ansariyya Mountains to document Ismaili and Muslim heritage sites across Syria. He holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge in Middle East Studies. He is also a graduate of the Institute of Ismaili Studies’ Graduate Program in Islamic Studies and the Humanities.

Susan J. Rasmussen
Susan J. Rasmussen is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Houston, whose research interests include anthropology of religion, gender, aging and the life course, healing specialists, medico-ritual processes, and verbal art performance. She has conducted field research in Tuareg (Kel Tamajaq) communities in Niger and Mali, West Africa, and more briefly also among other Berberinfo-icon (Amazighinfo-icon) – speaking expatriates in France, on topics including female spirit possession; the life cycle and rites of passage; herbal medicine women; diviners and mediums; rural and urban smith/artisans; the impact of sedentarization on gender constructs; and modern Tamajaq plays and urban actors. Publications include approximately sixty articles and chapters in academic journals and edited volumes, and four authored books: Spirit Possession and Personhood among the Kel Ewey Tuareg (Cambridge, 1995); The Poetics and Politics of Tuareg Aging (Northern Illinois University Press, 1997); Healing in Community (Bergin & Garvey, 2001); and Those Who Touch (Northern Illinois University Press, 2006). Current projects include two books in progress on topics of ritual powers and theatrical performance.

Scott S. Reese
Scott S. Reese is a historian of Islamic Africa and the Indian Ocean with a particular emphasis on comparative history aimed at breaking down many of the regional and geographic categories currently in use across the academy. His main research interests are comparative Sufisminfo-icon, modern Muslim discourses of reform and the construction of world systems both in fact and imagination since 1500. These interests are mirrored in his teaching which includes comparative world, Islamic intellectual and modern and pre-modern African as well as European colonial histories. He is the editor of the critically acclaimed The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa, and author of “The Death of Shaykh Uways,” a critical translation in Tales of the Friends of God, ed. J. Renard, Renewers of the Age: Holy Men and Social Discourse in Colonial Benaadir, and “‘Respectable Citizens’, of Shaykh Uthman: Religious Discourse, Translocality and the Construction of Local Contexts in Colonial Aden,” in Struggling with History, eds. K. Kresse and E. Simpson. He has a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Middle East Studies titled, “Salafi Transformations: Aden and the Changing Voices of Religious Reform in the Inter-war Indian Ocean”.

Ryan Thomas Skinner
Ryan Thomas Skinner is an ethnomusicologist who studies 20th and 21st century popular music and identity formation in Africa and its European and American diasporas. His research focuses on understandings and expressions of moral and ethical subjectivity in Bamako, Mali, and the role of music in (re)producing such ethico-moral knowledge and practice. His recent work explores the transnational and postcolonial emergence and production of West African socio-musical identities (Mande jeliw, or “griots” in New York City and professional musicians, or “artists” in Bamako) and the lives and works of those who claim and perform such identities. His research experience includes extensive fieldwork and study in Mali, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. Support for this research has come from the Fulbright Program, the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. He is also the recipient of writing fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Whiting Foundation. He has published articles and reviews in the journals Popular Music, African Arts, the Journal of American Folklore, and Mande Studies. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Music and African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University.

Tal Tamari
Tal Tamari is Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France, and a Lecturer at the Free University of Brussels. She has a background in history, social anthropology and linguistics. She has focused on ‘castes’ (endogamous artisan and musician groups), Islam and traditional religions in West Africa. She has carried out fieldwork mainly in Mali, but also in The Gambia, Guinea, Egypt, and India.

Harlan Wallach
Harlan Wallach is Head of Northwestern University’s Advanced Media Production Studio
(NUIT A&RT NUAMPS), Wallach has been engaged in the digitization and preservation of cultural heritage around the world. He works in the area of digital culture, humanities and publications, for both local and international initiatives. He has worked extensively in Asia with the Dunhuang Academy and the Shaanxi Cultural heritage & preservation institute, been engaged with The Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Aluka project (now ITHAKA JSTOR) to digitize manuscripts from Timbuktu, and a broad range of University based e-culture initiatives. Some highlighted projects would be: The Encyclopedia of Chicago History
(; The Online TriQuarterly (; the digitization component of the online NUL Winterton Collection of 19th Century Photography (; and, the 2010 Chinese Cultural Relics press published report for the “Imag(n)g Shuilu’an” project entitled Images of Shuilu’an (ISBN 978-7-5010-2841-2).

