Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards

Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards

Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards

Islamic Education in Africa: Writing Boards and Blackboards


Writing boards and blackboards are emblematic of two radically different styles of education in Islam. The essays in this lively volume address various aspects of the expanding and evolving range of educational choices available to Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa. Contributors from the United States, Europe, and Africa evaluate classical Islamic education in Africa from colonial times to the present, including changes in pedagogical methods--from sitting to standing, from individual to collective learning, from recitation to analysis. Also discussed are the differences between British, French, Belgian, and Portuguese education in Africa and between mission schools and Qur'anic schools; changes to the classical Islamic curriculum; the changing intent of Islamic education; the modernization of pedagogical styles and tools; hybrid forms of religious and secular education; the inclusion of women in Qur'anic schools; and the changing notion of what it means to be an educated person in Africa. A new view of the role of Islamic education, especially its politics and controversies in today's age of terrorism, emerges from this broadly comparative volume.


In 2009, at the annual meetings of the African Studies Association in New Orleans, there were no fewer than three panels devoted to discussions of Islamic education in Africa, past and present: One was chaired by Leonardo Villalon, one by Cheikh Anta Babou Mbacke, and one by me. Until relatively recently, despite pioneering studies by Renaud Santerre, Stefan Reichmuth, and Louis Brenner, the subject had suffered relative neglect. Louis Brenner’s work, in particular, has been a constant source of inspiration. The coincidence of these three panels, separately organized at the same time, conclusively demonstrates that this neglect is at an end and that at last Islamic education in Africa is receiving the serious scholarly attention it always deserved. Participants in these three panels, as well as various members of the audience, were invited to submit chapters to this volume, and fortunately many of them accepted with alacrity. I would like to thank all the participants in these various panels as well as their audience for their assistance and invaluable comments.

I have attempted, admittedly with only limited success, to cover the terrain as broadly as possible, with chapters discussing different forms of Islamic education as well as situated in countries with differing colonial histories. Even so, I am aware that francophone West Africa, not coincidentally the site of my own research, is overrepresented. This overrepresentation partly reflects biases in the scholarly literature, although I must accept much of the responsibility.

My colleagues at Northwestern, especially in the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa, have been a continual source of support and inspiration. Jessica Winegar’s comments have been especially helpful. Without them, this book would never have been possible. I would like to thank Christy Simonian Bean, who helped me edit the text. I am deeply indebted to Dee Mortenson’s support and above all her patience, not to mention the patience of the contributors, for waiting for me to finish a project long overdue. I am grateful to Éditions Karthala in Paris for allowing me to publish a translation of Rudolph Ware III and my article, “Comment (Ne Pas) Lire le Coran: Logiques de l’Enseignement Religieux au Sénégal et en Côte d’Ivoire.” The suggestions of the two anonymous readers of the first version of this book were immensely helpful.

Last but not least, I offer this volume as a tribute to my mentors: Jack Goody, Ivor Wilks, and John Hunwick. I have tried, as best as I can, to follow in the footsteps of giants in the field.

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