Khaled Esseissah

Credentials: UW-Madison

Position title: Assistant Professor, History


Phone: (608) 262-4466

4110 Mosse Humanities

I am a historian of Islam, colonialism, slavery, race, and gender, with a focus on nineteenth- and twentieth-century West Africa. I am currently working on my book manuscript, Making Ethical Muslim Citizens: Slave Emancipation, Equality, and Respectability in Colonial Mauritania, 1902-1960. This book considers the important religious and civic contributions of Harāṭīnpeoples of Mauritania under French colonial rule, a group that has historically been assumed to be oppressed and structurally limited in their abilities to alter their circumstances. It analyzes the Harāṭīn peoples as intentional historical actors who asserted their rights as full Muslim citizens in colonial Mauritania. As a research scholar who is also a member of this community, I reconstruct the biographies of Harāṭīn men and women who went from being oppressed by the local Muslim elites to playing a decisive role in the making of the French colony in Mauritania. They became Muslim authorities, demanding social and religious equality with the Bīẓān or Moors (a mix of Arab and Berber communities who define themselves as “white”) during the colonial period (1902 through 1960). In this book, I offer a new concept of “Ethical Muslim citizenship” to discuss how Harāṭīn men and women utilized the opportunities created by the colonial state to display Islamic values typically associated with Saharan intellectual elites and Islamic leadership, aiming to establish full Muslim citizenship for themselves and their wider community. They imagined themselves as part of the ummah (the Muslim global community) by participating in all acts of worship from which they had previously been excluded. They also emancipated enslaved persons, protected runaways, and provided them with jobs, shelters, and education. In so doing, Harāṭīn historical actors influenced the path toward freedom and ethical Muslim citizenship. Through a careful analysis of Arabic manuscripts, French colonial documents, interviews, and oral traditions, this study will greatly broaden our understanding of Islam, colonialism, citizenship, religious authority, and emancipation in all post-slavery societies.