Welcome to the Ajami Lab and its past and present research projects! Ajami refers to sub-Saharan African languages written in Arabic script and at our Lab we promote and investigate this neglected field of African written heritage. Local languages have been written in Arabic script for centuries, but we are still working to understand their role in Muslim literacy and Islamic manuscript cultures in multilingual and multi-ethnic West Africa.
At present, our specialists conduct research on Ajami manuscripts from Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. Some of us focus on interlinear and marginal commentaries on Arabic texts written in such languages as Kanuri, Old Kanembu, Hausa, Songhay, Manding and Soninke.
Many more languages, however, are written in Arabic script and we are carrying out wide-scale documentation and study of all such Ajami writings in West Africa. This is done under the auspices of a long-term research project ‘African voices in the Islamic manuscripts from Mali: Documenting and exploring African languages written in Arabic script (Ajami)’, headed by Dr Dmitry Bondarev. The project – started in 2017 and projected until 2029 – is funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschunsgemeinschaft, DFG).
We are currently in the process of cataloguing Ajami manuscripts held in private and state collections of Mali and we are laying the groundwork for historical and linguistic analysis of the material brought to light by the cataloguing process. These activities are jointly pursued by our Hamburg Unit working in Germany and our Bamako Unit in Mali.
Besides West African projects, the Ajami Lab is a collaborative research hub for a network of specialists at the Universität Hamburg and beyond interested in investigating Ajami literacy and manuscripts across Africa and its global diaspora. If you are interested in more information or if you would like to contribute to the network’s activities, please contact us.
For additional information and updates, follow us on our Ajami blog A-label: African Languages Between the Lines and on Ajami Lab Twitter.