Wednesday, March 1, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Re: Fallou Ngom: A Sentence on His Accomplishments

As soon as I read  this inspirational eulogy,   I went to the Ajami Studies Site at Boston University.

 I suggest that Professor Ngom should consider doing an independent parallel site

as well, if possible, as a back-up, for security reasons.

Congratulations to Professor Ngom on his well deserved  promotion to full professorship.

Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Professor of History

From: <> on behalf of Toyin Falola <>
Sent: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 4:40 AM
To: dialogue; Yoruba Affairs
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Subject: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fallou Ngom: A Sentence on His Accomplishments

Fallou Ngom: A Sentence on His Accomplishments

Toyin Falola


I am pleased to share great news: the promotion to Full Professor at Boston University of our own Casamance boy: Fallou Ngom. Fallou has beaten again the odds, may be with the help of the Diola God, Emitaï! Alas! I am so overwhelmed with work at this hour that I can only write a sentence on this great son of Africa; but I promise, which is a debt, that I will later compose two sentences.


A son of a Seereer tailor and a mother who is part Seereer and part Fulani, Fallou was born and raised in Casamance, where he experienced different African epistemologies, traditions, languages, and cultures and their interactions with Islam and Christianity. I have been a beneficiary of his knowledge far more that I can ever repay. The Yoruba pride in diplomacy, the Casamance pride in confrontation. As we strike the balance between confrontation and diplomacy, Fallou and I get along so well that we have become the best of friends.


He never lost his Casamance roots, including the food he eats on a daily basis. It is the same food everyday, but I wont let you know what it is! 

After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Saint-Louis, Senegal he came to the USA via Montana, the Big Sky Country, as his signature cowboy hat reminds me. Without this hat that elongates his already tall stature, there is no Fallou—of course I must add the cigarette! He first experienced the brutality of winter there for which his multiple languages have no word! But his resilience training in the troubled region of Casamance prepared him well to face the personal or academic challenges on his path in America. After completing his MA in Linguistics with an emphasis on French at the University of Montana, he pursued a PhD in French Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His old Department later did everything to hire him, but Boston refused to let him leave.


Fallou's first job was at Western Washington University where he served as Assistant Professor of French and Linguistics from 2002 to 2008. He was kind to have invited me to give a major university lecture, and he graciously hosted me to a lavish reception. We became close family friends thereafter, and I look for Stephanie, his wife, in moments where Fallou disappeared into a hidden location in Senegal. I know his house in Dakar, to which he has invited me to visit. In July, he is following me to Nigeria, and we will have comparative notes on cities, and of course, our usual disagreements.


He was tenured at Western Washington University in 2007.  However, he had to go through a second tenure review before he was hired by Boston University in 2008 because the two universities do not belong to the same tier. After his successful tenure review, Fallou Ngom was hired as a tenured Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the federally funded Title VI African Language Program at Boston University. But the Casamance boy was not done. He continued to challenge scholars to look beyond the traditional colonial and oral sources and beyond disciplinary boundaries in their studies of Africa. This was initially resented by some but many of us welcomed it and encouraged the boldness. I took the risk with him, pushing him to engage in big battles over the use and protection of African languages. Like Dr. Augustine Agwuele, he speaks more than seven languages; I have yet to ask Dr. Farooq Kperogi if he is also as gifted as this two.


Fallou decided to expand his knowledge across humanities and social sciences as he realized very early on that understanding of his own African society and those he knew in Africa requires multidisciplinary skills, new empirical data, and a fresh look. This led the Casamance boy to divorce many theory-driven approaches conceived outside of Africa in order to seek a more objective data-driven approach that generates new theories based on the interrogations of African languages, cultures, societies, traditions, and histories. This is what led to him to anthropology, Islamic studies, and ultimately to the new field of Ajami studies that he is charting. We spent hours upon hours on arguments. Trust Fallou, after a Skype conversation of two hours, we will sign off, but three minutes later, he will call again!


