Worlding the Qur’an: A corpus of 18th-19th century illuminated Qur’an manuscripts from coastal East Africa


About The Event

Date: June 1, 2021

Venue: Online (via Zoom)

Presenter: Dr Zulfikar Hirji

Drawing upon his recent research on a little-known corpus of 18th–19th century illuminated Qur’ans from Pate Island in Kenya’s Lamu Archipelago, this seminar paper will discusses how these remarkable manuscripts disrupt and challenge conceptions of the African Swahili-speaking Muslim communities that produced them as peripheral to the wider Muslim world, and their material culture as derivative of the Islamic art produced by Muslim communities around the Indian Ocean littoral who migrated to their shores or with whom they traded. As such, the paper proposes reading the style and aesthetics of these manuscripts not only as a reflection of the context in which they were produced but also as world-making material culture practices that projected and cultivated the manuscript producers’ understanding of their worldview, history, society and culture.

Zulfikar Hirji (DPhil, Oxford) is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at York University, Toronto. His research explores knowledge production, representation, and identity, material, visual and sensory cultures, and critical pedagogies, with a focus on Islam and Muslim societies in a range of historical and contemporary contexts, particularly in coastal East Africa and the Indian Ocean. He has conducted archival, field-based, and community-engaged research in East Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and North America. His published works include Approaches to the Qur’an in sub-Saharan Africa (2019), Islam: An Illustrated Journey (2018), Between Empires: Sheikh-Sir Mbarak al-Hinawy (1896-1959) (2012), and Diversity and Pluralism in Muslim Contexts (2010). He has also curated a number of exhibitions including Memories of Stone: Landscapes of Prayer, Death and Commemoration in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2017), Transformations: Enlightenment in Digital Age—Works by Faisal Anwar, Fareena Chanda, Jamelie Hassan, and Ali Kazimi (2016), and Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan—Photographs by Margaret Morton (2015).

Source: Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

  • Cost: Free
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