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The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa

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Spanning a thousand years of history--and bringing the story to the present through ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania--Rudolph Ware documents the profound significance of Qur'an schools for West African Muslim communities. Such schools peacefully brought Islam to much of the region, becoming striking symbols of Muslim identity. Ware shows how in Sen Spanning a thousand years of history--and bringing the story to the present through ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania--Rudolph Ware documents the profound significance of Qur'an schools for West African Muslim communities. Such schools peacefully brought Islam to much of the region, becoming striking symbols of Muslim identity. Ware shows how in Senegambia the schools became powerful channels for African resistance during the eras of the slave trade and colonization. While illuminating the past, Ware also makes signal contributions to understanding contemporary Islam by demonstrating how the schools' epistemology of embodiment gives expression to classical Islamic frameworks of learning and knowledge. Today, many Muslims and non-Muslims find West African methods of Qur'an schooling puzzling and controversial. In fascinating detail, Ware introduces these practices from the viewpoint of the practitioners, explicating their emphasis on educating the whole human being as if to remake it as a living replica of the Qur'an. From this perspective, the transference of knowledge in core texts and rituals is literally embodied in people, helping shape them--like the Prophet of Islam--into vital bearers of the word of God.


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Spanning a thousand years of history--and bringing the story to the present through ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania--Rudolph Ware documents the profound significance of Qur'an schools for West African Muslim communities. Such schools peacefully brought Islam to much of the region, becoming striking symbols of Muslim identity. Ware shows how in Sen Spanning a thousand years of history--and bringing the story to the present through ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania--Rudolph Ware documents the profound significance of Qur'an schools for West African Muslim communities. Such schools peacefully brought Islam to much of the region, becoming striking symbols of Muslim identity. Ware shows how in Senegambia the schools became powerful channels for African resistance during the eras of the slave trade and colonization. While illuminating the past, Ware also makes signal contributions to understanding contemporary Islam by demonstrating how the schools' epistemology of embodiment gives expression to classical Islamic frameworks of learning and knowledge. Today, many Muslims and non-Muslims find West African methods of Qur'an schooling puzzling and controversial. In fascinating detail, Ware introduces these practices from the viewpoint of the practitioners, explicating their emphasis on educating the whole human being as if to remake it as a living replica of the Qur'an. From this perspective, the transference of knowledge in core texts and rituals is literally embodied in people, helping shape them--like the Prophet of Islam--into vital bearers of the word of God.

57 review for The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mehwish Mughal

    "When I began researching Qur'an schools a dozen years ago, I shared Human Rights Watch's view that the daara was an exploitative and backward institution. I pitied the taalibes because they were suffering awful exploitation, and I too wondered whether they were actually learning anything." The author, through an ethnographic approach, reaches the bottom of what it means to be studying in Qur'an schools in West Africa and how these taalibes were an embodiment of Islamic knowledge and were prope "When I began researching Qur'an schools a dozen years ago, I shared Human Rights Watch's view that the daara was an exploitative and backward institution. I pitied the taalibes because they were suffering awful exploitation, and I too wondered whether they were actually learning anything." The author, through an ethnographic approach, reaches the bottom of what it means to be studying in Qur'an schools in West Africa and how these taalibes were an embodiment of Islamic knowledge and were propelled into becoming Walking Qur'an. An extremely important and scholarly account of the historical and political context of Islam in West Africa.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amanda J

    Well, this was certainly a different book than I expected it to be but I'm highly pleased with it! Ware walks through the history of Qur'an schooling in West Africa in great detail, and really hits home on points covering historical fact, imperialism, spirituality, the Arab/Islam reform movement in the latter half of the 1900s, and the cultural shifts in how the community in West Africa viewed the importance of religion, spirituality, and the communal obligation to these. I really appreciated War Well, this was certainly a different book than I expected it to be but I'm highly pleased with it! Ware walks through the history of Qur'an schooling in West Africa in great detail, and really hits home on points covering historical fact, imperialism, spirituality, the Arab/Islam reform movement in the latter half of the 1900s, and the cultural shifts in how the community in West Africa viewed the importance of religion, spirituality, and the communal obligation to these. I really appreciated Ware's recognition that his expectations upon starting this research were not met, and his opinion on Qur'an schooling was drastically altered during this extended period of first hand research. The entirety of the book was well written, well cited, and well worth it. Highly recommend for anyone interested in the culture of West Africa and/or Islam.

