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African and Black Orientalism

Africa And European Colonial Scholarship, Orientalism, African Literature, And Criticism, Black America And Black Orientalism

Edward Said's 1978 book, Orientalism, is the harshest critique to date of Western scholarship on the Muslim orient. However, its focus is almost exclusively on the Near and Middle East. The policy statements of William Ponty, the French governor-general in Senegal (1907–1915), quoted below suggest a link between Orientalism, as understood by Edward Said, and colonial scholarship on Muslim societies in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is our duty to study the Muslim society of our colonies in the minutest details.… It presupposes special studies of Islam which the great Orientalists of France and of Europe have now virtually succeeded in establishing.… [The study] will seem very attractive to many because of the scientific interest attached to it. But above all it is interesting for political and administrative reasons. It is almost impossible to administer an Islamic people wisely, if one does not understand its religious faith, its judicial system and its social organization, which are all intimately connected and are strongly influenced by the Coran [ sic ] and the prophetic tradition. It is this understanding of native society which, alone, will enable a peaceful and profound action on the minds of the people. It is, therefore, in this study … that we will find the surest bases and the most suitable directions for our Muslim policy. (Harrison, p. 107)

Writings such as these have prompted scholars to explore the links between Orientalism and European-language scholarship on Africa, produced notably during the colonial period.

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