PANEL 1: EPISTEMOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF TIJĀNIYYA SUFISM
Farah El-Sharif is a PhD student at Harvard University’s Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. Her research focuses on the modern (19th-20th century) intellectual, mystical and legal history of West Africa and the Levant. Farah completed her undergraduate degree in ‘Culture and Politics’ at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 2009 and received her MA from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California in 2013. She received the ‘Rising Scholar’ award from the International Institute for Islamic Thought in Herndon, VA, the Kenneth W. Russell Fellowship from the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan, and the Alwaleed bin Talal Fellowship at Harvard University, and has served on the editorial board of The Muslim 500: The World’s Most Influential Muslims, a publication produced by the Royal Islamic Institute of Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan.
Amir Syed in an intellectual and cultural historian of Muslim communities in West Africa over the longue durée. His research broadly focuses on questions related to political imagination, the construction of authority, cross regional interactions, and the transmission of Islamic knowledge. He is completing a monograph on the important nineteenth-century West African Muslim intellectual al-Hajj ʿUmar Tall (d. 1864) that analyzes the relationship between religious and political authority in precolonial West Africa. He is the co-author of Jihad of the Pen: The Sufi Literature of West Africa (2018), and a co-editor of a recent special issue of Islamic Africa (2018). He is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the history department at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has taught courses in African and Islamic history. He received his PhD from the Interdisciplinary Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan.
Umar Sheikh Tahir is a researcher on Islam in the West, currently a Ph.D. student at the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), Columbia University, and interested in the Post-Classical Islamic intellectual history of West Africa: Scholarship, Heritage and Manuscripts. A founder of Qadat al-Fikr Foundation in Nigeria who holds the Chief Missioner position, a member and representative of Shaykh Dahiru Islamic Foundation in Quranic Curriculum Committee of Niger State Almajiri Integrated Government Schools Project, an Imam and a teacher of Quran in Karofi Jumaat Mosque and a member of Imams forum Bauchi state. Umar is an academic working at the department of Islamic studies Bauchi State university, Gadau, and has published 6 academic peer reviewed papers, among which: Islamic spirituality: Adhkār al-Tarbiyah in Tijjāniyah Tradition; a Spiritual Journey to God. Umar holds his first degree from al-Azhar University in Creed and Islamic philosophy and he accomplished a Master of Usuluddin at the University of Malaya, Malaysia, where he worked on Islamic intellectual history in the Medieval Ages. He samples Aristotelian logic inclusion into Islamic theology.
Adnan Adrian Wood-Smith is a 2nd-year PhD student in the Study of Religion at Harvard University whose research focuses on the poetry of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and his followers, and on the significance of poetry to Shaykh Ibrahim’s Fayḍah movement. Adnan has translated several poems of Shaykh Ibrahim and his students, as well as selections of their prose works, and oversaw a project to transcribe the entire poetic corpus of Shaykh Ibrahim and selective English translations in a searchable and easily navigable format. He has spent time within communities of the Fayḍah in Senegal and Mauritania, where he intends to conduct his fieldwork. Adnan served as the Muslim Chaplain at Brown University for five years, and has taught Arabic at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California.
PANEL 2: SHAYKH IBRAHIM’S INTERVENTION IN MAJOR DEBATES I
Zachary Wright received his PhD (history) from Northwestern University, his MA in Arabic studies, Middle East history, from the American University in Cairo, his BA in history from Stanford University. His research focuses on Islamic intellectual history in North and West Africa, from the seventeenth century to the present. He did most of his field research in Senegal, Morocco, and Mauritania, with Arabic, French and Wolof language sources. Publications include Realizing Islam: the Tijaniyya in North Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Muslim World (UNC Press, 2020), Jihad of the Pen: the Sufi Literature of West Africa (with Rudolph Ware and Amir Syed, AUC Press, 2018), Living Knowledge in West African Islam: the Sufi Community of Ibrāhīm Niasse (Brill, 2015), and a translation of Ibrāhīm Niasse’s Kāshif al-Ilbās entitled The Removal of Confusion Concerning the Flood of the Saintly Seal (with Muhtar Holland and Abdullah El-Okene, Fons Vitae, 2010 and 2019). Wright serves as a faculty affiliate of Northwestern’s Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) program. On Northwestern’s Qatar campus, Wright teaches classes on Islamic Africa, Middle East history, African history, and Islamic intellectual history. He also serves as chairperson of the Middle East Studies Committee.
Sidina Ali Niasse received his primary Qur’anic and Islamic education in Kaolack, Senegal, and then joined the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, where he graduated with a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He subsequently joined the Institut des Langues et Civilizations Orientales in Paris where he received a degree in Higher Islamic Studies specializing in West African Muslim Societies. He served as an advisor to the Mayor of Kaolack from 2009. In 2009, he joined the Foreign Service of Senegal, serving in the Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Senegalese Embassy in the UAE. He is currently an advisor at the Senegalese Consulate in Morocco. Alongside his diplomatic career, Sidina Ali Niasse is involved in international da’wa (outreach) and has toured African and European countries as well as the United States to lecture to Muslim communities.
Imam Fakhruddin Owaisi is the Head of the Department of Islamic Studies at the International Peace College of South Africa (Cape Town), Head of the Department of Prophetic Studies at the Madina Institute (South Africa), and a prominent scholar in South Africa. He graduated with a BA degree (Alim Fadil) from the Islamic College of South Africa and a Master’s in Religious Studies (with Distinction) from the University of Cape Town. He has lectured in over 20 countries.
Mohammed Hasan Yousef Darkhalil is the head of the civil society studies department in the Vision Centre for Political Development - Istanbul, and a PhD Student and Researcher in Political Science and International Relations in Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey. He received a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Birziet University, Palestine, in 2011, with a specialization in the social politics of Palestinian Society, and a Master’s degree in Southeast Asian Studies with a specialization in civil society in Malaysia in 2016 from the University of Malaya, Malaysia. His intellectual interests include Palestinian socio-politics, leadership profiling, civil society, and the history of Islamic philosophy.
PANEL 3: SHAYKH IBRAHIM’S INTERVENTION IN MAJOR DEBATES II
Salim Niang was born in Saudi Arabia. He currently serves in an accredited Arabic diplomatic mission in Dakar, Senegal. Son of a diplomat, he has travelled and lived with his father in several African and Asian countries. He received degrees and certificates from the Faculty of Commerce of the University of Cairo, the American University in Cairo, and the French Cultural Center and British Council in Egypt. Alongside his regular job, he has worked as a teacher, translator-interpreter and journalist-reporter and consultant in Islamic finances. Very much involved in community building and service, Salim Niang belongs to a number of religious (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and civic organizations. Notable among them is the think tank Groupe de Reflexion Ansaroudine (GRAD) that he chairs, which brings together intellectuals affiliated with the Fayda Tijaniyya movement.
Oludamini Ogunnaike (Ph.D. African Studies and Religion, Harvard University, 2015) is an Assistant Professor of African Religious Thought in the University of Virginia’s Department of Religious Studies. He is the author of Poetry in Praise of Prophetic Perfection: A Study of West African Arabic Madīḥ Poetry and its Precedents (Islamic Texts Society, 2020) and Deep Knowledge: Ways of Knowing in Sufism and Ifa, Two West African Intellectual Traditions (Penn State University Press, 2020), as well as several journal articles and chapters in edited volumes on the intellectual, literary, and aesthetic dimensions of West African Sufism. He currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal Sophia. His first book, Poetry in Praise of Prophetic Perfection, is focused on Niasse’s poetry and poetics and contains translations from dozens of Niasse’s poems, while the epistemology of Niasse’s Sufi tradition forms one of the focal points of his second book, Deep Knowledge. Ogunnaike has also published another article on Niasse’s poetry in the Journal of Sufi Studies, and is currently working on a digital archive of performances of West African Sufi Poetry (www.waspproject.org) and another two articles on Niasse’s poetics and conceptualization of freedom and humanity, putting it in dialogue with the poetics of Black studies theorists such as Audre Lorde and Sylvia Wynter. Work on this project will contribute significantly to his broader research trajectory of bringing West African Sufi literature into important conversations in Black Studies, Cross-Cultural Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and African Studies and Islamic Studies more generally.
Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch’s research interests, broadly speaking, tend to explore the interstice between ontology and epistemology in the later Islamic tradition. There, knowledge and its various pathways, including demonstration, intuition, and experience, are typically treated at once in the basic assumptions of the Islamic intellectual heritage. After earning a PhD at the University of Exeter for his studies in this area, he has more recently concentrated on probing the relationship between demonstrative and intuitive knowledge in Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shirāzi, more popularly known as Mullā Ṣadrā (d.1640), a renowned Safavid Persian thinker. His pending study is entitled, "A Simplex Parallel: The Suspended Person Thought Experiment as a Theoretical Coordinate of the Sadrian Perfect Human's Non-Complex Apperception." There, the onto-epistemic carrefour created in the Sadrian synthesis of Abū ʿAlī Ibn Sīnā's (d.1037) thought experiment entitled the "Suspended Person", and Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī’s (d.1240) concept of the Perfect Human (al-Insān al-kāmil) is surveyed for its onto-epistemic subtleties. This inquiry anticipates an exemplary unearthing of when demonstration, intuition, and experience act simultaneously to reveal the consonance of various types of knowledge and existential ontology in the Islamic philo-mystical tradition.
Ousmane Oumar Kane (Ph.D. Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, Institut d’Etudes Politique de Paris, 1993; MA in Islamic Studies 1985 & MA in Translation Studies 1988, Sorbonne University) serves as Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School and Professor of African and African American Studies. Prior to joining Harvard, he was Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is the author of Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria (Brill, 2003), The Homeland Is the Arena: Religion, Transnationalism and the Integration of Senegalese Immigrants in America (Oxford University Press, 2011) and, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa (Harvard University Press, 2016), as well as dozens of articles concerning Islam in West Africa.
PANEL 4: GLOBAL SPREAD OF THE FAYḌA TIJĀNIYYA I
Suhail Chitrath is a Tijānī muqaddam (authorized representative) in the zawiya of Kerala. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration, University of Calicut, Kerala, and a degree in Mechanical Engineering, University of Calicut, India.
Cheikh Abdoulaye Niang received a Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Anthropology, and was trained at the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar and at the University of Toulouse Jean-Jaurès in France, at the Center of Social and Historical Anthropology. He defended his doctoral thesis on the links between transnational expansion and the struggle for recognition within the Fayda Tidjaniyya. His teaching activities began at the University of Toulouse where he was a lecturer for several years. Later, he joined the Department of Sociology of the University of Dakar and the Virtual University of Senegal as associate professor. He is the author of several publications and papers on religious dynamics in West Africa. His book Transnational Itinerancy and National Recognition, which is devoted to the Fayda Tidjaniyya, is currently being published by Harmattan Editions (Paris). Currently a researcher at the IFAN - Ch. A. Diop Laboratory of Cultural Anthropology, his research interest has recently broadened to the issue of solidarity economy and community development in relation to religious communities and associations in Senegal.
Rasul Miller is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.Rasul received his PhD in History and Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA in Economics and African & African American Studies from Duke University. During the 2019-2020 academic year, he served as a Postdoctoral Associate in the study of the Racialization of Islam at Yale University's Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. His research interests include Black Muslim communities in the Atlantic World, Black radicalism and its impact on social and cultural movements in the twentieth century US, Black internationalism, and West African Islamic intellectual history. His current book project, Black Muslim Cosmopolitanism: The Global Character of New York City's Black Muslim Movements, examines the Black internationalist origins of early twentieth century Black Sunni Muslim congregations in and around New York City, and the cultural and political orientations that characterized subsequent communities of Black Muslims in the US who built robust, transnational networks as they actively engaged traditions and communities of Muslims on the African continent.
PANEL 5: GLOBAL SPREAD OF THE FAYḌA TIJĀNIYYA II
Armaan Siddiqi is a PhD Candidate at Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Her dissertation—developed around the life world of a Moroccan scholar, Muḥammad ibn Jaʿfar al-Kattānī (d. 1927)—examines religious responses to colonization, pan-Islamism and transnationalism, and other social and intellectual movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her broader research and pedagogical interests include centering African history within Islamic and Near Eastern Studies. Armaan has also developed the curriculum for a Muslim children’s book company and is currently working on a project to enhance Islamic Studies pedagogy in partnership with faculty at Harvard Divinity School.
