Islām in Birago Diop’s Tales of Amadou Koumba

Islām in Birago Diop’s Tales of Amadou Koumba

This paper will consider the historical account of Islam’s spread in West Africa, pedagogical structures, ritual worship, the social institute of marriage and the place of women. It concludes with a meditation on the need for an interdisciplinary approach to Tales of Amadou Koumba.

Islam in West Africa: A Nonviolent Model of Expansion?
The character Narr the Moor in “Fari the She-Ass” is a devout Muslim, but we are not supposed to be surprised or impressed by this “since it was his duty to show himself worthy of his ancestors who had introduced Islam into the country by force”.(B. Diop 99) Similarly, in “Mother Crocodile” we are told that Islām was  spread by a bloody sword when she speaks “of the red colour of the water after the passing of the white men, who had taught the black men to bow down like them to the rising sun…”(B. Diop 47) These apocryphal accounts of Islām’s dispersal in West Africa fly in the face of historical fact. Indeed, Cheikh Anta Diop attributes the success of Islam in West Africa to “the fact that it was propagated peacefully at first by solitary Arabo-Berber travelers”.(163) This paradigm is reinforced by Sylviane Diouf, who writes that “the spread of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa followed a mostly peaceful and unobtrusive path… [being] diffused not by outsiders (except in the early years) but by indigenous traders, clerics, and rulers.”(4)

Preparatory to detailing this invasion-conversion model, Mother-Crocodile informs us of Ghanian merchants, past kings and a glorious empire, of ”Soumangourou… Soun Diata Kéita and… the empire of Mali”.(B. Diop, “Mother Crocodile” 47) One of the great Empires of West Africa was that of Mali, which had a great muslim ruler who deflated the value of gold in Egypt when he went for Ḥajj. Toyin Falola writes, “Under Mansa Musa (ca. 1312-37), Mali attained the height of its power … adding areas twice the size of the former kingdom of Ghana.”(95) Further, Stride and Ifeka credit Mansā Mūsā with being “responsible for establishing islam as the official religion of Mali cities,” and attributes his patronage of the culamā with encouraging the growth of indigenous Muslim scholarship.(52)

The Marabout: Pedagogical Structures in West Africa and Scholarship
In “The Deer and the Two Huntsmen” we are told of a marabout by the name of Serigne who “had a greater mastery of literary Arabic than any scholar of timbuktoo”(B. Diop 34). The task of preserving and disseminating knowledge (
cilm) in West Africa, as in the rest of the Muslim world, was the job of the culamā. Rudolph Ware III asserts that culamā was not the preferred term in West Africa and that a more widely used Arabic term was “mrābiṭ and its Europeanized equivalent, ‘marabout’”(78-79). The word mrābiṭ is derived from ribāṭ which has the meaning of being consistent in something, as well as guarding.(Ibn Manthūr 1561) Perhaps, this connotation is how the word mrābiṭ/marabout is to be understood. That is, these are individuals guarding the intellectual tradition of Islām, as well as its practical implementation.

pedagogical, “the lodging place of the culamā (scholars) and worshippers, the abode of the righteous and the ascetics,” was the residence of “the elite amongst the culamā, pious people, and the wealthy from every tribe and land”.(Al-Sacdī 22) That Serigne is described as having more knowledge of literary Arabic than the inhabitants of this city is no small matter. Cheikh Anta Diop records the incident of an Arabian scholar who returned to Mali with Mansā Mūsā:  “He settled in Timbuktu and found this city full of Sudanese legal experts. As soon as he realized that they knew more than he in legal matters, he left for Fez, devoted himself to the study of law there, then returned again to Timbuktu to settle here.”(181)

We are further told that Serigne, who had just come back from Ḥajj, spent his time at his host “[intoning] litanies and verses of the Koran”.(B. Diop, “The Deer and The Hunstmen” 33) Serigne is a walking example of the verse: ata’murāun al-nās bi al-birr wa tansawna anfusakum wa antum tatlūn al-kitāb afalā ta
cqilūn [Do you command mankind with righteousness and forget your own selves, while you are reading the book, do you not have intellect?]. (Qur’ān 2:44) One exegete of the Qur’ān, Ibn Kathīr, records Ibn Juraij as saying about this āyah (verse), “So whoever commands good should be the severest of people in hastening to it.”(1:246)

We also find in Tales of Amadou Koumba references to the small schools scattered across the continent of Africa where foundational cilm was covered. These Qur’ān schools were run by marabout and attended by “little talibés… who beg their morning bread, their midday meal and their evening provender.”(B. Diop, “The Excuse” 27) The act of begging mentioned in “The Excuse” is termed “yalwaan (begging for food) [and] was an important part of the Qur’an school experience”(Ware III 46). Dorte Thornston writes that “education in Daaras often is free or almost free but implies that pupils –Talibés– may beg for alms”(3). Ware  III explains, “Because it was thought to produce humility and good character, yalwaan was esteemed by some teachers who did not require or even use the proceeds of the children’s quest for alms.”(47) Qur’ān schools were geared towards making functioning adults with upright morals and character.

