Muslim Societies in African History

Article excerpt

David Robinson. Muslim Societies in African History. New Approaches to African History series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xx + 220 pp. Maps. Illustrations. Glossary. Index. $55.00. Cloth. $19.00. Paper.

In American academia, the study of Islamic cultures in Africa has long been the preserve of specialists. Books and articles in the field have tended to assume a substantial level of background knowledge, while courses on the subject have generally been offered only at research universities and then, too, at advanced undergraduate or graduate levels. The publication of David Robinson's Muslim Societies in Africa suggests that this situation is changing. At a time when popular interest in global Islamic studies is growing, this book's arrival is welcome, particularly given its suitability as an undergraduate textbook.

Muslim Societies in Africa belongs to a new series on African history, published by Cambridge University Press and intended for use by students in general African or world history courses. With its thirteen chapters (plus an introduction and conclusion), the book can function as a core text for a semester-long survey. It uses easy language, assumes no prior knowledge of Islamic history, and provides recommendations for further reading at the end of each chapter, as well as a glossary of terms at the back of the book. By including North Africa within its purview, the book bridges the Saharan divide that so many scholars have traditionally (and regrettably) imputed to African history. Moreover, by noting the impact of the attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States and global politics, it implicitly registers the concerns that may be framing the worldviews of students as they enroll in an Islamic history classes.

The book has three main parts. The first offers historical background on early Islamic history and the tenets of Islamic belief and explains how Islam was initially transmitted from Arabia into the African continent. …