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Sacred Topography: A Spatial Approach to the stelae of Gao-Saney

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image of Islamic Africa

The following are some comments by a scholar of early Islamic Historiography on the intriguing stelae of the Royal Cemetary of Gao-Saney dating from 11th / 12th century (CE) West Africa. They depart from interpretations focusing on the integration of the stelae into the literary corpus of later Arabic ta’rīkh – works dealing with West Africa by proposing a spatial reconstruction of the ensemble of the tombstones. The resulting spatial arrangement can be intrepreted as reminiscent of the topography of the burial of the Prophet Muḥammad in Medina. It is proposed that the peculiar naming pattern on the tombstones of the recently Islamicized rulers of Gao-Saney replicating the naming pattern of the first three rulers of the ideal Islamic polity of early Islamic Salvation History did not necessarily form a replica of Islamic Salvation History in life, but certainly a replica in death establishing a marker of Islamic Salvational Geography in 11th / 12th century (CE) West Africa.

Affiliations: 1: Philipps-Universität Marburg,


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