“A Judgment” describes the importance which West African Muslims placed on their children’s education: “…in Maka-Kouli, as soon as a child could say to his mother, ‘Mama, carry me on your back,’ he was sent to school to learn the Fatiha and the other teachings of the Koran.”(B. Diop 13) This is little wonder, as one ḥadīth says: afdhalukum man tcallam al-qur’ān wa callama [the most virtuous of you are those who learn and teach the Qur’ān]. (Ibn Mājah 1:199)

Besides covering the Qur’ān, the curriculum also included “elementary education instruction in the obligatory rituals”(Reichmuth 424) Such studies would have covered basic beliefs, ritual purity, prayer, fasting, and other subjects. The concept of ritual purity is alluded to in “A Judgement”  when it describes the detrimental nature of dog’s urine which “if it touches the slightest part of the body…reduces the most fervent prayers to nothing.”(B. Diop 12) One of the preconditions of prayer (salāh), as opposed to ducā (supplication), is the body being free of ritual impurity which can take a corporeal form (e.g. urine, blood, wine, etc.) or be intangible.

Faith In Practice: Ritual Worship
One of the main pillars of Islām is ṣalāh (prayer). We can see this form of worship in several stories, though most clearly in “A Judgement”. In that story we are told of how Madiakate-Kala leads the faithful in prayer after the muadhdhin “had already launched the izan on to the evening wind”.(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 14) Congregational prayers in particular are proceeded by an ordinary individual calling out adhān (i.e. the call to prayer) to let everyone know that the time for prayer has entered. The particular prayer being described here is more than likely the
cAṣr prayer (the other prayers being, respectively: Maghrib, cIshā, Fajr, and Dhuhar). As is seen in  “A Judgement” the men pray together in the masjid, an act which is deemed to be more rewarding for them, whereas it is more rewarding for women to pray in their homes.

Another pillar, the Ḥajj is presented in “Fari the She-Ass” which informs us about a moor who “had departed on the pilgrimage to Mecca”.(B. Diop 101)  We are told that the story may have turned out better if the poor man had remained “for the rest of his days near to the Kaaba, to be closer to paradise”.(B. Diop, “Fari the She-Ass” 101) The Kaaba, which is a brick structure erected by the prophet Ibrāhim (Abraham), peace be upon him, in Mecca is the direction towards which Muslims are directed to face when performing prayer, just like they are asked to point the palms of their hands towards the sky while making ducā (supplicating), and is not strictly speaking consider to be closer to Paradise than any other place in the world.
In “The Bone” after Mor Lame is shrouded we find that “holy words were spoken” before he was “carried to the cemetery”.(B. Diop 133) Salāh in the graveyard is prohibited because it gives the impression that one is grave worshipping. The reference to holy words refers to the funeral ṣalāh prayed before the deceased is taken to be buried in which the congregants pray for forgiveness for the deceased and all Muslims. They then take the body to be buried and, as we are told in “The Bone”, put the body into the grave “lying on the right side”.(B. Diop 133)

The Institution of Marriage and Women
“A Judgement” deals with the case of a marriage that turns sour. It tells us of a husband who vents his ire at some outside problem on his wife, subtly critiquing this behavior by chastising the husband’s choice “to pass his annoyance on to his wife.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9)  Marriage in Islām is not, to borrow a term,  a morganatic construct, by which I mean that it is not a union between people of unequal social status.
With his mind clouded by anger, Demba, the husband eventually “…began to beat Koumba…”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9) Unsatisfied with physically abusing her, he utters the following words: ”Go back to your mother, I repudiate you.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 9) In Islamic jurisprudence, a man may not mentally, verbally, or physically abuse his wife. The ḥanafī madhab (i.e. the school of law founded by the Persian, Nu
cmān bin Thābit) takes the stance that this is grounds for a wife to annul the marriage.(Ibn cĀbidīn 6:131) This odious behavior of Demba’s exceeds the limits of Islamic decorum. He violates the aȳah of the Qur’ān which commands: wa cāshirūhunna bi al-macrūf [And live with them with macrūf].(4:19) Imām Tabrī (May Allāh have mercy on him) explains that this āyah means: “O Men, socialize with your women utilizing good manners…”(6:538)

Later, Koumba refuses to return to Demba when he comes to regret his rash actions and there is a distinct lack of social pressure compelling her to acquiesce to his demands. Furthermore, her apparent status as a divorcée has not caused her to drop in social standing, nor to be considered damaged goods, rather she is swarmed “by the many suitors who invaded her hut every evening, from the first day of her arrival.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 10) In this she resembles Awa, the widow in “The Bone” who is remarried soon after losing her husband. In these two episodes the  critique of a commonly held notion that Muslims prefer virgins is scathing.

