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Charles C. Stewart

Malian political leader and notable Muslim scholar, was the political head of the Timbuktu-area lineage, the Kunta confederation, during the years 1847–1865. He inherited this role from his brother, Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Saghir bin Sidi Muhammad (d. 1847), who had assumed the position from his father in 1824, himself heritor of the influence of the family’s patriarch, his father, Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti (d. 1811). His education in the Azaouad region of Timbuktu encompassed the Islamic disciplines including Arabic language, jurisprudence, and theology. The database of West African writings, West African Manuscripts, provides us with a sense of his intellectual literary productivity: in a sample of 180 manuscript titles there are 47 poems or collections, 41 devotional writings, 33 letters of political polemics, 15 works on Sufism, mainly attacking the Tijaniyya, and 10 juridical decisions. At some point, probably in the late 1820s or early 1830s we know he ...

Article

Islamic scholar and historian from present-day Mauritania. His name is also spelled Sidi Ahmed ould al-Amin al-Shinqiti. The nisba (name extension indicating place of origin) al-Shinqiti does not refer to the town Chinguetti (Shinqit), but was given to him during his stay in the Arab world. All bidan (Moors) going abroad to the Arab world have the nisba al-Shiniqiti added to their names, no matter from which region or town of the so-called Bilad Shinqit (“The lands of Chinguetti”; present-day Mauritania, Western Sahara, and the Azawad region in northern Mali) they come from. In the Arab world they are generally called shanaqita and their country is known as Bilad Shinqit, even if locally different names were circulating in precolonial times.

Ahmad was born around 1863 64 in the Gibla region of what is today southwestern Mauritania Trarza and belonged to a scholarly family He was from one of the Idaw ...

Article

Cheikh Babou

Islamic religious scholar, was born Muhammad Ben Muhammad Ben Habib Allah in Khuru Mbacke, near the village of Mbacke Bawol in west- central Senegal in the early 1850s (1853 is the most commonly cited date). Bamba originated from a family of Fulbe ancestry with a long tradition of Islamic learning. The Mbacke clan left their ancestral land of Futa Tooro in northern Senegal and settled in the kingdom of Jolof among the Wolof (the majority ethnic group in Senegal) sometime in the second half of the seventeenth century. This migration affected the family in two major ways: first, the Mbacke gradually abandoned the nomadic lifestyle of Fulbe herders for that of sedentary Wolof farmers; second, they showed greater inclination toward Islamic learning and increasing assimilation to Wolof culture.

Amadu Bamba was the fourth child of Momar Anta Sali Mbacke and the second son of his mother Jaara Buso He ...

Article

Beverly Mack

the most prominent female Muslim scholar of the Sokoto caliphate in West Africa was born a twin to a learned Fulani family in what is now northern Nigeria Her full name was Nana Asma u bint Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio At the time of her birth her father a Qadiriyya Sufi scholar and preacher was undergoing deep spiritual experiences It is said that these conditions led him to give his twin infants names other than the traditional gender appropriate versions of Hassan and Hussein after the twin grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad Instead Asma u s name harkens back to Asma the daughter of the first caliph the Prophet s close friend Abubakar To many in the nineteenth century Asma u s name was a clear indication that the Shehu anticipated his daughter s adult role to be as important in promoting the cause of a just Islam in the ...

Article

Beth Ann Buggenhagen

In his lifetime Ahmadou Bamba acquired a following of disciples who would become known after his death as the Muridiyya, a Muslim Sufi way. Sufism is an esoteric dimension of Muslim practice and thought in which disciples seek the path to divine union in this life. The Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Babou suggests that at the time of Bamba’s death in 1927, estimates of Murid disciples totaled about 100,000. The Murid path is founded on the teachings of Bamba, who is said to have produced over seven tons of scholarship, which is now housed in the Murid library in Tuba, Senegal. During his lifetime Bamba demonstrated qualities of waliyat (saintliness) and developed considerable spiritual authority. Bamba was a student of the Qur’anic sciences, which he studied with his maternal uncles. Local qadis (Qur’anic scholars) recognized that he was a master scholar. Bamba’s biography, Les Bienfaits de l'eternal ...

Article

Alessandra Vianello

Islamic mystic and scholar, and the most outstanding poetess in Chimini, the Bantu vernacular of Brava, was born in Brava, a coastal city of southern Somalia, in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Her full name was Mana Sitti Habib Jamaladdin, but she was affectionately called Dada Masiti (Grandmother Masiti) by her fellow citizens. Her family, both on the paternal and maternal side, belonged to the Mahadali Ashraf. However, through her mother’s maternal grandfather, Dada Masiti was also related to the Ali Naziri Ashraf, who were locally more numerous and influential. Both groups, who traced their lineage to the Prophet Muhammad, had settled in Brava in the early seventeenth century.

The events that marked Dada Masiti s early years and had a crucial bearing on her subsequent spiritual development are known only through different oral traditions The most widespread version would have her kidnapped as a child of six ...