  3. 5 out of 5

    _immareadyou

    Dr. Bilal Ware eloquently takes us through the inception, cultivation, and fruition of Islam in West Africa, on a timeline as far back as the early 9th century to present day. Navigating historical events and figures, Dr. Ware undoubtedly exposes the brilliance of West African Islamic scholarship that was, and still is, entrenched in the region. He illustrates the systems of education, which could be anywhere from a communal size to transnational. People from all over the world sojourn to parts Dr. Bilal Ware eloquently takes us through the inception, cultivation, and fruition of Islam in West Africa, on a timeline as far back as the early 9th century to present day. Navigating historical events and figures, Dr. Ware undoubtedly exposes the brilliance of West African Islamic scholarship that was, and still is, entrenched in the region. He illustrates the systems of education, which could be anywhere from a communal size to transnational. People from all over the world sojourn to parts of Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, and Nigeria, and in many cases stay for the invaluable knowledge. One major parallel I had noticed was the beautiful resemblance of the similarities between West African Islamic and Traditional Afro-American pedagogy, where both methods emphasized the elevation of spiritual status through obtaining knowledge. In a book I recently read "Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement among African-American Students", one of the authors, Theresa Perry, discusses the timeless value of Traditional Afro-American pedagogy. During slavery seeking higher education, despite the risk of mutilation or even death, was the only thing that would elevate you in your rank. The motto "Freedom through Literacy, Literacy through Freedom" showcases the transcendence of this absolute truth from the West African coasts all the way to the American South, Alhamdulilah! We see brave figures embody this absolute truth and live by it in the book. We see European slavers/colonizers bewitched at their core by the devotion of African Muslims to expel the filth of the dunya (world) and their nafs (egos). So much so, that all measures of intricate, intentional, and lethal actions are taken to ensure the Transatlantic Slave Enterprise and the colonization that would follow after. Dr. Ware flawlessly demonstrates the lengths these same slavers/colonizers would go to devalue and disenfranchise the Islamic history of West Africa. One tactic is infantilizing West African Muslims and their actions by strictly attributing Islam to their Arab ("baydan") counterparts because of their lighter skin. At the same pace, the Europeans would employ any means necessary to stop West African clerics and students from pulling their "dunya-infested" kings and brethren back into the oxygen of taqwa (God-consciousness). This books holds a mirror up to the current state of affairs for many Black/African Muslims today, where they are not given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their place in Islam. Dr. Ware did the Ummah a serious justice by exposing the timeless framework that has enriched, and continues to do so, our communities; Muslim and Non-Muslim.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Basil Alsubee

    Fantastic, crucial reading about premodern Islamic epistemology. I’m gonna think about the most standout chapters, which focused on embodied knowledge and resistance to slavery, for a long time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mountaga Tall

    Walking Quran Full of wisdom from an intellectual, historical and religious perspective. Beautiful attempt at explaining the religion and it's roots and differences. Walking Quran Full of wisdom from an intellectual, historical and religious perspective. Beautiful attempt at explaining the religion and it's roots and differences.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Walko

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mouhamadou Diagne

  8. 5 out of 5

    Toni Morgan

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aaliyah

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lawana Holland-Moore

  11. 4 out of 5

    Merrick Richardson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Abeer

  13. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Bediako

  14. 5 out of 5

    Enkidu_

  15. 4 out of 5

    Khansa Khalisha

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nimat Shaheed-Jacks

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  18. 5 out of 5

    Muhammed A Thwahir

  19. 4 out of 5

    Azadeh Sobout

  20. 4 out of 5

    Latiffah Salima

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ayaz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ivana Zajkovska

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shyann Kilgore

  24. 5 out of 5

    Usman Butt

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shona

  26. 5 out of 5

    L.H. Moore

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shibu Mohammed basheer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hafsa

  31. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

  32. 5 out of 5

    Kader

  33. 4 out of 5

    Jo

  34. 5 out of 5

    S

  35. 5 out of 5

    Alya

  36. 4 out of 5

    Korri

  37. 4 out of 5

    GCB-LovesGoodBooks

  38. 4 out of 5

    Aifa Radzi

  39. 4 out of 5

    Iman

  40. 4 out of 5

    Gina G

  41. 5 out of 5

    Adeel

  42. 5 out of 5

    Noemi Diop

  43. 5 out of 5

    Mary Clemons

  44. 5 out of 5

    Waseem Naser

  45. 4 out of 5

    Souleymane M Barry

  46. 4 out of 5

    Hamza Fazeel

  47. 5 out of 5

    K

  48. 5 out of 5

    Meral Kocak

  49. 4 out of 5

    Huwaida

  50. 4 out of 5

    Hamza

  51. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Vieira-Martinez

  52. 5 out of 5

    LZ

  53. 4 out of 5

    Zohebali Khan

  54. 4 out of 5

    James

  55. 4 out of 5

    Sean Bradford

  56. 4 out of 5

    Hodan

  57. 5 out of 5

    David

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