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Eye on Africa: Fallou Ngom, "Beyond Oral Traditions: Lessons from Ajami Sources of Africa"
Thursday, 17 Oct 2019
12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Room 201, International Center
Event Details:

About the Speaker:
Fallou Ngom is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. His research interests include the interactions between African languages and non-African languages, the adaptations of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa, and Ajami literatures—records of African languages written in Arabic script. He seeks to understand the knowledge buried in African Ajami literatures and the historical, social, cultural, and religious heritage that has found expression in this manner. He has held Fulbright, ACLS/SSRC/NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships. His work has appeared in several scholarly journals, including African Studies Review, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Language Variation and Change, and International Journal of the Sociology of Language. His book, Muslims beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of Ajami and the Muridyya (Oxford University Press, 2016), won the Melville J. Herskovits Prize for the best scholarly book in African studies in 2017.

About the Talk:

Although written records are rarely regarded as part of sub-Saharan Africa's heritage, important bodies of Ajami texts (records of African languages written in Arabic script) have existed in Africa for centuries. Ajami writing traditions around the world follow the geography of Islam and are varied. They have played critical roles in the spread of Islam in Muslim communities beyond Arabia and continue to be used for both religious and non-religious writings. Ajami sources document intellectual traditions, histories, belief systems, and cultures of non-Arab Muslims around the world. Despite similar origins in spreading Islam, each Ajami system followed its own trajectory shaped by local cultural, social and political factors. The neglect of African Ajami traditions is due to a number of factors, including the lack of an Ajami public depository, the limited number of scholars with the necessary skills to study Ajami manuscripts, and the pervasive overemphasis on African oral traditions in academia. This talk will show how the study of African Ajami texts will help scholars in the humanities and social sciences revise various aspects of their understanding of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa.