Islam in Africa Lecture Series Explores Sociocultural Experiences of Muslims

djenne_great_mud_mosqueThe historical legacy of Islamic culture in Africa is rich and diverse. This culture is also impacted and transformed by a rapidly modernizing and globalizing African continent. To explore the nexus between Islamic tradition and the modern experience of Muslims in Africa, The Center for African Studies held the first session of the Islam in Africa Seminar Series, co-hosted with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University.

Yusuf Serunkuma, Ph.D. candidate at Makerere University Institute for Social Research in Kampala, Uganda, served as the first presenter in this series on November 10th, 2015. His talk, “Do Not Come Back Next Summer: The Welcome and Unwelcome Diaspora in Hargeisa, Somaliland,” drew historians, anthropologists, and scholars of Islam from the Boston-area.

Serunkuma’s presentation discussed the modes of identity-formation in Somaliland, the growing significance of Islam as a form of social cohesion, and the role of ‘diaspora returnees’ who come back to Somaliland after years in the West to find their home communities reshaped. Furthermore, his project shed light on the potential tensions between locals and returnees in Somaliland given the gaps in sociocultural experience and understanding that exist between them.  

In the next iteration of the series, Dr Ahmed presented research from his latest book, West African ulama and Salafism in Mecca and Medina, concerning the role of African scholars in the spread of salafism/wahhabism. The thrust of the research repudiates the “center-periphery binary” in Islamic studies. Dr Ahmed recounted in detail the biographies of two ulama/scholars: al-Hilali (from Morocco) and al-Ifriqi (from Mali). Dr Ahmed took questions from Professor Kane and audience members, including PhD student Matthew Steele and Ayodeji Ogunnaike.

Finally, John Mugane presented thoughts on how the Swahili language was affected by Islam and Christianity.  He explored how semantics and Swahili words tell inform about the religious beliefs of the people of Central Africa.  

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See also: Religion