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In this article, I provide one example of how a careful engagement with poetry can enrich our understanding of West African history. In 1852, al-ḤājjʿUmar Fūtī Tāl (d.1864) completed his panegyric of the Prophet Muḥammad—Safīnat al-saʿāda li-ahl ḍuʿf wa-l-najāda or The Vessel of Happiness and Assistance for the Weak. Through an analysis of Safīnat al-saʿāda, I explain Tāl’s creative use of two older poems that were widespread in West Africa—al-ʿIshrīniyyāt—The Twenties—of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Fāzāzī (d. 1230), and its takhmīs (pentastich) by Abū Bakr ibn Muhīb (n.d.). Though Safīnat al-saʿāda was primarily meant for devotion, it also reflected Tāl’s scholarly prestige and claims he made about his religious authority. In the long prose introduction to the poem, Tāl claimed that he was a vicegerent of the Prophet, and therefore had authority to guide and lead the Muslims of West Africa. His composition of Safīnat al-saʿāda was partly meant to prove this point.

In: Islamic Africa

Modern Western scholars, journalists, travellers, and colonial officials have shown an interest in Timbuktu’s famous seventeenth-century chronicles ever since they heard of them in the mid nineteenth-century. The three tārīkhs (chronicles) are the Tārīkh al-Sūdān, the so-called Tarīkh al-fattāsh, and the Notice historique. The first Western written works began to be produced at the end of the nineteenth century and burgeoned over the twentieth century with several large projects continuing into the present century, as recent as 2015. These works were primarily, though not exclusively, concerned with the authorship, sources, and political properties of the tārīkhs. This article is interested in Muslim theology as a resource of the Tārīkh al-Sūdān, one the three tārīkhs. It focuses in particular on the precepts of Ashʿarī kalām (theology) of Sunni Islam as the key resource the author of the Tarīkh al-Sūdān.

In: Islamic Africa

Some literary discussions on Islam in West Africa argue that African Muslims owe allegiance more to Arab race and culture since the religion has an Arab origin while owing less to indigenous and therefore “authentic” African cultures. Most notably, in his famous quarrel with Ali Mazrui, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka wrenches race to serve a tendentious historicism about African Muslims as racially Arab and therefore foreign to African culture. In their fiction, two new West African writers, Mohammed Naseehu Ali and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, allegorize African Islamic identity as tied to Arab race and culture as madness, lunacy and even death. In particular, Ali’s short story “The Prophet of Zongo Street” engages with this obsessive dialectic between African Islamic identity and Arab race. Although not explicitly thematizing Islamic identity as tied to Arab race or culture, three other stories by the same authors, Ali’s story “Mallam Sile” and Ibrahim’s stories “The Whispering Trees” and “Closure,” gender the dialectic between race and Islamic identity. Ali and Ibrahim show African Muslim women’s abilities to effect change in difficult situations and relationships—marriage, romance, legal provisions on inheritance, prayer and honor. In so doing, I argue, these authors reflect a potential solution to the difficult debate in African literary criticism on Islamic identity and Arab race and culture.

In: Islamic Africa
From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon
The Stolen Bible tells the story of how Southern Africans have interacted with the Bible from its arrival in Dutch imperial ships in the mid-1600s through to contemporary post-apartheid South Africa.

The Stolen Bible emphasises African agency and distinguishes between African receptions of the Bible and African receptions of missionary-colonial Christianity. Through a series of detailed historical, geographical, and hermeneutical case-studies the book analyses Southern African receptions of the Bible, including the earliest African encounters with the Bible, the translation of the Bible into an African language, the appropriation of the Bible by African Independent Churches, the use of the Bible in the Black liberation struggle, and the ways in which the Bible is embodied in the lives of ordinary Africans.

