Singing the Prophet's Praise

Episode 462

Reading and writing poems in praise of the prophet Mohammad is no simple matter in West Africa. Their composition was a vehicle for intellectual debate, just as their recitation was a means of spiritual transformation for the listener. In this episode, we speak to Dr. Oludamini Ogunnaike, the author of a recent book about praise or "madih" poetry in West Africa, and we listen to recordings of several recitations. Madih poetry is widely recited by Muslims in West Africa; we learn of several major authors from the 18th century to now, including Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse and Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. Professor Ogunnaike explains the complex Sufi cosmologies and epistemologies intrinsic to the memorization and recitation of madih poetry, which make this such a powerful and widespread practice in Muslim communities. Finally, we discuss why these poems -- manuscripts of which can be found in every collection in West Africa -- remain so little studied. While part of this can be explained by the colonial legacy of considering Islam to be essentially Arab, and thus a foreign importation to Africa, there are other epistemological issues at stake. Professor Ogunnaike's work thus broadens our understanding of a form of embodied knowledge in Islam.

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Contributor Bios

Oludamini Ogunnaike is an Assistant professor of African Religious thought at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on the intellectual and artistic dimensions of the Islamic and Indigenous traditions of West Africa, particularly Sufism and Ifa. He holds a PhD in African Studies and the Study of Religion from Harvard University, and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies before and taught at the College of William as an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science department at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the history of medical exchange in the medieval Indian Ocean world. She is also the managing editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies.


Episode No. 462
Release Date: 28 April 2020
Recording Location: Cambridge, MA, USA
Audio editing by Shireen Hamza
Audio clips: Salatu Rabbi recited by Sidi Ali ibn Nazir Niasse, Muhammad al-Mustafa recited by Zakiru, Safa Li Waqti recited by Tierno, Hani'an li Ibrahim recited by Zakiru, and Hubb al-Hashimi recited by Ibrahim Abd al-Rahman Isa
Images and bibliography courtesy of  Oludamini Ogunnaike

Bonus Segment


A page from a manuscript of Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān al-Jazūlī's (d. 1465) Dalā'il al-Khayrāt,(a popular manual of prayers upon the Prophet) copied in Kano, Nigeria circa 1924. (From a private collection—premissions granted).

A page from a manuscript copy of the Dāliyya, a poem in praise of the prophet by 'Uthmān ibn Fūdī (Usman dan Fodio) (d. 1817), from the Sankore Institute of Islamic African-Studies International ( 
A Google Play App, "Diwani na Shaykh Ibrahim Inyass Warash," of the poetry of Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse (d. 1975) in West African Arabic calligraphy. Credit: SAGWARE Intl. LTD
A Google Play App, "Khassida Mawahibou Nafih," a poem by Shaykh Aḥmadu Bamba (d.1927). Credit : Khassida Xassida Qasida Serigne Touba Yi
A page of a manuscript of the Takhmīs al-Ishrīniyyāt [of al-Fazāzī] by Ibn Mahīb with commentary in Kanembu, from N'Guigmi Niger;  Credit: SOAS Digital Collections, Grand Imam Yousouf manuscript collection (N'Guigmi, Niger, 2009) Image in the Public Domain

Select Bibliography

Abdullah, Abdul-Samad. “Intertextuality and West African Arabic Poetry: Reading Nigerian Arabic Poetry of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Journal of Arabic Literature 40 (2009), 336.

 Abdullah, Abdul-Samad. “Arabic poetry in West Africa: An Assessment of the Panegyric and Elegy Genres in Arabic Poetry of the 19th and 20th Centuries in Senegal and Nigeria.” Journal of Arabic Literature, 35, no3.

Brigaglia, A. “Sufi Poetry in Twentieth-Century Nigeria: A Khamriyya and a Ghazal by Shaykh Abū Bakr al-ʿAtīq (1909–1974)." Journal of Sufi Studies 6, no. 2 (2017), 195-197.

 Brigaglia, A. “Sufi Revival and Islamic Literacy: Tijani Writings in Twentieth-century Nigeria” The Annual Review of Islam in Africa 12, no. 1 (2013-2014), 110.

Hunwick, J. “The Arabic Qasida in West Africa: Forms, Themes, and Contexts” in  Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa vol. 1: Classical Traditions and Modern Meanings, ed. Stefan Sperl and Christopher Shackle (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 84.

 Hiskett, M. (ed. and trans.). Tazyīn al-Waraqāt (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1963)

Ogunnaike, Oludamini. Poetry in Praise of Prophetic Perfection: A Study of West African Arabic Madīḥ Poetry and Its Precedents. forthcoming with the Islamic Texts society

Ogunnaike, Oludamini. "The Presence of Poetry, the Poetry of Presence: Meditations on Arabic Sufi Poetry Performance and Ritual in Contemporary Dakar." Journal of Sufi Studies 5, no. 1 (2016): 58-97.

— "Annihilation in the Messenger Revisited: Clarifications on a Contemporary Sufi Practice and its Precedents." Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies 1, no. 2 (2016): 13-34.

—. "Performing Realization: The Sufi Music Videos of the Taalibe Baye of Dakar." african arts 51, no. 03 (2018): 26-39.

 Reichmuth, S. “The Praise of the Sufi Master as a Literary Event: Al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī (1631–1691), his Dāliyya (Qaṣīdat at-tahānī), and its Commentary (Nayl al-amānī).” in Ethics and Spirituality in Islam: Sufi Adab. Chiabotti, Feuillebois-Pierunek, Jaouen, and Patrizi (eds.)

Ware, Rudolph. "In Praise of the Intercessor: Mawāhib al-Nāfiʿ fī Madāʾiḥ al-Shāfiʿ by Amadu Bamba Mbacké (1853–1927)." Islamic Africa 4, no. 2 (2013): 225-248. 


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