The “traveling scholar” in African Islamic traditions

Local, regional, and global worlds

Authored by: Anne K. Bang

Routledge Handbook of Islam in Africa

Print publication date:  December  2021
Online publication date:  December  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367144234
eBook ISBN: 9780367144241
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter discusses the “traveling scholar” as a trope in Islamic history. The image of the traveling scholar is presented as both a deliberate construction of religious and moral authority, and as a claim to personal knowledge and position, which in turn may or may not have been reproduced in academic studies due to the emphasis on this trope in the narratives existing in the African Islamic oral and textual corpus. From this starting point, this chapter discusses the traveling scholars from three perspectives. Firstly, this chapter targets the traveling scholars who were integral to the Islamization process in West and East Africa (c. 1500–1900). This section highlights the varying roles of the traveling scholar and the ways in which he/she has been depicted in the sources. The second section introduces the traveler in search of knowledge, be that to the Islamic heartlands or regional centers on the continent. The third section discusses the reformist traveler from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the traveler who introduces change, in one form or another. The final section takes note of the paucity of studies on female travelers and presents some examples of women who traveled as Islamic scholars.

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