Zachary Wright

Zachary Wright

Northwestern University
Zachary Wright pic

Zachary Wright is Professor of History and Religious studies in the Liberal Arts program, and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at Northwestern University in Qatar. He received his PhD in African History from Northwestern University, his MA in Arabic Studies/Middle East History from the American University in Cairo, and his BA in History from Stanford University. His research focuses on Islamic intellectual history in North and West Africa from the fifteenth century to the present. His book publications include Realizing Islam: the Tijaniyya in North Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Muslim World (University of North Carolina Press, 2020), Jihad of the Pen: the Sufi Literature of West Africa (co-authored with Rudolph Ware and Amir Syed, American University in Cairo Press, 2018), Sur la voie du Prophète: Cheikh Ahmad Tijani et la Tariqa Muhammadiyya (Éditions Tasnim, 2018), and Living Knowledge in West African Islam: the Sufi Community of Ibrahim Niasse (Brill, 2015). He has also translated a number of West African Arabic texts into English, such as The Removal of Confusion concerning the Flood of the Saintly Seal by Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (Fons Vitae, 2010). His current research focuses on Islamic clerical independence in the Songhay empire.

Talk Information:

Muhammadan Sufism in West Africa: Comparing Medieval Songhay, the Age of Jihads, and Decolonization
December 16, 2022 | 9:00 AM

Sufism in West Africa has been infused with distinct elements of the “Muhammadan Path” (arīqa Muammadiyya) since its first observable presence in the region during the age of empires (Mali and Songhay). Muhammadan Sufism, focusing on the example and enduring spiritual presence of the Prophet Muhammad as both the origin and return of the Sufi path, has meant that Sufi scholars have been mostly synonymous with Sunni Islamic orthodoxy in West Africa for the last six-hundred years. This talk compares three tumultuous time periods: the Songhay empire in 15-16th centuries, the Islamic clerical revolutions in the 18-19th centuries, and the era of decolonization post World War II. The core argument is that versions of the arīqa Muammadiyya model provided both continuity and the capacity for dynamic adaptation in West African Muslim engagement with profound historical ruptures.

For further reading:

Wright, Z. (2021). The African Roots of a Global Eighteenth-Century Islamic Scholarly Renewal. In Ousmane Oumar Kane (Ed.). Islamic Scholarship in Africa: New Directions and Global Contexts. Boydell & Brewer.

Wright, Z. (2022). Islam, Blackness, and African Cultural Distinction: The Islamic Négritude of Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse. Journal of Africana Religions, Vol. 10, No. 2,

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