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Mystic Motherland: Africa, the Qur'an, and the Esoteric Sciences

October 29 - November 1, 2016

—“We tell you the best tales in what We have revealed to you of this Qurʾan”—

Qurʾan, Sura Yusuf, 12:3

Qurʾanthough universal in its message—is largely a book about Africa. Many (probably most) of the tales related in the Qurʾan take place in Africa, and Africans figure prominently in many stories set elsewhere. No wonder that Africans have long found their place in its stories. The tales of Joseph & Jesus, Moses & Mary, Solomon & Sheba, along with countless others, all lead us back to Africa.

Birthplace of humanity, fount of knowledge, realm of mysteries, Africa has occupied a central place in sacred narratives and holy imaginaries for people everywhere. And African peoples (both within and without Islam) have long made physical and metaphysical pilgrimages to the Egypt of the Abrahamic scriptures—source of secret, sacred, sciences.

IKHLAS—the Islamic Knowledge, Histories & Language, Arts & Sciences initiative— invites you to attend this three-day symposium engaging scholars trained in a variety of academic and Islamic disciplines. Experts in fields ranging from history to Qurʾan exegesis, from Anthropology to Sufism (and almost everything in between) will present original work on the place of Africa and Africans in symbolic and social engagements with Islam and secret knowledge.

Esoteric sciences, (al-ʿulūm al-bāṭiniyya) in Islam, are usually defined as knowledge of secret, hidden, and unseen things. These are conventionally juxtaposed with exoteric sciences. The latter deal with manifest realities and the external shell of things, while the former treat hidden interiorities and ineffable realities. IKHLAS, in its mission to engage the ‘ulum al-din (religious disciplines) seeks in this conference to interrogate the historical and epistemological foundations of Islam’s subtle sciences.

Africa, from east to west, and from north to south will be the setting for the presentations. The conference thus focuses on the Mother-landhowever its stories are largely told on the shores of seas (Mediterranean & Red) and on the foam of oceans (Atlantic & Indian). The temporal range of the communications will range from the Ancient Nile Valley in 3500 BCE, right down to the present.