Article

Tanzanian poet and scholar, was born around 1850 on Pemba Island. His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were also poets and scholars. He lived much of his life in Tanga, in what is now Tanzania. He was married to Mwanasia Suwaka, and both were buried near a mosque built by their son Hemedi Ali el-Buhriy.

Hemedi Abdallah wrote both religious and secular poetry. His published poetry was originally written in the Swahili utenzi (“narrative”) genre and in Arabic script. His most well-known poem is Utenzi wa Vita vya Wadachi Kutamalaki Mrima. This poem describes the 1888–1889 war waged by coastal peoples against the Germans Unlike other narrative poems about the conquest that were solicited by the Germans this poem openly praises the consultative leadership of Abushiri bin Salim who led the struggle and is harshly critical of the German invaders who are described as uncivilized drunken infidels The poem ...

Article

John Calvert

Ibn Khaldoun (1332–1407), a prominent Arab scholar of the medieval period, is best known for the Muqaddima, the introduction to his universal history, which contains one of the world’s earliest expositions of the historical craft. During his life, Ibn Khaldoun served various rulers of North Africa and Egypt as political adviser, teacher, and magistrate. His career was marred by his involvement in a number of political intrigues. While some modern scholars regard Ibn Khaldoun as a political opportunist, others see him as a selfless man who sought a philosopher-king capable of resurrecting the fortunes of the Islamic world, which had been weakened as a result of its division among a number of tribally based dynasties, an Islamic world too long dominated by its tribes.

Ibn Khaldoun was born to an old Yemeni family that had migrated to Seville during the Muslim conquest of Spain in the ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

A skilled military leader and devout Muslim, Sheikh Ma al-Ainin led a popular resistance movement against European imperialism in northern Mauritania, Western Sahara, and southern Morocco. Born in southeastern Mauritania, Ma al-Ainin attended school in Morocco and spent much of his early life engaged in commerce and religious scholarship. In the early 1890s, however, Ma al-Ainin abandoned his business activities to fight the encroaching presence of Europeans in northwestern Africa. Ma al-Ainin’s first target was the Spanish campaign to colonize the Western Sahara. Supported by various princes and sultans, Ma al-Ainin built an army of almost 10,000 followers and launched several short campaigns into the Western Sahara from southern Morocco. He then turned his attention to French incursions into Mauritania. He redoubled these efforts in 1902 after the French colonialist Xavier Coppolani forged alliances with several major religious leaders in southern Mauritania Moving his forces into ...

Article

Charles C. Stewart

was born in 1776 CE/AH 1190 into one of the lesser fractions (the Ntishaiʾi) of a southwest Saharan clerical (or zawiya) clan, the Awlad Abyiri. His full name was Sidiyya al-Kabir (“the elder”) b. al-Mukhtar b. al-Hayba al-Ntishai’i.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the region now known as Mauritania was governed by a loose balance of two types of lineage groups, one that lived largely as predators and another that subsisted as pastoralists. Within the latter group were found nomadic schools in the Islamic disciplines where, judging by the texts studied and written locally, a talented student might advance to levels on a par with advanced education in places like Fez or Cairo.

Sidiyya’s early schooling, consisting initially of his memorization of the entire Qurʾan, would have been conducted under the supervision of his father and uncles, common for youth in the tradition of zawiya tribes like ...

Article

David Perfect

religious and political leader in the Gambia, was born in Gunjur in the kingdom of the Kombo. Sillah was a Fula who was originally known as Ibrahim Touray (or Ture); his family originated from the Futa Toro in what is now Northern Senegal; his father, Maley Burama Touray (who died when Sillah was about age twelve) was a Muslim cleric, while his mother, Mbesine Njai, was from Sine in Senegal. Sillah is sometimes called Fode Ibrahim Touray or Kombo Sillah (or slightly different versions of these).

Sillah’s early years were spent studying the Qurʾan in Gunjur and at Pakao in the Casamance in Senegal. He returned to Gunjur around 1850 to work as a Muslim teacher and proselyte, rising to become “amir” (caliph) of Kombo in 1864 which made him the commander of the Marabout forces fighting the traditional ruling class the Soninke When the fighting between the Marabouts ...

Article

Geoffrey Roper

Egyptian scholar, reformer, and educator, was born in Tahta in Upper Egypt, to which his surname (nisba) refers. His male forebears were prominent ulama (Islamic religious and legal scholars). Following in their footsteps, Tahtawi received a traditional qurʾanic elementary education and then in 1817, at the age of sixteen, went to Cairo and enrolled in the ancient and venerable mosque-university of Al-Azhar. There he came under the influence of Shaykh Hasan al-ʿAttar (1766–1834), who acquainted him with some secular subjects outside the traditional curriculum, and with certain aspects of European thought. In 1822 Tahtawi himself became a teacher there.

Two years later, in 1824, he was appointed as a waʿiz (preacher, mentor) and imam of one of the regiments of the new Egyptian army of the ruler, Muhammad ʿAli. In 1826 Tahtawi was selected as one of four imams to accompany a military educational mission ...