Nevertheless, the legality of Koumba’s refusal eludes the village elders and the couple are sent off in search of a verdict. They eventually arrive in the village of Maka-Kouli. In this village ḥijāb (i.e. separation of marriageable members of the opposite sex) is practiced as proven by the following: “Koumba dined in the company of the women and Demba shared the men’s meal.”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 13) Furthermore, when it comes time to sleep, Koumba refuses to join Demba because she does not consider herself his wife, and Madiakate-Kala staves off an argument, ordering one of his own wives, “Take Koumba to your hut with you…”(B. Diop, “A Judgement” 13)

Recognizing the natural attraction of the sexes to one another and the ensuing harms that unmarried sexual relations bring to society, Islām has prohibited unnecessary interaction between members of the opposite sex, termed ghair maḥram, who can marry one another. Such individuals are the polar opposites of another category, labeled maḥārim (i.e. people whom one may never marry due to blood ties or marriage). This prohibition is one of the reasons why we see that the narrator informs us in “The Bone” that “[woman] do not accompany a burial to the cemetery, any more than they go into a Mosque.”(B. Diop 133) Such strictness does not, however, preclude interactions that occur due to some valid legal reason. An example of this is the interaction between Demba, Koumba, and Madiakate-Kiala.

As an aside, this story also highlights the practice of polygny. The priest, Madiakate-Kala has more than one wife and, it would appear that, in keeping with Islamic law, they have separate houses. The Islamic allowance to take up to four wives is qualified in the Qur’ān with a stipulation that one be just when it sternly states: fankiḥū mā ṭāba lakum min al-nisā’ mathnā wa thulātha wa rubac fa in khiftum allā tacdilū fa wāḥid […then marry what pleases you of women: two, and three, and four; but if you fear that you cannot be just, then one…]”(4:3) Additionally, this is not a command to marry up to nine wives, as Ibn Kathīr explains, “Marry whatever one of you wishes of women besides them; if one wishes two, and if one wishes three, and if one wishes four.”(1:598) That is, if the husband fulfills the conditions he can marry up to four women, but not more than that at one time.

To return to Koumba and her failed marriage, Madiakate-Kala tricks Demba into admitting that he has divorced his wife, thus allowing Koumba to move on to  a new phase detailed by Serigne-the-Marabout in “The Bone” when he states “As soon as the period of a widow’s mourning is over, you [i.e. Moussa] will take her [i.e. Awa] for your wife.”(B. Diop 134) Due to shortage of space and time the legality of giving away a matron without consulting her will be left to others. Nonethless, Serigne-the-Marabout is correct in delaying any marriage until after a certain period, termed an ciddah, has passed. The ciddah is defined as: “muddah manc al-nikāh li faskhihi aw li mawt al-ẓawj aw li ṭalāqihi [the period in which marriage is forbidden after its annulment or the death of the husband or his divorce]”(al-Ẓarqānī & al-Bunānī 4:354) This period does not include locking a woman in a room, and is only a period during which it is forbidden for her to marry, though suitors may make chaste hints of their intentions.

From the above we see that men and women have certain rights and responsibilities. We also see that Islām has a robust legal system derived from jurisprudential principles that take years to master. A grounding in the classical law schools is needed to understand and expound on certain legal aspects in the
Tales of Amadou Koumba. Furthermore, conflation of European models of expansion in pre-Colonial and Colonial Africa with the growth of Islam in West Africa will lead to the propagation of historic untruths. Readings of Tales of Amadou Koumba should be strongly rooted in the history of West Africa to avoid such interpolations. While acknowledging the painful truths of history, we should also celebrate the contributions of autochthonous Muslim laymen, scholars, and rulers to the social-intellectual health of the region.

