Carl Ernst’s and Mbaye Lo’s new book I Cannot Write My Life: Islam, Arabic, and Slavery in Omar Ibn Said's America (UNC Press, 2023) is a fascinating and rivetting book that offers the most authoritative account to date of the life and Arabic writings of Omar Ibn Said, a scholar from what is today Senegal who was sold to slavery in the early 19th century and brought to Southern US. Moreover, this path paving book offers critical correctives to dominant perceptions of Said’s remarkable life narrative. Rather than understand Omar Ibn Said as a Muslim slave who had made peace with his new life in the US or had even converted to Christianity, Ernst and Lo demonstrate the deep imprints of Islam and Islamicate knowledge traditions in Omar Ibn Said’s varied writings such as his reflections on his life and his letters. This book, written in lyrical and engaging prose, makes available for the first time comprehensive translations of Omar Ibn Said’s Arabic writings into English. It also makes a compelling and convincing case for taking seriously Arabic texts from Africa as part of world literature.
SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His book Defending Muhammad in Modernity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020) received the American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2020 Book Prize and was selected as a finalist for the 2021 American Academy of Religion Book Award. His second book is called Perilous Intimacies: Debating Hindu-Muslim Friendship after Empire (Columbia University Press, 2023). His other academic publications are available here. He can be reached at [email protected]
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