The Transformation of the African Madih Tradition Texts, Reception, Performance

Ousmane Kane, Harvard Divinity School

It is now well known that, with the spread of Arabic literacy, African scholars developed a rich tradition of debate over orthodoxy and meaning in Islam. Sub-Saharan African scholars participated in the development of virtually every field of Islamic sciences, including devotional poetry (madih in Arabic). The history of Arabic writing in Africa spans a period of 800 years in the course of which African scholars have produced an enormous body of poetry in Arabic language and in Ajami (African languages transcribed with the Arabic script). Some of these African Arabic poets are featured in the Al-Babtain Dictionary of Arab Poets and rank amongst the most popular and celebrated poets on the African continent. This genre has expanded dramatically in recent decades. With the settlement of Muslims in the West, African diaspora, old and new, are producing devotional poetry in European languages also. This poetry is printed, copied, and recited in Muslim communities in virtually every country on the African continent, but also among the diasporas. With the dissemination of the ICTs, recitation of the poetry is shared in social media such as YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram, giving it an unprecedented global reach.

This project brings together a team of renowned scholars of African Islam from diverse disciplinary backgrounds with demonstrable expertise in the translation of African Arabic and Ajami poetry and in diaspora studies. It also includes participation of junior scholars in the field. Its aim is to start a conversation about producing a reference work on love poems for the Prophet, Muslim saints, and friends in Africa.