Works Cited

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Al-Ṭabrī, Abū Ja
cfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr. Tafsīr al-Ṭabrī. Ed. cAbdullāh ibn cAbdul-Ḥasan al-Turkī. Cairo: Dār al-Hijr. 2001. Electronic.
cAbdul-Bāqī ibn Yūsuf ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad and al-Bunānī, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Masˇūd. Sharḥ al-Ẓarqānī cAlā Mukhtaṣar Sīdī Khalīl wa Macahu al-Fatḥ al-Rabbānī Fimā Dhahala cAnhu al-Ẓarqānī. Ed. cAbdus-Salām Muḥammad Amīn. 1st ed. Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-cIlimiyyah. 2002. Electronic.
Diop, Birago. “A Judgement.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“Dof-Diop.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“Fari the She-Ass.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“Mother Crocodile.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“The Bone.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“The Deer and The Two Huntsmen.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
—“The Excuse.” Tales of Amadou Koumba. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Oxford University Press. 1966. Print.
Diop, Cheikh Anta. Precolonial Black Africa. Trans. Harold Salemson. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books. 1987. Print.
Diouf, Sylviane A. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.New York: New York University Press. 1998. Print.
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cīl ibn cUmar. Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-cAdhīm. Ed. Sāmī ibn Muḥammad al-Salāmah. 2nd ed. Riyadh: Dār Ṭaybah. 1999. Electronic
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cAbdullāh Muḥammad ibn Yaẓīd. Sunan Ibn Mājah. Ed. Bashhār cAwwāmah Macrūf. 1st ed. Lebanon: Dār al-Jīl.1998. Electronic.
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cArab. Ed. cAbdullāh Alī al-Kabīr, Muḥammad Aḥmad Ḥasballāh, and Hāshim Muḥammad al-Shādhalī. Cairo: Dar al-Ma’cārif. N.d. Electronic.
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Reichmuth, Stefan. “Islamic Education and Scholarship in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The History of Islam in Africa. Ed. Nehemia Levitzon and Randall L. Pouwels. 1st ed. Ohio: Ohio University Press. 2000. Print.
Shafi’, Muhammad. Ma’ariful-Quran.Trans. Muhammad Hasan Askari and Muhammad Shamim. N.p. N.d. Electronic.
Stride, G. T. and Ifeka, Caroline. Peoples and Empires of West Africa: West Africa in History 1000-1800. 1st ed. New York: Africana Publishing Corporation. 1971. Print.
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Thorsen, Dorte. “Children Begging for Qur’ānic School Masters: Evidence from West and Central Africa.” Children Begging for Qur’ānic School Masters: Evidence from West and Central Africa. UNICEF, Apr. 2012. Electronic.
Ware III, Rudolph T. The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa. 1st ed. The University of North Carolina Press. 2014. Print.

al-Sawād al-A’dham: Usāmah Ibn Zaid Ibn Ḥārithah

Usāmah Ibn Zaid Ibn Ḥārithah

“The beloved, son of the beloved.”

Usāmah Ibn Zayd Ibn Ḥārithah Ibn Sharāhīl al-Kalbī is the son of Zayd Ibn Hārithah, the Prophet’s freed slave and adopted son, and Umm Ayman, the Prophet’s freed slave and “mother after (his) mother”. He was born into Islam and was eighteen or twenty years old when the Prophet died. cUmar would honor him and treat him with deference, and gave preference to him, with respect to gifts, over his own son, cAbdullāh Ibn cUmar.

He removed himself from the fitnah after the murder of cUthmān and died in the latter portion of Mucāwiyah’s, may Allāh be pleased with him, khilāfah. He lived in Mizzāh, one of the districts of Damascus, Wādiy al-Qurrāh, and Madīnah where he died in the year fifty-three A.H.

Imām Dhahabī writes, “He was extremely black [in complexion], amiable, shrewd, and courageous. The Prophet raised him and loved him immensely. He was the son of the nurse of the Prophet , Umm Ayman, and his father was white. The Prophet  was extremely happy at the statement of Mujaẓẓiẓ al-Mudlijīyyu: Certainly, these feet are related.”

Usāmah Ibn Ẓayd narrates that the Prophet used to take him and al-Ḥasan and say, “O Allāh, love them for, indeed, I love them.”

Ibn cUmar relates that the Prophet deputed a detachment and put Usāmah ibn Ẓayd over them. Some of the people disapproved of his leadership, so the Prophet said, “If you disapprove of his leadership, you disapproved of the leadership of his father before. By Allāh, [his father] was qualified to lead and was the most beloved of people to me, and this one [Usāmah] is the most beloved of people to me after him.”

cĀisha relates that the Messenger of Allāh came to see her once and was so happy that the features of his face were shining. He enquired, “Did you hear what al-Mudlijīyyu said to Ẓayd and Usāmah [when he saw their feet]? Certainly, these feet are related.”

cAbdullāh ibn Dinār reports that Ibn Umar was in the masjid once when he saw a man in a corner of the masjid whose clothes were trailing on the ground. He asked, “Who is this? If only he were near me [so I could advise him].” Someone said, “O Abū cAbdur-Raḥmān, don’t you recognize this person? This is Muḥammad, the son of Usāmah.” At this, Ibn cUmar put his head down and struck the earth with his hand. After a while he said, “If the Messenger of Allāh saw him he would have loved him.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion,” in The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. David Damrosch, ed. 1st edition. 2004.

