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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

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

Mauritanian teacher and Muslim scholar, was born to a scholarly family and reared in Walata, an oasis town in present-day eastern Mauritania. His full name was Muhammad abu ʿAbd Allah ibn abu Bakr as-Siddiq al-Bartili al-Walati. The main lineages that claim descent from the Bartili (or Barittayl) are the at-Talib Jibril, the ʿAli Diggan, and the at-Talib ʿAli Bannan, who formed a network of scholarly families. All of these groups have played an important role in the cultural and political life of the region of Takrur, serving as muftis (Muslim scholars qualified to formulate legal opinions on matters of Islamic law), imams, and especially teachers. In al-Bartili’s time, the name “Takrur” came to signify a Muslim cultural region stretching from the mouth of the Senegal River in the west to the Niger River bend in the east, including much of present-day Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal.

Walata was situated on a ...

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

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

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

Mohammed Bashir Salau

Qurʾanic teacher and warlord, was a Fulani originating from Kebbi in the northern part of modern-day Nigeria. His real name was Muhammadu Bangana, and he was also known as “Manko.” Very little is known about his early life. Following the conquest of a vast part of the Central Sudan by jihad forces led by Uthman dan Fodio, the Nupe came under the domination of the dynasty of the Emir of Gwandu at the turn of the nineteenth century. Mallam Dendo migrated to Nupe country at about the time when the Nupe were brought under the rule of Gwandu, specifically at about 1810. It seems likely that he had, as a Qurʾanic teacher, undertaken preaching missions to several Nupe towns prior to 1810. According to various sources, Dendo settled at Nupeland during a period of great political instability, specifically following the death of the etsu king Abdullahi Yinkanko ...

Article

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

Stephen Cory

a Sufi leader who revived the Qadiriyya Sufi order in the southwestern Sahara during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In doing so, he assured the dominance of his tribe, the Kunta, as the premier zawaya (clerical) tribe, providing religious and legal education and spiritual leadership throughout the area. His peaceful propagation of the faith led to an increased practice of Islam in the Western Sahara. In addition, his linkage of religious renewal to the promotion of trade led to a realignment of power relations among the tribes, with the Kunta at the top. Sidi al-Mukhtar sought to use the tariqa (Sufi brotherhood) structure to teach Islamic practices, reform social mores, and eliminate non-Islamic religious accretions from society. His descendants, leaders of the peaceful Qadiriyya-Mukhtariyya order, opposed the nineteenth-century jihad movements in West Africa, including the jihad of the Tijani leader Hajj ʿUmar Tal in Senegal.

The Kunta are ...

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 ...

Article

A Fulani born in the Hausa state of Gobir, Usuman dan Fodio studied the Qu’ran (Koran) with his father, an eminent Islamic scholar, then moved from place to place to study with other religious scholars. When he was twenty-five, he began teaching and preaching, and from this time his reputation as a holy man grew. He taught Islam in Gobir, and he was probably engaged as tutor to the future sultan Yunfa because of his learned reputation. Usuman criticized the Hausa ruling elite for their heavy taxation and other practices that he claimed violated Islamic law. His call for Islamic reform (and tax reduction) earned him a wide following in the 1780s and 1790s, when he became a political threat to Gobir sultan Nafata. When Yunfa assumed power as sultan in 1802 the repression of Usuman s followers worsened Following the example of the prophet Muhammad Usuman went on ...

Article

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 ...