The powerful call (daʿwa) of Muḥammad Aḥmad, the self-styled Mahdī, and his ensuing jihad against Ottoman-Egyptian rule in Sudan provoked a variety of responses within the larger Muslim community. The ʿulamāʾ, al-Azhar-trained orthodox legal and religious scholars in Khartoum and Cairo, responded with outrage and detailed legal arguments, challenging the credentials of an individual they insisted was an impostor, and rehearsing instead the legitimacy of the Ottoman Sultan as the bona fide leader of the faithful. Beyond the establishment hierarchy, politically- and religiously-motivated activists and propagandists, in Sudan, Egypt and beyond, joined the debate over Muḥammad Aḥmad’s credibility: at stake was a substantial body of susceptible Muslim opinion, in the Ottoman provinces of the Hejaz and Syria and as far away as British-ruled India. This article describes in detail the spiritual and legal arguments over a personality whose claimed mandate had implications for two of the world’s largest empires.
This paper examines how visibility and legitimacy have been defined and achieved by Muslim women who have contributed to the development of Islam in Burkina Faso since the 1970s. We undertake a transversal study of the trajectories of women belonging to different cohorts of Arabic- and French-educated Muslims. In doing so, we highlight identity markers closely associated with key moments in their lives (activism through associations or personal initiatives, religious studies, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and media activities). Through the lens of performativity, we show how women have progressively gained visibility within the Muslim community. And although figures of religious authority remain uniformly male, women are increasingly able to claim legitimacy thanks to their flexible approach.
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.
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.