In this article, I focus on the historiography of Islam in West Africa while also reflecting upon and assessing existing scholarship in the broader field of the study of Islam in Africa. My position as an anthropologist who conducts historical research informs my perspective in evaluating the current state of the field and my suggestions for directions in which I think future research might move in order to advance our understanding of Islam and Muslim societies and the history of religious life in Africa more generally.
I am grateful to John O. Hunwick for the many stimulating exchanges that have informed this essay and to Robert Launay, Rüdiger Seesemann, and four anonymous reviewers for their critical readings of earlier drafts.
1 The already existing essentialist thinking about Islam and Muslims both within and outside the academy that has proliferated even further in the post-September 11, 2001 era has had implications for the study of Africa that are beyond the scope of this essay. See Soares, B. F. and Otayek, R. (eds.), Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa (New York, 2007).
2 Launay, R., ‘An invisible religion?: anthropology's avoidance of Islam in Africa’, in Ntarangwi, M., Mills, D., and Babiker, M. (eds.), African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice (Dakar, 2006), 188–203; and Saul, M., ‘Islam and West African anthropology’, Africa Today, 53:1 (2006), 3–33.
3 See, for example, Lewis, I. M., Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism (London, 1971). For West Africa, see Stoller, P., Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power, and the Hauka in West Africa (New York, 1995); and Masquelier, A. M., Prayer has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger (Durham, NC, 2001).
4 Peel, J. D. Y., Aladura: A Religious Movement among the Yoruba (Oxford, 1968); Fabian, J., Jamaa: A Charismatic Movement in Katanga (Evanston, IL, 1971); Beidelman, T. O., Colonial Evangelism: A Socio-Historical Study of an East African Mission at the Grassroots (Bloomington, IN, 1982); Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. L., Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume 1: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa (Chicago, 1991).
5 In contrast, see the work in religious studies by Patrick J. Ryan on Yoruba Muslims, Ryan, P. J., Imale: Yoruba Participation in the Muslim Tradition: A Study of Clerical Piety (Missoula, MT, 1977).
6 See Robert Launay's overview of the study of Islam in Africa, which has informed my own thinking about this topic, in Launay, R., Beyond the Stream: Islam and Society in a West African Town (Berkeley, CA, 1992), esp. 14–22.
7 See, for example, Cuoq, J., Histoire de l'islamisation de l'Afrique de l'Ouest: des origines à la fin du XVIe siècle (Paris, 1984); Froelich, J.-C., ‘Essai sur l'islamisation de l'Afrique noire’, Le Monde Religieux, n.s. 29 (1966), 281–93; and Trimingham, J. S., A History of Islam in West Africa (London, 1962).
8 On traditions of Islamic reform in Africa, see Loimeier, R., ‘Patterns and peculiarities of Islamic reform in Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 33:3 (2003), 237–62; and Loimeier, R., ‘Traditions of reform, reformers of tradition: case studies from Senegal and Zanzibar/Tanzania’, in Hirji, Z. A. (ed.), Diversity and Pluralism in Islam: Historical and Contemporary Discourses Amongst Muslims (London, 2010), 135–62.
9 Hargreaves, J., ‘The Tokolor empire of Ségou and its relations with the French’, in Butler, J. (ed.), Boston University Papers on Africa, Volume II: African History (Boston, 1966), 125–45; also see Robinson, D., The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1985).
10 Last, M., The Sokoto Caliphate (London, 1967); Hiskett, M., The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of the Shehu Usuman dan Fodio (New York, 1973).
11 On Umar Tall, see Robinson, Holy War; and Ly-Tall, M., Un Islam militant en Afrique de l'Ouest au XIXe siècle: la Tijaniyya de Saïku Umar Futiyu contre les pouvoirs traditionnels et la puissance coloniale (Paris, 1991). On Samori, see Person, Y., Samori: une révolution dyula, 3 vols. (Dakar, 1968–75).
12 See Lamin Sanneh's critique of such studies in Sanneh, L., ‘Review of D. Robinson, The Holy War of Umar Tall: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 18:3 (1988), 286–90.
13 Wilks, I., ‘The transmission of Islamic learning in the Western Sudan’, in Goody, J. (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies (Cambridge, 1968), 162–97.
