Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Senegalese street healer, 1995. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


African Muslims share a sense of the fundamental importance of writing with their counterparts around the world. For Muslims, “the visible is converted to the legible,” for “human vision is unrealized if it contents itself with what it can see of an event and does not add what the Koran allows one to see” (Hirt 1993). Hidden dimensions of existence revealed by Koranic Scripture and other holy writings guide spiritual and everyday affairs, and are complemented by cabalistic devices used in divination, healing, and protection. Here is another example of local adaptation in African Islam, for African healers often combine indigenous, non-Islamic elements with mystical texts and numerological devices from earlier Islam sciences (Roberts and Roberts 2003). This Senegalese street healer has many herbal and animal-based remedies at his disposition, but he also relies upon sacred writings when diagnosing and treating his patients’ illnesses and other afflictions.