Over the course of a more than forty-year career, Paul Lovejoy has made foundational contributions to a half-dozen research areas in West African history, from the economics of commercial trade to the size, scope, and conceptualization of mass slavery in the Islamic caliphates of the region. This book represents something of a career-spanning synthesis of Lovejoy’s most influential work, as well as a challenging and original argument about the importance of ‘mainstreaming’ the history of the West African jihadist movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth century into broader accounts of the ‘Age of Revolutions’ in the Atlantic world. For unfamiliar readers—and there may be many, since this history is rarely covered in detail in general studies of Islamic political and social history—these jihad movements, which began in the late seventeenth century in the area of modern-day Senegal and eventually stretched across as far as the Lake Chad Basin in contemporary Cameroon and Chad, have been widely researched by area experts. Yet, despite the massive significance of these movements and the states they created, there have been relatively few efforts (and to my knowledge, no monograph-length texts) to synthesize these movements—which were clearly connected by networks of religious scholars and political leaders—into a single story. In this sense, Lovejoy’s most important contribution in this book is simply to provide this synthesis, placing these jihads into a unified regional context, explaining their connections with the larger Islamic world, and exploring the specific pathways by which the ‘technology’ of jihad spread, culminating in the jihad led by Uthman Dan Fodio and the founding of West Africa’s largest and most important pre-colonial state, the so-called ‘Sokoto Caliphate.’ That it has taken more than 50 years since the first wave of major scholarly research on the region’s jihad movements to produce such a work suggests the difficulty involved, and Jihād in West Africa During the Age of Revolutions will undoubtedly become the standard reference in the field. Throughout, the text relies heavily on clear, well-designed maps (including the best and most accurate map of the Sokoto Caliphate published in over 50 years) and tables that provide easy reference to information about the plethora of smaller jihad movements and the polities they established. Aside from its role as a reference, this book also makes an important effort to insert the revolutions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century West Africa into a broader global context that includes the global abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the revolutionary movements in the US, France, and (most importantly) Haiti. Here, as Lovejoy admits, his research builds on a long legacy of historical scholarship that identifies Muslim influences on colonial and slave cultures in North and South America, including the influential work of Michael Gomez. Yet he argues mostly persuasively that the West African jihads (and particularly the rise of Sokoto) had significant impact on the slave trade (largely by preventing Sokoto’s considerable internal slave system from flowing into the Atlantic trade) and the mobilization of slave rebellions in the New World. In particular, Lovejoy builds on his own work arguing that while slavery as an institution actually expanded across West Africa as a result of the jihad movements, their (admittedly inconsistent) efforts to protect Muslims from enslavement had a massive and underappreciated impact on the demographics of the Atlantic trade and, as a result, of the slave communities in Brazil, the US, and the Caribbean. Somewhat less persuasive are his efforts to directly connect the ideologies of slave revolts in the early nineteenth century (particularly the Malê slave revolt) to the ideologies of the jihad movement themselves, largely because of the limitations of the historical data. Yet the broader argument that the ideological affinities between the jihad movements and Muslim resistance to slavery in the New World are both substantial and under-appreciated due to academic siloing of expertise and research design is an important one, and one that will hopefully prove influential to future scholars. His criticism that the most influential syntheses of the ‘Age of Revolutions’ fail sufficiently to integrate one of the era’s most important waves of political and social revolution is an important one, and his accusation that this failure owes to a failure of this broader literature to incorporate the work of Muslim, African, and Africanist scholars rings true. A note of criticism, however: For all of the important information it contains, the book itself can be hard to read at times. The text is highly repetitive, often bogs down in digression, and rarely finishes any individual argument before moving onto something else. But while these problems in editing may make it difficult for classroom use, they do not detract from the powerful synthesis of the overarching work. In a career that has broken ground in more than a dozen distinct areas, this is a fitting capstone to Lovejoy’s work. © The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 16, 2017
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