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion,” in The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. David Damrosch, ed. 1st edition. 2004.

Like other colonies of Britain, India was left in a woeful mess. The psychological and physical scars left by years of colonialism can only be imagined by outsiders. This paper will attempt to take a peek at those scars and one individuals manner of dealing with it through an exert of one of his works: ‘The Conclusion’. It will consider the social and quasi-political background of the author and ultimately the educational argument that rather glaringly leaps forth from the written word of Tagore’s writings when the historical background is considered, specifically as depicted by the couple described in the story.

Utilizing the “keys…[of] superior weaponry, a strong profit motive, and Eurocentric confidence[,]”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Britain managed to subdue an entire nation with its own rich history spanning centuries. The author, Tagore, was born ”three years after Britain took over the government of India.”(949) That is, the Bengali, Tagore, was born three years after rumors, if we are to believe this explanation of events, “…that the cartridges [of the Indian Army] had been greased with pig and cow fat, an abomination to both major Indian religions [caused the “Indian Mutiny”, which was started by] mainly Bengali Muslim troops.”(“Learn About British Rule in India“)

After this mutiny, the British Raj started, and along with controlling the government of the Indians, Britain began “educating them in British modes of thought, and stamping out cultural practices…”(“Learn About British Rule in India“) Though Tagore “benefitted… from the early example of the Bengali reformer Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who, offered an early synthesis of European enlightenment with brilliantly reinterpreted Hindu tradition[,]”(949) we find that “he found his outside formal schooling to be inferior and boring and, after a brief exposure to several schools, he refused to attend school.”(“Rabindranath Tagore on education“) One may well wonder what it was about the education system in India at the time that produced such a dislike. Shades of this dislike can be found in his work.

Briefly, The Conclusion is the story of Apurba Krishna, a hindu who has just passed his BA exams in Calcutta and no longer has an excuse for warding off marriage. Instead of marrying right away though, he goes to see the girl, a meeting that is disrupted by the village “pagali”, Mrinmayi, whom he finds intriguing. Upon returning home he announces his intention to marry this rebellious madwoman and digs in his heels in the face of his mother’s opposition. The marriage gets off to a rocky start, appears to smooth out when the couple visits Mrinmayi’s father, hits a roadblock once they return home, and then finally comes to a “blissful” end once Mrinmayi realizes she loves her husband.

The work itself cannot be mistaken for anything but Indian, steeped as it is in that culture. Mouth watering references to “rice pudding, curds, and rui fish,”(951) and “dal and rice”(956) flesh out a story punctured with descriptions of clothing that is distinctly Indian in name. Apurba sets out to see his bride-to-be, decked out not in his “usual dhoti and chadar”(951) but in a “long silken chaplain, a puggree on his head…”(951) and finds her “trembling…painted and polished, tinsel round the bun in her hair, and wrapped in a fine colourful sari…”(951)

However, there appears to be a certain subtext running underneath it. Considering the fact that Tagora disdained formal education, as we have mentioned earlier, it is impossible not to view Apurba’s refusal to marry until after passing his BA “in keeping with the slogan of the day”, as something viewed in a positive manner. This is compounded by the fact that instead of being a dutiful son, Apurba refuses to marry the woman picked out for him by his wise mother and chooses a “pagli”(950) tomboy “bone-burning good-for-nothing”(950) who, “[i]n the ranks of biddable children […,] was regarded as a scrouge(sic)”(950) and who had the village woman in “a constant state of alarm at her wayward behavior.”(950)  Clearly, cultural practices are being undermined by formal British education, it being assumed that Apurba would have dutifully submitted to his mother’s wishes had he not been polluted by outside influences.

It is rather noteworthy that these two mismatched people are Other in the face of an organic and wholesome social structure. They both stick out like sore thumbs. Apurba causes trouble in his family, arguably due to his formal education, while Mrinmayi’s agitation seems due to a lack of proper upbringing, her father’s utter fondness for her preventing “her mother from imposing too strict a discipline.”(950) Thus we see that Apruba’s descision to marry Mrinyamayi is not due to love, but due to a revulsion at his mother’s choice. “The more he thought of the dolled-up kind of girl, the more repulsive became the idea of marrying one.”(953) This choice of his, and here one may wonder if it was not caused by exaggerated romances studied during the course of gaining his BA, can be contrasted by Mrinyamayi’s response.