Fallou's teaching and research interests currently center on Ajami traditions of Africa and Ajami manuscripts in the Americas produced by enslaved Africans, interactions between African and non-African languages and cultures, religion in Africa, and linguistic anthropology. His primary focus over the last decade has been to understand the epistemologies and wisdom hitherto buried in African languages and Ajami literatures that challenge the pervasive myth of the holistic illiteracy of Africa. His work has appeared in several leading scholarly journals, including African Studies Review, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Language Variation and Change, and International Journal of the Sociology of Language, to name only these. Fallou's recent book, Muslims beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of Ajami and The Muridyya (Oxford University Press, 2016), is probably the most groundbreaking scholarship on African knowledge systems recorded in Ajami script. I read the manuscript several times, and we even had a small intellectual fight at the proposal stage. He demonstrates in this book how Ajami materials serve as essential resources of African religious, socio-cultural, and historical knowledge necessary for understanding the spread of Islam and its many adaptations in sub-Saharan Africa and the Muslim world at large. The book is the first one to study the pivotal role that Ajami materials played in the rise of the Muridiyya founded by the great African Sufi leader of Senegal, Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba (1853-1927). The Muridiyya movement is recognized as one of the most powerful and organized Sufi movements in Africa today. Three reviewers capture the stellar quality of his book as reflected in their statements below, which I found at the book's webpage:


"Fallou Ngom lifts us a giant step toward decolonizing what 'literacy' can mean, while giving writing in Wolof, the dominant language of Senegal, its rightful place among Muslim literatures of the world. Ajami is the modification of Arabic script to accommodate local languages, and for centuries it has been used to communicate people's own senses of purpose, place, and divine province, as it does for Murids and other Senegalese Sufis. Ngom's evocative pages make abundantly clear what has been lost to most Africanist scholars who have ignored the richly self-reflexive resources of 'Ajami."

-Allen F. Roberts, Professor of World Arts and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles


"Fallou Ngom's Muslims beyond the Arab World is a brilliant demonstration that Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa is not peripheral to a Muslim world centered on Arab societies: it is its own center and has produced throughout the centuries an important literature in Arabic, but also often in Ajami, that is, texts written in the local languages adapting and using the Arabic script. Fallou Ngom's work is centered on the Ajamization of Islamic sciences and literature by Muslim scholars who authored important texts in Wolof, in poetry and in prose, following the recommendation of Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba, the founder of the Muridiyya Sufi order. Ngom's book makes manifest that Islam is one and plural, that it speaks Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, but other Islamic languages as well, Wolof being one great example eloquently presented here as a language of written erudition."

-Souleymane Bachir Diagne, author of African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude


"This Ajami odyssey makes a signal contribution to the study of Islamic thought in Africa and beyond. Ngom skillfully illustrates how the Muridiyya Sufi order has used African languages materials to make meaning and history, thereby becoming one of the most dynamic Islamic movements in the world today. By focusing on how Murids have articulated and embodied a unique vision of the past deeply rooted in humanistic values of peace, service, and ethics, Ngom also casts precious light on the development of vernacular languages, cultures, and historicities throughout the Muslim world."

-Rudolph T. Ware, Associate Professor of History, University of Michigan


Obviously, the achievements of the Casamance boy did not begin with his recent book. He held some of the highest distinctions in American academia, including the Guggenheim fellowship. One of his most recent and groundbreaking initiatives that will have an enduring impact across the humanities and social sciences is his African Ajami Library (AAL) at Boston University. This expanding digital library hosts the largest collection of African Ajami sources of knowledge in America. Its written resources do justice to the epistemologies of Africans whose centuries-old literacies have been denied. His digital library will ensure that "Africa's sources of knowledge in Ajami scripts will no be longer treated as insignificant vestiges, but rather as major sources of African knowledge, without which a holistic and in-depth understanding of Africa will remain elusive," as he emphasizes at the AAL's website.


Let me tell you why I am happy: the work of this Casamance son challenges all of us to enhance our scholarship on Africa—we need to retool to learn how to read Ajami texts in Hausa, Wolof, Yoruba, Swahili and in over 60 other African languages in order to enhance our research on Africa. I know people who have done many books and essays but I have no respect for them as they have no respect for Africa: they write because of their CV not because of people, our people. A scholar who writes only for his CV is useless. 

In the conclusion of his recent book, the Casamance boy calls our attention to the double standard he termed the linguistic paradox in academia, which makes it unthinkable to pretend to be an expert of France, England, or America without literacy in French and English, but makes it perfectly acceptable to be "an expert" of the Hausa, the Wolof, the Kanuri people, etc. without literacy or fluency in their respective endogenous written sources of knowledge. To be taken seriously, Fallou, my idol and mentor, asks all of us to take ourselves seriously by retooling to both serve our disciplines and Africa better in a more just and dignified manner!


Feel free to add another sentence to join me in congratulating Fallou.

Toyin Falola
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
104 Inner Campus Drive
Austin, TX 78712-0220
512 475 7224
512 475 7222 (fax)

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