Remi Warner
Remi Warner teaches in the Department of Social Anthropology at York University in Toronto, Canada, in the area of race and popular culture.  His doctoral dissertation, Battles over Borders: Hiphop and the politics and poetics of race and place in the new South Africa, explores the making and re-making of South African youth identities and social relations through the prism of South African hiphop music and cultural expression.

Selma Zecevic
Selma Zecevic (PhD, Columbia University) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities at York University. Her research focuses on the strategies of legal interpretation in the Ottoman Empire, and most notably the construction and negotiation of gender in Ottoman Bosnian legal texts (fatwas and manuals) and endowment documents (waqf names).  Her work is highly interdisciplinary, relying on polyglot sources (Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Italian) and different genres of writings. Her recent work examines the ways in which Catholic Ragusans - women and men - used Ottoman-Islamic legal institutions in order to renegotatie their legal rights as subjects of Ottoman Sultans and citizens of the semi-independent Catholic Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Her research, teaching and discussion of women and gender in Muslim societies includes the publication of “Missing Husbands, Waiting Wives, Bosnian Muftis: Fatwa Texts and the Interpretation of Gendered Presences and Absences in Late Ottoman Bosnia” in Women in the Ottoman Balkans (2007), and the facilitation of a session at Canadian Council of Muslim Women’s symposium.
Exhibition & Artists’ Panel

Curated by Patricia Bentley (Senior Curator, Textile Museum of Canada), Magic Squares: The Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture is the Textile Museum of Canada’s new groundbreaking exhibition.  The exhibition showcases four contemporary artists who explore the relationship of patterns, communication and spirit in conversation with textiles and symbols from the Museum’s permanent collection of Islamic African artifacts. These artifacts index the coming together over many centuries of Islamic and indigenous African systems of aesthetics based on religious ideas and practice that have produced a visually complex, dynamic, and vitally alive practice of signs and symbols that remain alive up to the present-day. The four artists, Jamelie Hassan, Hamid Kachmar, Alia Toor, and Tim Whiten, address the patterned imaginations of the African artists and artisans who made the powerful and intriguing textiles featured in the exhibition and open a window into the richly symbolic and spiritual world of Muslim Africa.

Exhibition website:

Music Performance

Waleed Abdulhamid
Waleed Abdulhamid is a Sudanese-born multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and producer. In 1992 he moved to Toronto, where he has been an active member of the Toronto music scene. He demonstrates his versatility on a variety of instruments including guitar, bass, drums, flute, harmonica, kirin, bass kirin, darabhuka, marimba, balimbo, congas, bongos, djembe, dumbek and tama. He is known for his striking vocals, his innovative bass technique and his speed and precision on percussion. His music has been described as ‘musical, spiritual and humble’. His musical inspiration comes equally from Sudan, the various traditions of Muslim Africa, and European music including the work of the Canadian classical pianist, Glenn Gould, famous for his renditions of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Waleed believes in using his music to support causes such as Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, OXFAM, UNICEF, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. In 2009, he was Resident Artist at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, collaborating with 11 other artists from different performing arts disciplines to explore different musical fusions, finding commonalities between childhood songs from different cultures. He has also scored and produced the documentary film, ‘Let’s Find A Way’, which has raised funds to help children affected by the HIV virus all over the world. The film won various awards including the Award of Excellence from the Canada International film Festival, Columbia Gorge International Festival, Mexico International Film Festival and Nashville International Film Festival. He has been nominated and awarded several other important awards. Most recently, he received the 2011 New Pioneers Awards for the Arts – an award that recognizes the accomplishments of remarkable immigrants to Canada.