• African American and African Studies, Rutgers University-Newark
  • Abstract Title: Translating the Life of an African Muslim-Scholar Saint

Bio: Wendell Marsh is Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. He is a post-disciplinary scholar of Islam in Africa, textuality, and the theory and practice of African Studies. His first research project on the Muslim polymath from colonial Senegal Shaykh Musa Kamara stages a reflection on the entanglements of Africa, Islam, and modernity, by way of a close study of the forms of textual knowledge produced by and about Kamara over the course of the twentieth century.

Abstract: The colonial-era Senegalese Muslim intellectual Shaykh Musa Kamara (1864-1945) 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 pursuit of these other readings, I discuss in this paper Kamara’s less well-known auto-hagiographic Tabshīr al-Khāʾif (The Spreading of the Good News of the Fearful). Given the dual meaning tarjama, both the name of genre in which Tabshīr is written and a word to describe the process of translation between languages, I argue that the interpretation of the excess of a life situated in history and its translation into the ideal Islamic form of life beyond time or space is the primary task of this text.

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