Reading with the colonial in the life of Shaykh Musa Kamara, a Muslim scholar-saint

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The colonial-era Senegalese Muslim intellectual Shaykh Musa Kamara is best known for his over 1,700-page Arabic-language text about the history and social organization of the greater Western Sahel, Zuhūr al-basātīn fī tārīkh al-Sawādīn (Flowers in the Gardens in the History of the Blacks). Long celebrated by nationalist historiography as proof of an autochthonous historical consciousness and a spirit of tolerance, his status as a point of reference has been renewed in the contemporary context of Islamist political violence in the region. However, these receptions do not account for Kamara's own intellectual project, nor do they exhaust the possible readings of him in the present. In addition to thinking about Senegal in terms that cohere with the modern, Kamara also offers a way of thinking about the Muslim-majority West African country, and the greater Western Sahel more generally, in terms that have emerged from the historical specificity of the region. These include saintly subjectivity, notions of power irreducible to either the religious or the political, and a method of genealogical criticism. Importantly, he developed these ideas at the moment when a consensus about the place of Islam in colonial governance was being elaborated. Revisiting his body of work permits us to consider an analytical language about an African society with deep histories of Islam and an intellectual elaboration that was expressed within and sought to intervene in a colonial context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-624
Number of pages21
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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