Constructing the Maghrib Demonstrating the Maghrib’s Africanity

Constructing the Maghrib
Demonstrating the Maghrib’s Africanity

ASU Workshop – November 5, 2021
Sponsored by IHR (Seed Grant)

Hayden library, Room 135, 10 am to 2:30 pm

Shortly after the spread of Islam across North Africa, Muslim geographers and historians began referring to sub-Saharan Africa as the “Bilad as-Sudan”, while defining themselves as “Bidan.” Muslim intellectuals developed this racial dichotomy to justify the enslavement of Africans they deemed “Black.” As late as the eighteenth century, some North African scholars were still reluctant to accept the Islamic status of Muslim West Africans, some of whom had been Muslim since the eleventh century. Indeed, the trans-Saharan slave trade and racial slavery persisted in North Africa beyond the European conquest. The various European imperialists only exacerbated the old racial divide during the colonial period, as they subscribed to similar racist ideologies, despite their abolitionist rhetoric.

During the colonial period, many North Africans made common cause with the rest of the continent in the struggle for independence, and decolonized North African states became full members of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. More importantly, North African countries participate in the African Cup of Nations every two years, and they compete with the rest of Africa for the honor of representing the continent in the World Cup every four years. FIFA aside, much of the Western media still portray the Maghrib (and North Africa more generally) as not being part of Africa, and this view is not without its supporters on both sides of the Sahara. This geographic provincialism has a deep history; the Arabic word “maghrib” means “west” and derives from the perspectives of the early caliphates, whose scholars viewed North Africa mainly from Mecca, Damascus and Baghdad. By the end of the Abbasid Caliphate in the mid-thirteenth century, Muslim map makers still had no idea that the Maghrib was only a small part of an enormous continent. The ancient Greek and Roman Empires had been similarly ignorant, and Europeans did not begin to develop a real understanding of the African continent until the sixteenth century.

The aim of our workshop is to rethink geopolitical analyses that flow from a history of slavery and racism, to bridge the gap between traditional geographic, cultural, and chronological categories that have obscured our understanding of the region. Our project will also address issues of mapping archival silences onto slavery, race and gender across the Sahara, and envisions the possibilities of a digital archive of the trans-Saharan slave trade. This digital archive will help produce statistical data and establish ethnic designations of enslaved populations in North Africa.

Interactive website and data:
1. We will create a storyline from maps on trans-Saharan trade networks.
2. We will use multiple types of content such as slavery and Hajj.
3. The third deliverable offer images of the human geography of the region.

Welcome and Introductions, 10 to 10:45 am:
1. SHPRS Director, Richard Amesbury
2. CMS Director, Chouki El Hamel
3. Project presentation by Ed Oetting, Matt Toro and Skyler Bean

Panel 1: 11 am to 12:15 pm:
4. Adib El Habib Bencherif
5. Eric Ross
6. Zoubir Yahia
7. Touria Khannous

Panel 2: 1:15 to 2:30 pm:
8. Abdellatif Bencherifa
9. Tim Cleaveland
10. Yacine Daddi Addoun
11. Julia Clancy-Smith

CMS members will participate in the Q&A.

The workshop will be a hybrid meeting (in-person at ASU and virtual at the same time), consisting of 2 panels, from 11am to 2pm.

Each panelist will give a 15-minute presentation on “the idea of the Maghrib” according to their own region and based on their own research/perspective and discipline. These presentations will introduce topics for discussion after which the panel will entertain questions from the audience.