SUDANIC AFRICA.

I keep meaning to post about a journal called Sudanic Africa cited by Eliza in a comment to this Yoruba post, and now I’ve finally gotten around to it. Only a minority of the articles are available online, but all the book reviews seem to be, and there’s a lot of interesting material about a too-little-known part of the world:

Sudanic Africa is an international academic journal devoted to the presentation and discussion of historical sources on the Sudanic belt, the area between the Sahara and the Bay of Niger, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. The journal typically presents such sources in the original language and in translation, with comments.

Here (pdf), for example, is an article called “A Sudanese Missionary to the United States: Satti Majid, ‘Shaykh al-Islam in North America’, and his Encounter with Noble Drew Ali, Prophet of the Moorish Science Temple Movement”:

Sometime in the late 1920s there was an encounter, direct or indirect we do not know for certain, between two figures from two very different traditions of ‘Islam’. The present article partially documents this encounter, presenting a tantalising glimpse of African American Islam’s earliest encounter with global Sunnı Islam. On the one side is a Sudanese ‘ālim, the very model of Nile Valley Islamic orthodoxy; on the other is an African American, a generation only removed from slavery, an actor in the great northward migration that was to transform the African American worldview, as it was later to transform world music. The Sudanese ‘ālim was Sātti Mājid Muhammad al-Qādi from Dongola; the African-American was Timothy Drew, later known as Noble Drew Ali, from North Carolina. The topic also opens up new avenues for research into the missionizing activities of immigrant Sunnis, Ahmadis, and other Muslim groups, and for the history of the Moorish Science Temple, which latter movement may, in some sense, have been—even unconsciously—a link between the Islam of some African slaves in the antebellum South and the Lost and Found Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammad.

Thanks, Eliza!

Comments

  1. If you like Sudanic Africa, you might find this http://www.uib.no/jais interesting, too.
    I recommend volumes IV and V, some very interesting African stuff there.

  2. Great! Here‘s the direct link to the Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies—thanks.

  3. Very interesting stuff. There have been discussions over on Metafilter that have touched on the topic of Islam’s history in the US deriving from the elusive Beni Ishmael and tracing tto the Melungeons. This is the first I have seen which touches on the Moorish Science Temple.
    I am convinced that the Nation of Islam’s rather divergent visions of Islam derive from earlier traditions with a direct link to West African Islam (via slavery.) By the time people like Noble Drew Ali or Elijah Mohamed (and before him, Wallace Fard AKA Allah, the painted tie sales man who introduced E. Muhammed to the secrets of the Big Headed Doctor from the Island of Patmos) were expousing divergent forms of “folk islam” in the 1930s, there were still openly Islamic traditions practiced in the Gullah speaking areas of the Georgia Sea Islands, as noted by WPA researchers.
    During the Fulani Jihads of the early 19th century in the Western savannah, (we’ve been there before, haven’t we?) a lot of educated Muslim townsfolk were taken as slaves to the Americas. In the 1830s the Fulania Imams actually sent numerous literate Hausa Islamic teachers into slavery to Brazil to foment a Jihad to make the state of Bahia into an Islamic state (source: Gilberto Freyre, “Master and Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0394435613/104-9030077-7756734?v=glance&n=283155
    Given the existence of other intentional emissary missions sent from West African Kingdoms to check into the conditions of the new World I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Islamic teachers from the western Sahel wound up on plantations in the 1830s. Which would explain why Rastas do not eat pork, why Gospel Choirs where white robes and take off their shoes, and why two of the oldest settlements in the central midwest are Mohamed , Indiana and Mecca, illinois.
    I once tried to explain this uniquely American cultural situation to a group of conservative Sunni mullahs in eastern Turkey, who were grilling me on the Black Muslim and Melungeon connection in the US (Turkish TV has shown quite a few documetaries on it – due to the existence of a S. Carolina Melungeon group called “The Turks of Sumter County.”). Their take on it was that it was understandable as “halk Islam”, in other words, “Folk Islam.”

  4. Given the existence of other intentional emissary missions sent from West African Kingdoms to check into the conditions of the new World I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Islamic teachers from the western Sahel wound up on plantations in the 1830s. Which would explain why Rastas do not eat pork, why Gospel Choirs where white robes and take off their shoes, and why two of the oldest settlements in the central midwest are Mohamed , Indiana and Mecca, illinois.
    Uhm, why derive Ital from Halal when Kashrut seems a more obvious choice? The Bible, and in particular the Old Testament, is a canonical Rastafarian text; well, as much as anything is.
    Isn’t it the other way around, Mecca, IN and Mahomet, IL? And, again, wouldn’t (white) Freemasons be a simpler explanation than African slaves? Fraternal societies of that time freely borrowed from the Mysterious East.

  5. Ital diet may be from several sources. Salt avoidance is definately African, not biblical. Most Rastas also hold an aversion to drinking to drunkenness.
    Pork aversion among African descendants has several sources. There was a general belief among some slaves that by avoiding salted pork and salt in general – the flavors of slavery – one could “fly back to Guinea.” This belief was strong in the carribean and is documented in the WPA Slave narratives for the Georgia Sea islands as well.
    OK, you got me on the Place names. But the theoory is that these were Beni Ishmael settlements, and that Wallace “Allah” Fard, the man who taight Elijah Mohammed about “Islam” in the 1920s was perhaps related to the Fard families who founded those towns.

  6. I believe that this is the mefi thread. Full of link goodness; some may need the Wayback Machine, though. Plus a book recommendation from LH.
    A Chapati Mystery post summarizing from Gone to Croatan.
    History of Mahomet by the Chamber of Commerce only explains that the town was renamed (from Middletown) after the Post Office. I’m not in a position to visit the library or the museum, so I won’t conclude anything further myself.

  7. Ah yes, that MeTa thread, before the days when I could post. I’m absolutley not sure of the bibliographic detail, but there is a book about the ethnic hisstory of Chicago that include an extensive essay about the Beni Ishmael, much of the info gathered from members of the Moorish Temple, who – oddly enough – were represented strongly among vegtable market sellers in the midwest.
    A good Chicago buddy of mine – Willy Schwarz, who used to direct Tom Waits’ touring band – also read this article and he and I usually have long derivative discussions about the topic. What is really interesting is the history of ethnic groups that choose to disappear due to outside social pressures, such as the Indiana Eugenics campaign against the Ishmaels. Which takes us to the Big-Headed Doctor on the Isle of Patmos….

  8. How about: Hugo P. Learning, “The Ben Ishmael Tribe: A Fugitive ‘Nation’ of the Old Northwest” in The Ethnic frontier : Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest, eds. Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones?
    This is the footnote reference in an apparently relevant section in Michael A. Gomez’s recent Black Crescent : The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. He says, “To begin, the annual migratory route of the Ishmaelites was marked by towns near each end of the triangular route that carried Islamic names: at the northern end was Morocco, Indiana; Mahomet, Illinois was at the southern end; and Mecca, Indiana lay on the path back to Indianapolis. Of course, there are myriad U.S. towns with such names, each adopted for a variety of reasons having little or nothing to do with Islam. In the case of Mahomet, Illinois, however, a historical geography maintains that its founders were of ‘mixed American Southern extraction,’ which may well describe the Ishmaelites. However, even if Mahomet, or Morocco or Mecca, where not founded by the Ishmaelites, these towns may have been chosen by the Ishmaelites as poles around which their migrations were organized because the names held special significance.”
    (I also managed to track down this from the Boston Phoenix; the hard part was remembering where it ran.)

  9. This has turned into a fascinating discussion!

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