2019-20 Academic Year


Conference Africa, Globalization, and the Muslim Worlds

Harvard University

September 19-21, 2019




Featured Speakers: David Hempton, Harvard Divinity School, Diego Giovanni Castellanos, National University Colombia, Ayodeji Ogunnaike Bowdoin College,  Youssef Carter, Harvard University,  Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem, Northwestern University, Irit Bak, Tel Aviv University,  Cheikh Niang, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop Dakar, Ezgi Guner, University of Illinois, Steve Howard,  Ohio University, Rhea Rahman, Brooklyn College, Samiha Rahman, University of Pennsylvania, Oludamini Ogunnaike, University of Virginia, Zachary Wright, Northwestern University Qatar, Amidu Sanni, Fountain University Nigeria, Ousmane Kane, Harvard University, Medina Thiam, University of California Los Angeles, Felicita Becker, Ghent University, Gadija Ahjum, University of Cape Town,  Seam Hanretta, Northwestern University, Rebecca Shereikis, Northwestern University, Charles Hallissey, Harvard Divinity Scho

A conference entitled ‘‘Africa, Globalization and the Muslim Worlds’’ took place at Harvard Divinity School (Cambridge, MA) on September 19-21, 2019. This academic gathering gave rise to a generative conversation about globalized Africa and the Muslim dynamics that cut across the continent. It was co-sponsored by the Alwaleed Professorship of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School, and the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) of Northwestern University. The steering committee for this memorable event was led by Professors Ousmane Kane (Harvard Divinity School) and Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem (Northwestern University), assisted by Rebecca Shereikis (Northwestern University) and Norbert Litoing (Harvard University).

From the onset, Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem (Northwestern University) gave the tempo with a keynote lecture on Mauritanian scholars and their contribution to the reconstruction of religious authority in the Muslim world. In the same vein, Zachary Wright (Northwestern University-Qatar) delved into the metaphysical dimensions of African Islam, by closely studying two Tijani texts, Jawâhir al-ma’ânî and Rimâh. Oludamini Ogunnaike (University of Virginia) underscored the intertextual creativity of contemporary West African Islamic poetry. On his part, Amidu Sanni (Fountain University, Nigeria) gave an epistemological reflection on the intellectual history of Africa, insisting on the dialectic tension between globalization and glocalization.

Diego Giovanni Castellanos (National University of Colombia) spoke on Muslim identity and the social marginalization of a community of Afro-descendants in Colombia. Madina Thiam (University of California) looked at Sahelian kinship, Islamic education and emancipation between Jamaica and Nigeria from 1790 to 1854. Ayodeji Ogunnaike (Bowdoin College) highlighted the role played by West African intellectuals in education and Islamic practice in Brazil. The Middle East was equally on the radar. Irit Bak (University of Tel Aviv) talked about an aspect of the history of Islam in Africa that is seldom discussed, namely, the fascinating presence of West African Sufism in Jerusalem, from the colonial era to this day. South Africa was equally covered through the papers of Rhea Rahman (Brooklyn College) on black Islamic activism seen as “soft power” and that of Gadija Ahjum (University of Cape Town) on the emergence of Shiism in Cape Town. East Africa was discussed by Steve Howard (Ohio University) who looked at a Sudanese brotherhood as well as by Felicitas Becker (Ghent University) who spoke about the dynamic of reform extant in Swahili sermons in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The new Turkish quest for influence in Africa was examined by Ezgi Guner (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) who questioned the attitude of the Turkish state vis-à-vis West African Sufi brotherhoods. On her part, Mara Leichtmann scrutinized transnational Shia networks through NGOs active in Tanzania.

The particular case of Senegal is worth noting. In effect, Senegalese Islam took center stage during this conference as evidenced by the many papers dedicated to Senegalese Sufi brotherhoods, notably that of Sheikh Ibrahima Niasse (1900-1975). Youssef Carter (USA) presented an ethnographic study on the liberating virtues of Tarbiyah. Cheikh Niang (Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal) discussed the sociopolitical perspectives of the Fayda (Sheikh Ibrahima Niasse’s brotherhood) through its process of globalization. Finally, Samiha Rahman (University of Pennsylvania) looked at the pedagogical function of traditional Islamic education in Medina Baye Senegal.

