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  • Ibadi Muslims of North Africa: Manuscripts, Mobilization, and the Making of a Written Tradition by Paul M. Love, Jr.
  • Amanda Propst

Manuscript Studies, North Africa, Ibadism, biographical tradition, network analysis, prosopography

Paul M. Love, Jr. Ibadi Muslims of North Africa: Manuscripts, Mobilization, and the Making of a Written Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018 228 pp. + 27 b/w illustrations, 1 map. $105. ISBN: 9781108472500.

In Ibadi Muslims of North Africa, Paul M. Love, Jr., explores the interaction between the past and the present in the history of Ibadi manuscripts. By contextualizing and mapping the networks present within and around five major North African Ibadi prosopographical works, he provides a novel perspective on the way that the Maghribi Ibadis used these collections of biographies and anecdotes to define their own communities and histories. Methodologically, Love contributes to the study of the history of Islam and the narrower field of Ibadi studies by using the tools of network analysis, and this innovative use of these digital tools to revisit well-known and significant Ibadi texts is, on its own, valuable. However, Love does not merely make a case for applying this method to our field; he sets this data-focused approach alongside a more traditional narrative study of the texts and their social and historical contexts, creating a model that might be exported to similar studies in other theological and sectarian traditions.

Ibadi Islam consists of two main population centers, one in the Mashriq, the East (the Omani Ibadis), and one in the Maghrib, the West, with communities dispersed across North Africa. This pronounced geographical separation led to some significant differences between the two populations. One of these is the focus of this book: the siyar (singular sira). While in the East, the siyar referred to letters and opinions exchanged among the scholars, in the West, the term came to refer to a highly developed tradition of collections of anecdotal and biographical passages about important individuals—that is, prosopographies (Prologue, xx). The reason for Love's choice of this genre of literature for a study of this kind is clear; these prosopographical works enjoyed a wide distribution and influence that resulted [End Page 206] from the geographically dispersed educational networks of students and scholars facilitated by trade across the Sahara.

The importance and prevalence of the siyar in the Maghrib is the basis for Love's argument that through their contents and the circumstances of their perpetuation and distribution, these books worked to both construct and maintain the Ibadi identity and the boundaries of the Ibadi communities in North Africa during the time of their creation in the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries CE as well as the following centuries through their continued importance in the tradition. Throughout his book, Love centers the discussion on the prosopographical books themselves; the scholars who both appear within their contents and who wrote and distributed them are the means by which the books play their role in the "construction and maintenance" of the Ibadi identity. By centering his book on the histories of these texts themselves, Love contributes to the understudied aspect of material culture in the field of Ibadi, and, more widely, Islamic, studies.

The book begins and ends with the present day: Love's own observation of contemporary Tunisian Ibadi conferences about the siyar in 2014 and 2015, which provides valuable context. In the introduction and first chapter, he gives the relevant Ibadi historical narrative and a description of the methods of network analysis he used. Here and in the sections on network analysis throughout the book, Love provides enough information about the specific methods he used from network analysis to spark a reader's interest in this approach without alienating the reader looking only for his historical conclusions. Network analysis—in Love's case, recording the instances of in-person interaction described within the content of the texts using the network mapping software Gephi—allowed him to visualize the links between scholars that existed across time and space. These visualizations and the structures they revealed represented relationships within the books, but not the relationships that surrounded the actual manuscripts, so to conceptualize the metadata associated...


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pp. 206-209
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