Spiritual Symbolism in the Sahara: Ibrahim Al-Koni’s Nazīf al-Ḥajar
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

In his 1990 novel, Nazīf al-Ḥajar [The Bleeding of the Stone], Tuareg writer Ibrahim al-Koni draws on Tuareg practices and Sufi mysticism to depict the Sahara desert as inclusive, in proportion, balanced. The desert in this novel is both painstakingly specific and literal and also entirely mythological (usṭurīya), which serves as a device to call into question the legitimacy or even reality of neocolonial power structures. By putting this novel in conversation with Western theories of categorization (following Agamben’s work on the human-animal distinction) and looking at intertextual resonances with the Buddhist Jātaka tale The Banyan Deer, explicit and implicit references to Islamic scriptures, and the preponderance of Sufi and Tuareg imagery and symbolism, I argue that this novel questions the primacy or validity of Western novelistic and philosophical structures and offers an alternative, spiritually based “reading” of the desert as both metaphor and ecosystem, based on balance and interconnection.