Amidst all these academic reflections, the “Baraka Boys” introduced a musical note. The members of this London-based pop group are Afro-descendants. Through their performance, they offered an artistic illustration of the topic of the conference. Their trajectory bears witness to the perfect affinity that can exist between religious identity, globalization and musical production, a space of convergence that requires a renewed scientific interest.

With a total of 17 papers of extremely high quality, Africa was examined through a plurality of lenses, with the aim of highlighting the transversal dimension of African dynamics. This conference opened a space for discussing the contemporary challenges facing the continent, along original and generative paths. The critical edge of the communications is worth mentioning. Overall, it was not a question of romanticizing the African past or celebrating a so-called continental exceptionalism. Rather, historical depth was used to lay the groundwork for rethinking Africa in its extensions and mutations in the diaspora. The open and dynamic interplay between past, present and future is particularly productive in such research projects where African social and political realities are embraced in all their complexity, and African trajectories are depicted while paying attention to their unpredictability. From a methodological standpoint, this is an invitation to stop absolutizing theories and other generalizations, but rather take stock of the numerous approaches that emerge when one pays close attention to the multiple facets of a continent that has been globalized. At this conference, the analytical field was enriched with new concepts: Ethics of presence (Cheikh Niang), poetics of intertextuality (Ogunnaike), liberating principle of Tarbiya (Carter), Moorish parrêsia (Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem) and several others born of audacity and creativity. These prompted those present to rethink Africa not only from structured spaces, but also from the margins. Resolutely comparative and constructive, the research projects presented insisted on the processual character of these social, political and cultural elaborations.

Through processes of incorporation, indigenization and domestication, the African continent ceaselessly re-invents itself. It equally externalizes and delocalizes its multiple experiences through globalization. As a major player in the new globalized African topography, Islam is opening a space in which nation-states come to re-negotiate their sovereignty. Islam is spreading today through organizational forms such as NGOs, charitable foundations, cooperatives and others, without completely dissociating itself from traditional structures (families, clans, ethnic groups, nations, regions). The subtleties of the mechanisms put in place and the singularity of local variations are guaranteed by agents whose influence is boosted by their involvement in social and educational projects that have become the poster child of the missionary imagination. This micropolitical field benefits immensely from the globalization of economic, political and cultural exchanges.

Rapporteur: Cheikh Niang, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop Dakar

October 1, 2019


final poster


Africa, Globalization and the Muslim Worlds


Conference organized by The Alwaleed Professorship of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School and The Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) at Northwestern University.

 Harvard Divinity School, September 19-21, 2019


Scholarship on globalization of Islamic Africa has been focused either on merely describing (if not romanticizing) African Muslims’ experiences abroad, on one hand, or on exploring how Muslim societies in Africa are affected by global Islamic trends, on the other hand. Little attention has been paid to the ways in which Islam and what it means to be African and Muslim have been and are being negotiated at the intersection of local, regional and global encounters, narratives, perceptions and exchanges.

Questions that we seek to investigate include but are not limited to: How to account for the dynamics of continuity and change in forms of Islamic piety, authority and knowledge production in Africa, in a context of increased global connections? How do African Muslims articulate their religious life in a globalized world? For African Muslims in the diaspora, how do religious links with their homelands shape their relationship to Islam? How do diasporic religious or non-religious experiences affect or alter aspects of lived Islam in Africa? To what extent has the interaction between the so-called Muslim world and Africa shaped Islamic practices and thought or the perception of the so-called Umma? What role does pilgrimage play in connecting African Muslims with other Muslims from distant lands? How do African Muslims navigate notions of Africa and Islam, faith, foreignness and modernity in a globalized world?

This conference will be organized around six panels. The first panel will address the long presence of African Muslims in the Americas. The second, third and fifth panel will deal with transnational Islam, and the sixth panel with emerging paradigms in the study of Islam in Africa. In addition, the conference will bring a group of young Muslim artists called Baraka Boys for a roundtable (fourth panel) followed by a musical performance.

