The nature of the relationship between Islam and Africa has long been debated, and has recently prompted quite a bit of discussion among those interested in Islam’s utility for Black people in the West. Dawud Walid and Ahmad Mubarak’s book Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims examines the status of Black and African peoples among the early generations of Muslims. This past February, ShaykhAbdullah Hakim Quick discussed the significance of ancient Egypt for Black American Muslims in an interview with Boonaa Mohammed. Moreover, two recent articles from the history section and the religion section of Sapelo Square explored Islam’s impact on the African continent.
This month’s post examines the relationship between Islam’s centuries’ old tradition of spiritual cultivation and metaphysics on the one hand, and the wisdom of ancient Egyptian civilization on the other. In this fascinating presentation, Imam Muhammad Mendes examines the life and teachings of Dhul Nun al-Misri, the famous Nubian Muslim scholar and sage of the ninth century. An important figure in the early history of Sufism or tasawwuf, Dhul Nun is said to have obtained much of his wisdom through his study of the moral and metaphysical teachings that were preserved in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and relics that permeated his society. Purported to have studied in many different regions with prominent Muslim religious scholars of his time, Dhul Nun has come to serve as a representation of Islamic modes for engaging the wisdom of pre-Islamic traditions in general and ancient African spirituality in particular. Imam Mendes’s discussion of this remarkable African paragon of early Sufism provides precious insights into the subject. Enjoy!
Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes is the founding-director of SacredService, an organization dedicated to building economies and communities of peace. In addition to teaching the poetry of Rumi and Prophetic Meditation, he shares the healing wisdom found in the spiritual, scholastic, and sociopolitical legacy of African Muslims with audiences around the world. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and children.