The Yearbook of International Religious Demography presents an annual snapshot of the state of religious statistics around the world. Every year large amounts of data are collected through censuses, surveys, polls, religious communities, scholars, and a host of other sources. These data are collated and analyzed by research centers and scholars around the world. Large amounts of data appear in analyzed form in the World Religion Database (Brill), aiming at a researcher’s audience. The Yearbook presents data in sets of tables and scholarly articles spanning social science, demography, history, and geography. Each issue offers findings, sources, methods, and implications surrounding international religious demography. Each year an assessment is made of new data made available since the previous issue of the yearbook.

Contributors are: Todd Johnson, Gina Zurlo, Peter Crossing, Juan Cruz Esquivel, Fortunato Mallimaci, Annalisa Butticci, Brian Grim, Philip Connor, Ken Chitwood, Vegard Skirbekk, Marcin Stonawski, Rodrigo Franklin de Sousa, Davis Brown, Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa, and Maria Concepción Servín Nieto.
Cultural Entanglements and Missionary Spaces
Missionary institutions were social spaces of closest encounters between Europeans and various segments of the Egyptian society, during the period of British colonialism. In European Evangelicals in Egypt (1900-1956) Samir Boulos develops a theory of cultural exchange that is based on the examination of interactions, experiences and discourses in the context of missionary institutions.

Drawing upon oral history interviews as well as rich Egyptian, British and German archival sources, a multifaceted perspective is offered, revealing the complexity and dynamics of mission encounters. Focusing on the everyday life in missionary institutions, experiences of former Egyptian missionary students, local employees, as well as of European missionaries, Samir Boulos explores mutual transformation processes particularly on the individual but also on institutional and social level.
In Isaiah Shembe’s Hymns and the Sacred Dance in Ibandla lamaNazaretha, Nkosinathi Sithole explores the hymns of Prophet Isaiah Shembe and the sacred dance in Ibandla LamaNazaretha, and offers an emic perspective on the Church which has attracted scholars from different disciplines.

Isaiah Shembe’s Hymns and the Sacred Dance in Ibandla lamaNazaretha posits that in the hymns, Shembe found a powerful medium through which he could voice his concerns as an African in colonial times, while praising and worshipping God. Sithole also refutes claims by some scholars that the sacred dance was a response to colonialism and oppression, showing that in fact the sacred dance in Ibandla lamaNazaretha is considered to be a form of worship and is thought to exist on earth and in heaven.
Christian Mission in the Context of Global Inequalities 
Mission and Money; Christian Mission in the Context of Global Inequalities offers academic discussion about the mission of the Church in the context of contemporary economic inequalities globally, challenging the reader to reconsider mission in the light of existing poverty, and investigating how economic structures could be challenged in the light of ethical and spiritual considerations. The book includes contributions on the subjects of poverty and inequality from the theologians, economists and anthropologists who gave keynote presentations at the European Missiological Conference (IAMS Europe) that took place in April 2014 in Helsinki, Finland. This conference was a major step forward in terms of discussion between missiologists and economists on global economic structures and their influence on human dignity.

Contributors are: Mari-Anna Auvinen-Pöntinen, Stephen B. Bevans, Jonathan J. Bonk, Ulrich Duchrow, Jonas Adelin Jørgensen, Vesa Kanniainen, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Tinyiko Sam Maluleke, Gerrie Ter Haar, Evi Voulgaraki-Pissina, Mika Vähäkangas, Felix Wilfred.

This paper presents excerpted translations from a longer text by the Moroccan jurist, Ahmad al-Raysuni, which highlight a key facet of contemporaneous Muslim legal debates about law and religion. They especially focus on the thorny question of whether textual sources are liable to conflict with pure rational legal considerations and hence must be sidestepped to protect personal or public interests. In these excerpts Raysuni defends his position, and that of many of the so-called ‘moderate’ Islamists, who–while decry the rigid literalism of other traditionalists—maintain that explicit textual injunctions could never conflict with rationality. They believe, as Raysuni asserts here, that any conceived contradiction between texts and rationality is either a misconception of rationality or a misunderstanding of texts.

In: Islamic Africa