 A PDF copy of the program can be found  here.


page 1 programprogram2

The Baraka Boys

The Baraka Boys are a collection of young Muslim influencers, artists and creatives, who have gained a significant following on social media platforms through their YouTube video series and podcast which deals with issues facing the Muslim community, and their representation of the contemporary lifestyle of Muslim millennials and all the intricacy that is involved when faith and culture meet modernity to form what has become known to be a 'third-culture'.

Momodou Taal is a law graduate from the United Kingdom who, after attaining his LLB from the University of East Anglia whilst traveling to Morocco, Egypt and Mauritania in the summers to benefit from scholars and studying intensively in his spare time in the UK, began studying Islamic jurisprudence and other preliminary Islamic sciences full time at the prestigious Al-Azhar in Egypt. Momodou has a particular focus in tackling contemporary issues that relate to young Muslims in the modern world and has founded the Muslim Millennials initiative which aims to be the main creative platform in the UK that exhibits Muslim Millennial culture through top quality media, documentaries, and annual forums and conferences.

Fahd Rehman is 24 years old and resides in Birmingham, UK. He is a graduate of the University of Birmingham with a degree in Education Studies and is currently on a full-time Alim program at Hassanat College where he is studying all of the major Islamic Sciences and the Arabic Language. He is well known amongst the Muslim Youth in the UK through his social media presence and his being a radio personality who hosts a podcast for the BBC Asian Network where he regularly discusses topics surrounding the Muslim Asian male experience, including mental health and emotional issues and their intersection with culture and faith. Fahd Rehman is a co-founder and the Executive Director of The Cave, a community organization in the UK that aims to promote unity, tolerance, love, and peace amongst the Muslim community. Through The Cave, He along with his team organize workshops for children, gatherings which involve performances from local artists and lectures by local and international scholars, as well as basic Islamic studies classes for adults, a movie club and a youth sports club every month for the community without charge And are scheduled to open a Quran school for children by the end of 2019.

Mohammed Yahya is an award-winning bilingual Rapper, Poet, Educator & Events organizer. He has performed extensively across the UK, Europe, United States, Mexico & throughout Africa sharing his experience as a refugee and encouraging different communities to build bridges of peace and understanding. He recently received the 21-4-21 award which recognized him for being one of 21 young leaders in the 21st century who is working to increase dialogue and break down barriers between different communities. Mohammed Yahya’s work has been featured on ITV News, Al Jazeera, British Muslim TV, BBC Asian Network, BBC London, Islam Channel, just to name a few as well as TV channels across the U.K, Mozambique, France, Senegal & Mexico.


Khaled Siddiq is one of the most recognized Muslim artists across the globe. A Youtuber, singer-songwriter and rapper, he combines an array of skills into his portfolio making him one of the most diverse and talented Muslims today. A proud Muslim of Jamaican, English and Irish heritage, he performs internationally and has been invited to perform at prestigious universities like Yale and Oxford. He believes providing others with music which serves a higher purpose and removing misconceptions about his faith has always been his calling.

Faisal Salah is a multi-talented, internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter-beatboxer who can best be described as a walking jam session. Faisal has the gift of freestyle musical expression and He has toured all over the world working not only as a singer but as a facilitator for art therapy. Love is his life language!

and Mustafa Briggs, a graduate of Arabic and International Relations from the University of Westminster whose dissertation focused on Arabic Literature and Literacy in West Africa. Mustafa started an MA in Translation at SOAS, University of London with a specialization in Arabic and Islamic Texts, before moving to Cairo, Egypt where he is currently pursing Islamic Studies and Arabic. Mustafa rose to international acclaim for his ‘Beyond Bilal: Black History in Islam’ lecture series which saw him explore and uncover the deep routed relationship between Islam and Black History; and the legacy of contemporary African Islamic Scholarship and its role in the International Relations of the Muslim World as well as the vital role Female Scholarship plays in the West African Islamic Tradition, which he presented at over 40 Universities across the world, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale.