Americans and Westerners generally do not associate Africa with Islam. And yet 20 percent of Muslims worldwide live in Africa, and nearly half of the African population is Muslim. Islamic practice in Africa dates back over 1400 years, to the beginning of the faith. Many early Muslims creatively combined Islamic and indigenous beliefs to give rise to African Muslim traditions of incorporation, toleration, and mutual respect.
Diversity and Tolerance in the Islam of West Africa explores these traditions through carefully crafted galleries of audio and video interviews, transcripts, photographs, maps, documents, and multimedia presentations. Focusing on the West African countries of Ghana and Senegal, these rich resources shed much-needed light on how Muslims in West Africa accept religious difference and create productive interactions among Christians, Muslims, and practitioners of other faiths.
This digital library project was a collaborative effort of many persons and institutions, headquartered at MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University. MSU's Department of History and African Studies Center were also involved along with the West African Research Association based in the US, the West African Research Center based in Dakar, and scholars at Harvard University, Indiana University, Boston University, James Madison University, University of Pennsylvania, Western Washington University, and several academics living and working in Senegal.
From 2005 to 2010, a team of Africanist scholars developed the Diversity and Tolerance in the Islam of West Africa digital collection. These scholars conducted field research in Africa gathering relevant materials for inclusion in the online library. From oral interviews, photographs, newspapers, maps and archival and handwritten documents researchers crafted galleries of primary source materials and contextualizing essays about Senegal and Ghana, their Muslim communities, and the relations of those communities with the practitioners of other faiths.
Resources developed for this project bring to light a tradition of incorporation, pragmatism, and mutual respect that has marked many Islamic societies, from Cordoba in Spain to Ghazni in the heart of today's Afghanistan. As such, the collection makes a unique contribution to teaching and research by providing digital access to previously unavailable information on Islamic culture and religious tolerance from the less well-known region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
This digital library focuses on two countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Senegal, with a population of about 10 million, is a majority Muslim country located just below the Sahara desert and along the western shore of the South Atlantic. Ghana, with a population of about 20 million, is a majority non-Muslim country along the southern side of the bulge that is West Africa. In the last two centuries both countries have seen significant processes of islamization, where the faith has spread, deepened, and become more complex - often with significant differences in the practice of Islam. At the same time Christian communities have become more numerous and complex, and their relations with their fellow citizens of the Muslim persuasion more complex. But in general, in both the "majority Muslim" and "majority non-Muslim" situations, those relations have been marked by mutual respect and understanding, and this carries over to persons and communities of both secular and "traditional Africanist" practice.
It is partially for this reason that we have chosen specialists in Senegal and Ghana to construct our digital galleries and demonstrate the diversity and tolerance that characterize many parts of the world, in the wake of the shock of 9/11 and the "clash of civilizations" which many assume to mark the relations between the "Islamic world" and the West.