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Article

Ahmad, al-Bakkaʾi al-Kunti  

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

Asma’u, Nana  

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

Kanemi, Muhammad al-  

Louis Brenner

prominent Muslim scholar in the West African interior and ruler of the West African kingdom of Bornu, was born in Murzuk, in the Fezzan. His father, a locally respected scholar, was of Kanembu and his mother of Arab origin. Al-Kanemi’s youth was devoted to Islamic studies in Murzuk and Tripoli, and in the 1790s he accompanied his father on pilgrimage. His full name was al-Hajj Shaikh Muhammad al-Amin b. Muhammad Ninka, and he was known locally as Shehu Laminu.

On his return from the east, al-Kanemi settled south of Lake Chad in the town of Ngala in Bornu, where he was drawn into local conflicts with Fulani who had allied themselves with the jihad movement of Shaikh Uthman Dan Fodio. In 1808, supported by an armed following, he defeated a Fulani army that was threatening the region of Ngala.

Following this victory al Kanemi was summoned by the king ...

Article

Ma al-Ainin  

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

Sanusi, Sayyid Muhammad bin ʿAli al-  

Wilfrid Rollman

North African scholar of Islamic law, theology, and mysticism, and leader and founder of the Sanusiyya brotherhood (tariqa), was born on 22 December 1787 in Wasita, near Mostaghanem in western Algeria. He was a sharif, or descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised and educated in his early years by his paternal aunt Fatima, and then by the leading scholars of nearby Mazuna and Mascara.

Sometime between 1805 and 1809 al-Sanusi moved to Fez, Morocco, to pursue more advanced studies at the Qarawiyyin Mosque, the celebrated university. There he studied the traditional curriculum with many of Morocco’s most prominent scholars of the time and quickly achieved academic distinction in their courses. He became an avid practitioner of Sufism and an active member in a number of several turuq (Ar. sing. tariqa mystical way or organization including the Shadhiliyya the Nasiriyya ...

Article

Sidiyya al-Kabir al-Ntishaiʾi  

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

Sillah, Fode  

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

Tahtawi, Rifaʿa Rafiʿ al-  

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 ...

Article

Uthman Dan Fodio   

Edmund Abaka

Fulani Muslim scholar, led an important intellectual reform movement that culminated in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate (present-day northern Nigeria), one of the largest states in Africa in the early eighteenth century. Born in Gobir in 1754, Uthman Dan Fodio channeled the political, social, and economic grievances of the Fulani into a movement for reform that dismantled the traditional power structure of the Hausa and led to the emergence of a new political and religious elite, the Fulani, in the Sokoto Caliphate. He was a chain in a link of reformist leaders in the Western Sudan who had stressed a return to orthodox Islam, in contradistinction to what was perceived as a “syncretic” form of Islam that tolerated certain African religious elements.

As a young man Uthman Dan Fodio studied under many learned Muslim men in Hausaland and Agades He was most of all influenced by Jibril ibn Umar ...