Islam and West African anthropology

Mahir Saul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


West African anthropology carries the burden of a chasm between what is considered traditional or authentically African and Islamic. This reveals itself in ignoring Islam, misrecognizing the cultural legacy of Islam in today's lives beyond self-professed Muslims, and exaggerating the contrast between the "pre" and the "post" in recent cases of conversion. A more balanced, historically informed understanding of contemporary Africa requires greater awareness of the central role of Mediterranean links and the canvas of meaning deposited by Islam. Sections on mobility and literacy provide a rapid survey of these themes, which are emblematic of what social anthropologists ought to bring to the forefront of their vision of West Africa, though typically they do not. A section on politics explores the framework for the impact of Islam, and a final section, on mimesis, discusses some cultural processes still at work. We need to reimagine West Africa, both to reach a new cosmopolitanism to transcend the we-they contrast, and to allow anthropology to make more significant contributions to the study of contemporary Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-33
Number of pages31
JournalAfrica Today
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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