Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

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

Image of Sheik Amadu Bamba on the wall of a home in Djourbel, Senegal, 1994. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.

Some African cities may be decorated with images of Sufi saints venerated by local Muslims, but probably none more than Dakar. This African art form is not at variance with the Koran as one might think, for the well-known Islamic prohibitions against creating human images are found in exegetical texts rather than the holy book itself. Here an image of Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1853-1927) graces the wall of a Senegalese home. The painting is based upon a 1913 surveillance photograph taken by French colonial authorities, and is the only portrait known to exist. The blue motifs flanking the man are arabesques that resemble but do not reproduce Arabic writing (although the one on the left may refer to the name of the Prophet Muhammed). Such a painting reflects the homeowner’s devotions, but also serves as a protective and healing device, for images of Sheikh Bamba have active spiritual powers (Roberts and Roberts 2003).