Sulaiman A. Alagunfon: The Genre that Matters: Maqāma Literature outside its Usual Terrain

The project examines issues surrounding the development of the maqāma genre in Nigeria. Among the myriad of classical Arabic works that made the list of the Islamic Library of West Africa, the maqāma remains among the most surviving and still developing genres across time and space. Based on this, the study elucidates on two propositions: first, that the maqāma, and its derivatives in glosses, adaptations, commentaries, and so on, could be regarded as a form of “minor literature” in the corpus of Arabic works written in Nigeria, and second, that the development of the maqāma  has a big stake in the global “re(de)territorializing” of the genre from its generally-presumed Arabophone origin. On one hand, the postcolonial status of the Arabic language in West Africa, which relegated it politically and culturally to the background, makes it plausible to view any Arabic works here as not only “minor” but also as works from outside the national and regional literary borders. On the other hand, the marginalization of West-African Arab-Islamic intellectual productions from other activities of the Arabophone world also makes the case for considering the Nigerian Maqāmāt as literature coming out of an unusual topography. I therefore look at the linguistic, literary, and sociocultural factors that gave impetus to the emergence and survival of the genre in the “Arabic-Islamic Library” of Nigeria and West Africa across the ages.

Sulaiman A. Alagunfon is a PhD researcher at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin, where he has been is working on new trends of maqāma writing in Nigeria since 2017. Before coming to Berlin, he has lectured at the Department of Religious Studies of Ekiti State University (Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria), and has a BA in Arabic from Lagos State University (Nigeria) and an MA (with distinction) in Arabic Language and Literature from the University of Ibadan (Nigeria). His general research interest is in Arabic-Islamic intellectual history and cultural production in  West Africa, particularly in recent times, on which he has published works appearing in both local and international journals.


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