Theses Doctoral

Compositions of Sainthood: The Biography of Ḥājj ʿUmar Tāl by Shaykh Mūsā Kamara

Marsh, Wendell Hassan

Compositions of Sainthood explores the role performed by texts in the making of Muslim sainthood in its spiritual and worldly dimensions by interpreting Shaykh Mūsā Kamara’s biography of Ḥājj ʿUmar Tāl and situating this Arabic-language work within the problem-space of the founding moment of Senegalese modernity. In writing about the life, lineage, and legacy of one of the most memorialized figures in the colonial federation of French West Africa, Kamara intervened within an anti-historical space of signification that has been characterized by difference in representation and interpretation of the nature of saintly authority, its means of transmission, and the relationship between Islam and colonialism. Because of the specificity of Kamara’s Ashhā l-ʻulūm wa aṭayab al-khabar fī sīrat al-Ḥājj ʿUmar, the text is a problem: a contradictory, paradoxical, and exceptional composition that demands questions that are worth asking. This problem has three parts and corresponds to Ashha’s three textual modes. It narrates the Umarian contradiction as the conflict between a form of saintly authority based on righteous piety and another based on temporal power. It also archives differing arguments that sought to resolve the contradiction of the ideality of friendship with God and the materiality of authority on earth during the Umarian moment. Finally, the text contests the naturalization of power ʿUmar’s descendants during the colonial period and instead insists on a model of the transmission of authority based on intellectual and spiritual affiliation. Taken together, this problem of the composition of sainthood reveals the problem-space defined by the negotiation of saintly lineages and the colonial state, which used filial descent to authorize the former’s place in the management of colonial production and the administration of colonial order.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Diouf, Mamadou
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018