Sitting at the intersection of African, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies, Islam in Africa has long suffered from a crisis of disciplinary identity. Neither strictly area nor religious studies, Islam in Africa has only recently received attention within the academy. The shift is long overdue; Africa has influenced scholarship throughout the Islamic World for more than a millennium. With the spread of Arabic literacy, African scholars developed a rich tradition of debate over orthodoxy and meaning in Islam. The rise of such a tradition was hardly disconnected from centers of Islamic learning outside of Africa. From Mecca to Sind, African scholars have played significant roles in the development of virtually every field of Islamic sciences.
Islamic scholarship in Africa remains just as significant today. By the end of the twentieth century, thousands of integrated curriculum schools and dozens of modern Islamic universities had redefined Islamic studies across Sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of communications technology has reshaped Islamic scholarship still further. New representations of Islamic scholarship have formed across Africa through online teaching sites, digital recorded lectures, and social media apps. The emergence of these new spaces, both physical and virtual, has the potential to recast notions of class, authority, canon, and orthodoxy common to the study of Islamic scholarship in Africa today.
This conference offers a venue for to rethink how such an evolution occurred. It will be the first of two meetings intended to bring together specialists from Western academia and the Islamic World. Drawn from multiple disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, the conference's twenty-four panelists will explore the ways in which Islamic scholarship has integrated Africa into the Islamic world, and vice versa.
We hope that these panels will provoke a lively debate about the past – and future – of Islam and Africa. We welcome you to the conference and sincerely hope that you enjoy the presentations.
Ousmane Kane, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion Harvard Divinity School and Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University
Matthew Steele, Ph.D. Student, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University