Ahmed Boukar Omar Niang was born in Medina Baye, Kaolack, Senegal, to a family of Islamic scholars. He simultaneously received Qur’anic and higher Islamic studies at home, and primary and secondary education in public schools in French. After graduating from High School he attended the University of Reims, Champagne Ardennes, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Law. He subsequently received a Master’s degree in International Law at the University of Paris in Cergy Pontoise, and a Postgraduate degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the School of Law at Nanterre University. He has devoted the last twenty years of his life documenting the biography of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse and translating his poetry. Among his publications are Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse: Homme du monde ou homme monde (volumes 1 and 2), and a translation of Sayr al-Qalb entitled La Marche du Coeur.
Muhammad Milanzi was born in Tembisa, South Africa. He is a Ḥāfiẓ of Qur’an (one who has memorized the entire scripture) and holds a BSc degree in Computer Science from the University of Cape Town. Through the Grace of Allah, he also holds a number of Ijazāt (authorizations) in the sciences of Sharīʿah (Islamic law) and Taṣawwuf (Sufism) from a variety of illustrious Mashā’ikh (teachers) including Shaykh Ibrahim Haiba (Mauritania), Shaykh Muhammad Mahy Cisse (Senegal), Mufti Shoayb Ahmad (South Africa), and Shaykh Dr Muhammad Shakoor Al Mayaadiniy (Jordan). He has also attended several illustrious Madāris (traditional schools) and has given lectures on a variety of Islamic topics to various conferences and gatherings.
Islamic community development is Muhammad’s driving passion and he currently serves as the Imam of the Falaq Islamic Community in Dawn Park, South Africa, where he runs a variety of spiritual, educational, and outreach activities. He is a Muqaddam (authorized representative) of the Ṭarīqah Tijāniyyah and serves as the President of the Gauteng Fayda Tijani, in which capacity he leads dhikr (invocation) circles on behalf of Shaykh Haibah. Muhammad serves as Deputy President of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema South Africa, which strives to revive traditional Islamic interpretations and promote peace through the collaboration of Islamic scholars throughout Africa. His life’s work is the development of healthy, sustainable, and model Islamic community life.
Amadu Kunateh is the Muslim Chaplain at Boston College. He received a Bachelor’s degree in African Studies and African American Studies from Dartmouth College in May 2019. He is currently a Master’s of Theological Studies candidate at Harvard Divinity School concentrating in Islamic Studies. He is interested in young Muslim spiritual practice, philosophy and Islamic intellectual history.
PANEL 6: TRANSNATIONAL LINKAGES
Johara Berriane is a fellow of the transregional research group “The Bureaucratisation of African Societies” run jointly by the German Historical Institute in Paris and the Centre de recherche sur les politiques sociales (CREPOS) in Dakar, Senegal. She holds a PhD from the Freie Universität Berlin, where she graduated in 2014 with a work on the transnational connections of the shrine of Aḥmad al-Tijānī in Fes (Morocco). Her research interests are African mobilities, transnational urban spaces, identity, and the bureaucratisation of faith.
Samiha Rahman is an Assistant Professor of Human Development at California State University Long Beach. She holds a Ph.D. in Africana Studies and Education from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was named a Fulbright-Hays Fellow and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellow. Dr. Rahman’s scholarship examines how youth of color in the U.S. and on the African continent understand their identities, grapple with inequalities in their lives, and engage in activism to transform their communities. Dr. Rahman is currently working on her first book project entitled Black Muslim Freedom Dreams: Islamic Education, Transnational Migration, and Diasporic Exchange. This project focuses on a group of African American Muslim youth aged 12 to 29 who have withdrawn from schools in the U.S. and migrated to Medina Baye, Senegal, for an educational experience that they anticipate will be more affirming than what is available to them in the U.S. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Medina Baye, New York City, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., the project analyzes how these youths’ experiences abroad shape their aspirations and provide them new ways of envisioning what it means to learn at the intersection of being young, Black, and Muslim.
Antonio de Diego González is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Universidad Pablo de Olavide. He received an MA in Contemporary History (2015) and a PhD (2016) on the history and doctrines of the Tijāniyya Ṭarīqa in contemporary West Africa at the Universidad de Sevilla. His research focus on intellectual history and epistemological problems in Islamic contemporary societies. He is author of "Ley y Gnosis. Historia intelectual de la tariqa Tijaniyya" (Editorial Universidad de Granada, Granada, 2020) and "Populismo Islámico" (Almuzara, Córdoba, 2020).