In spite of the fact that she is “mad”, and had orally refused to marry: “I’m not going to get married,”(953) we find that she does get married, and we are not led to believe that she did so because she was forced to, the picture having already been painted of a free-willed individual who will not bend. In fact, she runs away multiple times after she is married, however, and quite unlike Apurba, she takes her rightful place in society, becoming the epitome of her father’s words, “Let no one find fault with my Minu.”(956)

Thus we find that though Minu is Other she is redeemable, whereas no such indications are given in the case of Apurba. Certainly he comes to love Minu, but do we ever see him change from the arrogant man-child just returned from exams who finds fault with his mother’s match? Does he mature over the course of the story? It is hard to tell from this brief excerpt, but from what we are given, very little about him changes and he never appears to integrate fully back into society in spite of the impressive alphabet soup he is acquiring at the end of his name, and that, it would seem, is the problem Tagore has with formal education.

Works Cited

“Learn About British Rule in India.” About. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <;.

“Rabindranath Tagore on Education.” Infedorg. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <;.

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Conclusion.” The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. 1st ed. Vol. E. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 949-60. Print.

Differential Instruction

What is learning? Is it the acquiring of some knowledge, fact, idea, or information from a ‘teacher’ to a student? Does ‘Teacher’ necessarily mean a living person lecturing or showing you something with the intention of teaching you? Could ‘Teacher’ be a book? Could it be a man/woman standing at the end of the next block, waiting for the traffic to clear so they can cross? According to some learning is “[a] change in an individual caused by experience” (Slavin 116). Another way of putting it is that it is “[a] systematic, relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs through experience.”(“The Science of Psychology: An Appreciative View, 2nd Edition (King)“)

So learning is something that changes an individual, whether it is a visible change or an internal mental restructuring that can’t be perceived, taking them from one state to another because of an experience they have gone through, whether it be good or bad, and whether that change is positive or negative.

Experiences differ. No one experiences the exact same thing or perceives it in the exact same way. My wife often mentions to me how she remembers incidents differently from her brother, who blatantly denies that things happened in the way that she describes. Our background, how we grew up, the things we like or dislike all effect the way we perceive the experiences we go through in life and the lessons we take away from them. You might go to class, listen to a lecture on how to raise children and come away thinking the speaker was talking a load of rubbish and has never had the responsibility of raising a child because what he or she is saying does not fit in with your experience raising your own son(s) or daughter(s). Another person may come away from the speech praising that same speaker, agreeing with every point and strategy that he offered, and it might not be because they don’t have any children, it could be that they have children and what the speaker said fits in with their worldview or their own experience of how to rear children effectively.

If learning is caused by experience, and experiences differ, the people absorbing these experiences differ and have different perceptions, the manner in which they learn will also differ. This is beyond just what you learn from an experience/lesson, and is about how you acquire these new changes in yourself, or this new bit of information.

Ibn Khaldun, the historian, mentions in his Muqaddimah: i’ᶜalam anna ṭalqīn al-ᶜulum lil muṭ’allimīn innamā yakūnu mufīdun idha kāna ‘ᶜalā al-ṭadrīj shai’an fa shai’an wa qalīlan qalīlan [you should know that instructing students will only be beneficial when it occurs in stages, little by little, bit by bit]. (533) This orderly manner of instruction and learning allows the student to fully understand the subjects being taught, and when this is accomplished, leaves the student in a calm state, allowing him/her to, as Kung-fu-tse says, “keep his head in the presence of a tiger”. (38)

The teachers problem, then, is finding that orderly manner of pedagogy that will be most efficacious in the face of disparate students each having their own individual experiences that influence how they receive and accept the instruction being given. A one size fits all methodology may leave some in the class with a weak understanding, if any understanding is gained at all, and as they progress, again, if at all, the blocks of knowledge being added to their weak foundation will leave them struggling.

Thus, it is essential that the teacher keep in mind that students  not only “vary in their skills and preferences in how they receive information”
(Webb & Metha 390) but also differ in the way that information is recieved, some being “imaginative, analytic, common sense, and dynamic”(Webb & Metha 390), and include varied ways of teaching the same subject in their lesson plans.

There are many areas of the classroom as well as instruction that can be modified to assist students in grasping the lesson:

Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile: (1) content–what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information; (2) process–activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content; (3) products–culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit; and (4) learning environment–the way the classroom works and feels. (“Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest.”)

If teachers keep in mind these points when attempting to teach it is hoped that they will be able to  reach a greater portion of their class, while keeping in mind that sometimes students will not pick something up. In such cases where there is a problem “the teacher [should] bring[…] the student to the attention of others who help decide whether special education services are warranted.”(Friend 50)

Works Cited

Confucius. The Great Digest. In The Unwobbling Pivot & The Great Digest: Trans. Ezra Pound. 1947. Print.

Friend, Marilyn Penovich, and William D. Bursuck. Including Students with Special Needs: A Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2009. Print.

