Global Shinq¯ıt; Mauritania’s Islamic Knowledge Tradition and the Making of Transnational Religious Authority (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Century)
|Global Shinq¯ıt; Mauritania’s Islamic Knowledge Tradition and the Making of Transnational Religious Authority (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Century)|
Mauritania, Islam, knowledge, authority, Africa, ulama, Shinq¯ıt, globalization, Gulf
Today, Bilad-Shinq ¯ ¯ıt. or Mauritania is often portrayed as an unparalleled center of classical Islamic tradition supposedly untouched by modernity. While previous scholarship has concerned itself mostly with Mauritania’s local intellectual history on one hand and its recent global fame on the other, in this paper, I document instead how, in less than two centuries, Mauritania has become not only a point of scholarly reference and symbolic/representational space of excellence in Islamic knowledge, but also one with an astonishing amount of global reach. Thus, I explore the ways in which Mauritania has continued to asserts its relevance and scholarly authority on a global scale. Drawing on a variety of historical, literary, and anthropological sources, I historicize the rise and mythologization of Mauritania as a peerless center of traditional sacred scholarship. I specifically examine how a number of widely different Muslim actors under changing circumstances continue to invoke, perform and re-invent Shinq¯ıt./Mauritania. In documenting what I call Global Shinq¯ıt over the longue durée, rather than simply illustrate how the so-called Muslim peripheries shape central traits of transnational normative Islamic authority, I argue instead that mobility, historical circumstances, and scholarly performance combined are at least as instrumental in the credible articulation of authoritative Islamic knowledge as normative discourses issued by supposedly central institutions, personalities, and religious bodies located in the so-called “heartland of Islam.” In so doing, I destabilize the center/periphery framework altogether in order to explore how Islamic religious authority is actually construed and operates under shifting cultural and political conditions.