Panel 7: NEW FAYḌA TIJĀNĪ FEMALE LEADERSHIP
Babacar Niang A son and close collaborator of Shaykha Ruqayya Ibrahim Niasse, Oustaze Babacar Niang graduated from the School of Journalism of the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, and currently serves as the Dean of the Institute of Najah for girls’ education in Kaolack, Senegal, and as director of MEDICOM, a media consortium based in Dakar. Prior to assuming this position, he served in several newspapers in Senegal. He is the founder of the media consortium ALMADINA and the vice spokesperson of the Fayḍa Tijāniyya movement. Oustaze Babacar Niang is a prolific writer and has published several books and articles in French and Arabic. His more recent publications include Al-Fayḍa bayna Taḥadiyyāt al-Hāḍir wa Āfāq al-Mustaqbal (The Fayda Movement Between the Challenges of the Present and the Horizons of the Future, 2015), Dawr al-Shaykh Ibrāhīm fī Tarsīkh al-‘Alāqāt bayna Mūritāniyā wa al-Sinighāl (The Role of Shaykh Ibrahim in Strengthening the Relations between Mauritania and Senegal, 2017) and Al-‘Alāqāt bayna al-Shaykh Ibrahim wa al-‘Arsh al-‘Alawī al-Maghribī (The Relations between Shaykh Ibrahim and the ‘Alawi Monarchy of Morocco, forthcoming).
Cheikh Tidiane Benamar Kane
A son and close collaborator of Shaykha Marieme Ibrahim Niasse, Cheikh Tidiane Benamar Kane serves currently as the President of the Foundation Dar al-Qur’an al-Karim established by Shaykha Marieme Ibrahim Niasse. He received Quran and Islamic Studies in Tumbyali, Mauritania, and Tunisia. He subsequently studied agricultural engineering, graduating from the Institut National d’Agriculture of Mostaganem, Algeria, with a degree of Agricultural Engineer and a Master’s degree in Tropical Agriculture at the Institut de Formation Agricoles des Régions Chaudes at the University of Montpellier in France. He started his career as a researcher at the Institut National d’Agriculture in Senegal from 1982 to 1990, and then as an advisor at the Senegalese Ministry of Education from 1990 to 1996. From 1996 to 2003, he was an Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, serving in the headquarters in Rome, in Cairo, and in Iraq. Alongside his career as a researcher, he first served as Secretary General of the Foundation Dar al-Quran established by Shaykha Marieme, and then as President since 2017.
Sekou Aboubacar Hassoumi is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the School of Mines, Industry and Geology of Niger (EMIG) in Niamey, Niger, and Chief of Staff of the Minister of Mines of Niger. He earned a Bachelor’s degree (2005) and a Master’s degree (2008) in economics from Laval University of Quebec, Canada. In 2011, he received a Graduate Degree in international management at the National School of Public Administration (ENAP) of Québec, Canada. He has served as Statistician Economist at the Health Authority Funding and Financial Accountability branch ofAlberta Health and Wellness (Canada) in 2007, and as Analyst of Transport at the Ministry of Transports of Quebec, Canada, between 2008 and 2012. Between 2014 and 2016, he served as Special Advisor to the President of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of Niger (CESOC), Niamey, Niger. He also served as the Senior Special Assistant of the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria, appointed by the Pan-African Parliament, Abuja, Nigeria, between 2012 and 2014. He is also a son and close collaborator of Seyda Oumou Khayri Niasse.
Joseph Hill is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Since 2001, his ethnographic research has focused on the global Fayḍa Tijāniyya Sufi community, especially in the community's birthplace of Senegal but also in Mauritania, Egypt, the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere. The central question of his research is how, despite the apparently immutable nature of religious beliefs and practices, new performances of religiosity come to be accepted or rejected in changing historical contexts. His book Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal (2018) examines how women, although historically marginalized from formal religious authority, have recently come to act more openly as formally appointed spiritual guides of men and women in Dakar without any discernible controversy. Hill is currently researching how young male rappers in the Fayḍa Tijāniyya have also come to act as accepted spiritual guides and spokespeople for the Fayḍa Tijāniyya community in Dakar, London, and elsewhere. Drawing on performance theory, Hill’s research explores how changes in accepted religious practice often result less from explicit debate over textual prescriptions than from an aesthetic perception that some performance of religiosity embodies religious values.