Reinterpreting the Role of Muslims in the West African Middle Ages

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Recent research points to a renewed scholarly interest in the West African Middle Ages and the Sahelian imperial tradition. However, in these works only tangential attention is paid to the role of Muslims, and especially to clerical communities. This essay tackles theoretical and historiographical insights on the role of African Muslims in the era of the medieval empires and argues that the study of Islam in this region during the Middle Ages still suffers from undertheorizing. On the contrary, by using a 'discursive approach' scholars can unravel access to fascinating aspects of the history of West African Muslims and in particular to the crucial role played by clerical communities, who represented one node of the web of diffused authority which is characteristic of precolonial West African social and political structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-340
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of African History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Gambia
  • Islam
  • Key Words Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Niger
  • Sahara
  • Senegal
  • West Africa
  • Western Africa
  • historiography
  • kingdoms and states
  • literacy
  • precolonial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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