Ibn Khaldun, Abdur-Rahman. Muqaddimah Ibn Khaldun. Beirut, Lebanon. Dar Ihya Al-Turath Al- Arabi. n.d. Print.

“The Science of Psychology: An Appreciative View, 2nd Edition (King).” Key Terms. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <>

Slavin, Robert E. Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. 10th Ed., International ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. “Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest.”Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest. N.p., n.d.Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <>

Webb, L. Dean, and Arlene Metha. Foundations of American Education. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 390. Print.

al-Sawād al-A’dham: Bilāl


Bilāl ibn Rabāḥ, may Allāh be pleased with him, was one of the seven who were the first to openly proclaim their Islām. He underwent severe torture for the sake of Islām but would not give his tormentors what they wanted. The Prophet ﷺ once mentioned that he had heard the rustling of Bilāl in Jannah.

Bilāl participated in Badr, Uḥud, and all of the campaigns with the Prophet ﷺ. He was the first to give the ādhān for the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ, and was in charge of the Baiṭ al-Māl (State treasury). The following āyah was revealed concerning him and Khabbāb,  Ṣuhaib, cĀmmār, etc.: “Do not drive away those who call on their Lord morning and evening seeking His countenance.”He had a sister, Ghufairah, may Allāh be pleased with both of them, but left no progeny.

Note: The commonly  heard tale that Bilāl, may Allāh be pleased with him, could not pronounce the shīn in the ādhān is not something to be repeated. (See: Kashf al-Khīfā. Maktabah cIlm al-Ḥadīth. 1:260-261, #695 & 1:530, #1520; al-Maqāṣid al-Ḥasanah. Dār al-Kutub al-cIlmiyyah. P: 112, #221& P: 247, #582) Please consult your local culama who are versed in the science of ḥadīth.

Textual Criticism & Psychoanalysis II

This paper will attempt to summarize some of the points mentioned by Petter Berry in the chapter of his book, Beginning Theory, that deals with Psychoanalytical criticism. Some areas, specifically those dealing with Lacan, are supplemented with quotations from The Critical Imagination In African Literature in order to flesh out certain concepts mentioned by Berry. The paper gives a brief overview of the architects of these two strands of psychoanalytic theory: Freudian and Lacanian, compares and contrasts their methodologies, and looks at how they view literature. This paper closes with a cautionary note on the limitations of psychoanalytical criticism.

Before diving into what psychoanalytic criticism it would be proper to first define formalist literary criticism. Literary criticism, as embodied in formalism, used to focus on the text itself, word choice, character development, plot, etc. This is not the case in post-structuralist criticism which “derives ultimately from philosophy” and emphasizes “the difficulty of achieving secure knowledge”(Berry 61). One of the forms of criticism that arises from this field is Psychoanalytic criticism, which Berry describes as “a form of literary criticism which uses the techniques of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literature”(92). Psychoanalysis itself is “based on specific theories of how the mind, the instincts and sexuality work”(Berry 92). Initially developed by Sigmund Freud, it would later be challenged by Jaques Lacan who “called to a ‘back-to-basics’ Freudianism”(Berry 92,104). This type of criticism is of two types: Freudian and Lacanian.

Berry alleges that all of Freud’s ideas depend “upon the notion of the unconscious” which  “has a strong influence upon our actions”(92). That is, Freud claims that our actions are influenced by urges that are beyond the human perception. Freud, it seems, views the unconscious as merely a storage space for socially unacceptable drives with the conscious self “regarded as the primary self”(Berry 107). He developed the notion of “repression”,  “sublimation”, “the Oedipus Complex”, “libido”, “Eros”, and “Thanatos”(Berry 92-93). While these terms describe human conditions, they are useful in exploring literature which “is not involved with making direction explicit statements about life, but with showing and expressing experience through imagery, symbolism, metaphor, and so on”(Berry 98). Thus, Freudian analysis is adept at digging up hidden meanings and conflicts buried within literary works.

Though Jaques Lacan started “training in psychiatry in the 1920s”(Berry 104), and “learned about Freud’s theories for the first time in 1923… nine years before he defended his doctoral thesis”(Obiwu 77), he never had “any physical contact with Freud”(Obiwu 75). Lacan’s works emphasized “the unconscious itself, as ‘the nucleus of our being’”(Berry 104). This is one of the differences between Lacan and Freud: the importance placed on the unconscious, with Lacan claiming true selfhood lies in the unconscious (Berry  104, 108). Notorious for what Obiwu describes as “linguistic obscurantism”(78), Lacan is noted for expressing his ideas in an “often intimidatingly obscure”(Berry 105) manner. Nevertheless, Lacan alleges, that language is “a matter of contrasts between words and other words, not between words and things”(Berry 106). He claims that uncovering the truth of the unconscious, and thus underlying meanings in literary works, “def[ies] penetration without knowledge of their provenance, and traditions and legends”(Obiwu 85).