14 Sanneh, L., The Jakhanke: The History of an Islamic Clerical People of the Senegambia (London, 1979).
15 , J.-L.Triaud, , ‘Le thème confrérique en Afrique de l'ouest’, in Popovic, A. and Veinstein, G. (eds.), Les ordres mystiques dans l'Islam: cheminements et situation actuelle (Paris, 1986), 271–82; Soares, B. F., ‘Rethinking Islam and Muslim societies in Africa’, African Affairs, 106:423 (2007), 319–26.
16 Triaud, ‘Le thème confrérique’, 277.
17 On the Tijaniyya, see , J.-L.Triaud, and Robinson, D. (eds.), La Tijâniyya: une confrérie musulmane à la conquête de l'Afrique (Paris, 2000) and the detailed studies of some of its important branches by Hanretta, S., Islam and Social Change in French West Africa: History of an Emancipatory Community (Cambridge, 2009); Seesemann, R., The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival (New York, 2011); Soares, B. F., Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town (Ann Arbor, MI, 2005); and Seesemann, R. and Soares, B. F., ‘“Being as good Muslims as Frenchmen”: on Islam and colonial modernity in West Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa 39:1 (2009), 91–120.
18 Hargreaves, ‘Tokolor empire’.
19 One important exception is Brenner, L., West African Sufi: The Religious Heritage and Spiritual Search of Cerno Bokar Saalif Taal (Berkeley, CA, 1984), which drew upon Amadou Hampâté Bâ's earlier and more hagiographic study of the same figure. See Bâ, A. H., Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bokar: le sage de Bandiagara (Paris, 1980). A more recent, deeply compelling study that takes religious discourse in the study of Sufism seriously is Seesemann, Divine Flood.
20 Two recent notable exceptions are Umar, M. S., Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule (Leiden, 2006); and Seesemann, Divine Flood.
21 Babou, C. A. M., Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913 (Athens, OH, 2007).
22 Kaba, L., The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa (Evanston, IL, 1974); Loimeier, R., Säkularer Staat und islamische Gesellschaft: die Beziehungen zwischen Staat, Sufi-Bruderschaften und islamischer Reformbewegung in Senegal im 20. Jahrhundert (Hamburg, 2001).
23 Trimingham, History of Islam; Fisher, H. J., ‘The juggernaut's apologia: conversion to Islam in black Africa’, Africa, 55:2 (1985), 153–73.
24 Miran, M., Islam, histoire et modernité en Côte d'Ivoire (Paris, 2006).
25 Brenner, L., Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society (Bloomington, IN, 2001).
26 Hall, B. S., A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960 (Cambridge, 2011).
27 Ware, R. T. III, The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa (Chapel Hill, NC, 2014).
28 Peterson, B. J., Islamization from Below: The Making of Muslim Communities in Rural French Sudan, 1880–1960 (New Haven, CT, 2011); O'Brien, S. M., ‘Spirit discipline: gender, Islam, and hierarchies of treatment in postcolonial northern Nigeria’, in Pierce, S. and Rao, A. (eds.), Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism (Durham, NC, 2006), 273–302.
29 Kobo, O., Unveiling Modernity in Twentieth-Century West African Islamic Reforms (Leiden, 2012); Hanretta, Islam and Social Change; Seesemann, Divine Flood.
30 Peel, J. D. Y., Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (Bloomington, IN, 2000).
31 Shankar, S., ‘A fifty-year Muslim conversion to Christianity: religious ambiguities and colonial boundaries in northern Nigeria, c. 1906–1963’, in Soares, B. F. (ed.), Muslim-Christian Encounters in Africa (Leiden, 2006), 89–114. See also Barbara Cooper's important study of converts to Christianity in Niger in Cooper, B. M., Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel (Bloomington, IN, 2006).
32 See also Sean Hanretta's insightful discussion of new religious movements in Africa in Hanretta, S., ‘New religious movements’, in Parker, J. and Reid, R. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern African History (Oxford, 2013), 298–315.
33 I have written about some of these processes in Soares, B. F., ‘Islam and public piety in Mali’, in Salvatore, A. and Eickelman, D. E. (eds.), Public Islam and the Common Good (Leiden, 2004), 205–26; and in a forthcoming book provisionally entitled, Dogon Muslims and Pagan Saints.
* I am grateful to John O. Hunwick for the many stimulating exchanges that have informed this essay and to Robert Launay, Rüdiger Seesemann, and four anonymous reviewers for their critical readings of earlier drafts.
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