A new book by Zachary Wright (pictured), an associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) explores 18th-century Islamic scholarship in North Africa, with a particular focus on the founding of Africa’s largest Sufi order, the Tijaniyya.
Realizing Islam: The Tijaniyya in North Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Muslim World argues that Muslim scholars from India to West Africa shared in intellectual debates and exchanges, collectively motivated by the desire to verify the foundations of law, theology and mysticism. But local contexts dictated that Islamic revivalist thinkers went about this project of verification in divergent ways. Wright, a scholar of Islam in Africa, has written and taught extensively on the history of Muslim societies in the African continent, Islamic intellectual history and learning practices in West and North Africa, and Islamic renewal in the Middle East and North African region from the 18th century. His latest book takes his research further, he said, by drawing connections between “Muslim communities in the Arab world and those in sub-Saharan Africa,” an observation that he claims, refutes the notion that the Sahara desert was a barrier rendering sub-Saharan Africa intellectually peripheral to the rest of the Muslim world. The book also provides an analysis of the Sufi thought within the Tijaniyya, tracing its origins and development throughout the late 18th century and analysing scholarly work and ideas that emerged as the order spread in Africa and around the world.
“My book delves into the intellectual history of Islam in Africa and suggests that the reception of the Tijaniyya in sub-Saharan Africa can be explained by the fact that black African Muslim scholars prefigured most of the key ideas associated with the doctrine of ‘Muhammadan Sufism’ (tariqa Muhammadiyya), so central to the revivalism of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani,” Wright said.
Realizing Islam: The Tijaniyya in North Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Muslim World’ is being published by the University of North Carolina Press.
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