Coleman Donaldson, University of Hamburg

This panel aims to take stock of current research focused on Ajami—that is, African languages written in Arabic script—and the Islamic scholarly tradition from which it emerged.

West African manuscript collections—written in Islamic Africa’s scholarly lingua franca of Arabic and documented in volumes such as “Arabic Literature of Africa” (Hunwick, 2003)—represent an important resource for the study of entire Continent. However, the role played by local languages written in Arabic script (collectively known as Ajami) is still poorly understood. Recent studies (e.g., Mumin & Versteegh 2014; Ngom 2017) suggest a broad functional domain for Ajami, conditioned by complex social, religious, ethnic, linguistic and scribal practices and identities. Nonetheless, there are many gaps in our understanding of the importance of the African languages in manuscript form.

In this light, panelists are invited to present on research which demonstrates Ajami manuscripts’ broader potential for the study of Africa by offering specific new methodological or analytic insights regarding questions such as the following:

To what extent did the shift from the Qadiriyya to Tijaniyya Sufi movements in the 1860s condition development of religious poetry in Ajami?

How is a “core curriculum” of Islamic education (Hall & Stewart 2011) reflected in various types of Ajami manuscripts?

Why did esoteric branches of Islamic knowledge expressed in amulets and healing manuscripts require the use of African languages alongside the Arabic?

To what extent did ethnic and multilingual identities influence the scope and type of Ajami writing?

Do the written varieties of languages originate from particular linguistic registers? Do such varieties influence spoken idioms?

Why in some communities did exegetical and translational practices lead to written forms of commentaries and in some did not go beyond the oral domain?

Was the tradition of writing vernacular poetry influenced by that of writing systematic annotations or did they develop independently?

Please email me at coleman.donaldson *at* uni-hamburg.de expressing your interest as soon as possible in February. Submit your proposal before March 1, 2019 at the latest.