The Tārīkh al-fattāsh is one of the most important and celebrated sources for the history of pre-colonial West Africa, yet it has confounded scholars for decades with its inconsistencies and the questions surrounding its authorship. In this talk, based on his recently-published book Sultan, Caliph, and the Renewer of the Faith: Aḥmad Lobbo, the Tārīkh al-fattāsh and the Making of an Islamic State in West Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Nobili challenges existing theories of the chronicle. He shows that instead of a seventeenth-century text, it was written in the nineteenth century by a Fulani scholar named Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir, as part of an elaborate forgery to support a political project of a West African Islamic state known as the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi (in modern-day Mali) and its founding leader, Aḥmad Lobbo (d.1845). In telling this story, Nobili provides a new way of understanding the various revolutions carried out by Muslim reformers in nineteenth-century West Africa.
Mauro Nobili is Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A historian of pre-colonial West Africa, he has published widely on West African chronicles written in Arabic, and on the wider Arabic literary tradition in West Africa.