Why do people convert to Islam? People convert as individuals but also as communities, and various factors can be influential. Assessing issues of genuine belief is difficult, but the impact of trade, of Saints, Sufis, and Holy men, proselytization, benefits gained through Arabic literacy and administration systems, enhanced power and prestige, warfare, facilitating marriage, and the feeling of belonging in the larger Muslim community have all been suggested as powerful influences over time. Equally significant is the context of conversion, raising the question as to why were certain African contexts key points for facilitating conversion to Islam and Islamisation. The interpretation of Islam might also be an important impetus, and adherence to different Islamic sects and schools of law could change over time. Syncretism could also be relevant to the success of Islamic conversion and sustained Islamisation, whilst the chronology of conversion may be immediate, drawn-out, punctuated or staggered.
Whilst historians are engaging with conversion to Islam and Islamisation processes, though largely outside Africa, archaeological engagement with these themes in Africa is variable, and in significant parts of the continent remains under-researched. Although it is fully acknowledged that conversion to Islam and Islamisation processes are not universal, but subject to significant variation and complexity, this conference has considerable value for the paradigmatic structure of our archaeological understanding of becoming Muslim in sub-Saharan Africa. This will be achieved through two days of presentations and discussion that will explore these issues through a comparative perspective, and discuss and summarise the ‘state of the art’.
This conference is funded by the ERC through the advanced grant “Becoming Muslim” (BM694254-ERC-2015-AdG) awarded to the conference organiser, Professor Timothy Insoll (T.Insoll@Exeter.ac.uk). The conference assistant is Nathan Anderson (na419@Exeter.ac.uk).
Confirmed speakers include Noemie Arazi, Shadreck Chirikure, Mamadou Cissé, John Cooper, Corisande Fenwick, Alison Gascoigne, Mark Horton, Timothy Insoll, Carlos Magnavita, Andrew Peacock, Chantal Radimilahy, Robin Seignobos, and Tal Tamari and a detailed programme will be added soon.