The idea of the unconscious manifesting itself through symbols is probably best illustrated through the “dream work, the process by which real events or desires are transformed into dream images”(Berry 94). From this idea springs the concepts of displacement and condensation. The former is “one person or event” being “ represented by another which is in some way linked or associated with it”, while the latter is “a number of people, events, or meanings” consolidated into “a single image in the dream”(Berry 94). Lacan likens these Freudian terms to “the basic poles of the language identified by the linguist Roman Jakobson, that is, to metaphor and metonym, respectively”(Berry 107). What is not mentioned by Berry is the African influence on this area of psychoanalysis, especially in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams which is a “trove of African ethnographic materials”(Obiwu 77). In fact,  Jacques Lacan “compares Freud (especially in The Interpretation of Dreams) with the French  Jean-Francois Champollion, who reputedly deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics”(Obiwu 90)  In any case, “since dreams do not show things, they say things…they are very like literature. Hence the interest of literary critics in Freudian methods of interpretation”(Berry 95).

Literature often includes conflict between characters, a device that is sometimes used for dramatic effect. These conflicts can be read by Freudians “as having Oedipal overtones…reproducing the competition between siblings for parental favour”(Berry 93). In describing the various stages of human development, Lacan lists a stage of “socialization, with its prohibitions and restraints, associated with the figure of the father”(Berry 109). This concern with the role of parents, and specifically the father, is “a recognition of the father in human experience as an essential sublimation toward the apprehension of reality”(Obiwu 85). From this, it would seem that the father in literature may have a symbolic role and can be seen as an antagonist who drives the protagonist forward through the plot, especially when using Laconian psychoanalysis. This is explained by Berry, who writes:

“…[A] major consequence of accepting the Lacanian position would be to reject the conventional view of characterization in literature. Since Lacan deconstructs the idea of the subject as a stable amalgam of consciousness, we can hardly accept novelistic characters as people but must hold them in abeyance, as it were, and see them as assemblages of signifiers clustering round a proper name”(108).

Freudian critics “make large scale applications of psychoanalytic concepts to literary history in general… [identifying] a ‘psychic’ context for the literary work, at the expense of social or historical context”(Berry 101).  When viewing a literary work, they give priority to the “‘covert’ content” which is linked to the unconscious, taking it “as being what the work is ‘really’ about, and aiming to disentangle the two”(Berry 100). On the other hand, Laconian criticism pays “close attention to unconscious motives and feelings, but instead of excavating for those of the author or characters, they search out those of the text itself”(Berry 110). This methodology “results in favoring the anti-realist text which challenges the conventions of literary representation”(Berry 110).

An interesting point is hinted at when Berry describes how Lacanian criticism handles “the literary text in terms of a series of broader Laconian orientations, towards such concepts as lack or desire”(Berry 110). The concept of desire, or lack thereof, brings up the issue of “jouissance” which Lacan alleges “is at the core of the ego of frustration and the alienation of desire”(Obiwu 93). Jouissance, analogous perhaps to the nafs with its insatiable appetite, is seen “as a place of anguish and defect”(Obiwu 93).  Obiwu describes the “scehma of jouissance” as being what “enables Lacan to arrive at the meconnaissance of the notorious discontent and ‘aggressivity of the slave whose response to the frustration of his labor is a desire for death’”(93). Where it seems that Freudian notions of “Eros (the Greek word for ‘love’), which roughly means the life instinct, the opposite of which is Thanatos (the Greek word for ‘death’) which roughly means the death instinct”(Berry 93) are universals, jouissance is not.

This brings up the final point. Psychoanalytic criticism is ‘culturally relative’. That is, symbols and words that may carry a specific connotation in one culture may not, and often do not, mean the same thing in another culture. Thus, one should utilize caution, and not overextend this tool beyond its true capabilities. Berry does not mention this explicitly in his chapter on psychoanalytic criticism, but it is alluded to when Obiwu states that  Lacan “insists that the… European mode of jouissance should not be imposed on the jouissance of the other”(92). If the “primary language is that which the subject negates or elides in his discourse with the analyst”(Obiwu 90), then care should be taken that the analyst is acquainted with the true language of the subject’s unconscious and the cultural framework which it rests on, else they may slip and misinterpret the text according to their own cultural norms and not that of the subject.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print.

Obiwu. ”Jacques Lacan in Africa.” The Critical Imagination in African Literature: Essays in Honor of Michael J.C. Echeruo. Ed. Maik Nwosu. First ed. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2015. Print.