Around the world Muslims praise the Prophet Muhammad through the recitation of lyrical poetry. In West Africa, Arabic praise poetry has a rich history informed by local literary, spiritual, and ritual elements. Oludamini Ogunnaike
, assistant professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, explores this abundant heritage in Poetry in Praise of Prophetic Perfection: A Study of West African Arabic Madih Poetry and its Precedents
(Islamic Texts Society, 2020). In this social setting praise poetry draws from traditional Islamic materials but also employs patterns and concepts from West Africa sources and practices. Ogunnaike translates numerous poems and contextualizes them within a deep intellectual well of Sufi thought. He also places these poems within the realm of lived religious practice and presents them as part of everyday contemporary life in West Africa. In our conversation we discuss the place of praise poetry as a genre, the broader literary tradition it relies on, Sufi theology, the wider intellectual heritage of West Africa, Ibrahim Niass and the Tijaniyyah order, audiences recitations and readings, the functions of these poems in practice, the process of translation, and how these sources might be used in classrooms.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.