The Walking Qur’an
“Embodied Knowledge” the subject of this fall’s Rethinking Islam in West Africa talk
Thursday, October 10, 2013
We were pleased last week to welcome Rudolph ‘Butch’ Ware of the University of
Michigan to talk about his forthcoming book, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa. Dr. Ware led us through the chapters and arguments of his book, focusing on Qur’anic schooling and what it can tell us about Islamic epistemology. Emblematic of the West African Sufi traditions of education is the alluwah or wooden writing board. The use of this board for learning to write Qur’anic verses is not nearly as prevalent in Islamic communities outside of Africa. Yet it continues an older tradition dating back to the early days of Islam, a tradition, argues Ware, that is grounded in a theory of knowledge that is not only discursive but embodied. Through memorization, practice, discipline, and even ‘drinking’ verses washed off the alluwah, one comes to hold sacred texts and knowledge in one’s very body.
While Ware noted that this tradition of embodied knowledge is often (though not always) at odds with educational approaches of Salafist movements that have arrived on the scene more recently, he underscored the profound tenacity, resilience, and adaptability of these older ways of knowing and being within Senegambia.