Northwestern University

Wed 12:00 PM

Biography, Scholarship, and Community in Seventeenth-Century Morocco

When: Wednesday, February 18, 2015
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM  

Where: 620 Library Place, Conference Room, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Program of African Studies   847.491.7323

Group: Program of African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Abstract: This paper seeks to introduce new ways of thinking about intellectual and cultural centers and peripheries in the Islamic world through the widespread genre of Arabic biographical writing. Full of valuable information about scholars, their lives, accomplishments, as well as relationships with one another, this genre of writing offers a unique tool for defining intellectual communities in the Islamic world. Although scholarship on Arabic biographical writing is wide-ranging, it focuses mostly on texts from the so-called central lands of Islam, viewing those that were produced in North Africa as little more than the products of intellectually and culturally peripheral areas. In order to challenge their positions of marginality and bring these so-called peripheries into conversation with scholarship on the “central” Islamic lands, this paper explores how Muslim scholars and elites produced knowledge and created intellectual communities in early seventeenth-century North Africa.

An analysis of key excerpts from a biographical dictionary of the scholars and saints of Marrakesh and Fez titled Rawḍat al-ās (The Garden of Myrtle) by the North African scholar al-Maqqarī (d. 1632) provides a rare glimpse into the cast of prominent intellectual and religious figures during the reign of the Moroccan ruler Aḥmad al-Manṣūr (r. 1578–1603) and moreover offers a means to showcase the growth of an autonomous intellectual culture in premodern Morocco. Not only does the Rawḍa suggest that North African scholars traveled eastward to develop their scholarly authority, but it also demonstrates that they also relied heavily on scholars from Timbuktu such as Aḥmad Bābā (d. 1627) and his works. The inclusion of an entry on Aḥmad Bābā in al-Maqqarī’s Rawḍa and the wider documented impact of this teacher on his student’s intellectual development suggest that there were autonomous centers of scholarly production in North and West Africa, which their counterparts in the Islamic East recognized and valued. Through an analysis of excerpts from the Rawḍa, this paper ultimately challenges thinking about intellectual and cultural centers and peripheries in the Islamic world, bringing to light new ways of understanding a traditionally marginalized region vis-à-vis the widespread genre of Arabic biographical writing.

Bio: Sabahat F. Adil is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and currently a PAS/ISITA Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University. As a Fulbright researcher in Morocco in 2012–2013, she completed archival research in Rabat and Fez for her dissertation, which focuses on the life, works, and times of the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth¬¬–century North African scholar al-Maqqarī (d. 1632) in order to interrogate the roots of contemporary understandings of al-Andalus. She has also undertaken research in Spain for this project, which was made possible by a grant from the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid. Most recently, Sabahat has designed and taught a course on medieval Spain at the Newberry Library in Chicago and has served as Islamic Studies Consultant at the American Theological Libraries Association.

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