Library of Congress to highlight Muslim slave and scholar with $2.5 million grant

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — The Library of Congress has received a $2.5 million, five-year grant from the Lilly Endowment that will help launch programs that foster greater understanding of religious cultures in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.In a Tuesday (Feb. 14) announcement, the library described the development as “the largest Lilly Endowment grant to the Library of Congress, and the largest private gift in the history of the African and Middle Eastern Division.”
The project is one of 16 to receive grants from the Lilly Endowment’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative.
The library’s plans include a book and a film produced in-house about Omar ibn Said, an Islamic scholar who was enslaved and transported to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1807. A documentary will reveal ibn Said’s steps from his birthplace in Futa Toro, West Africa, his journey to the U.S. and his continuing legacy.
The Library of Congress also will use the grant to increase public access to digitized repositories and programs that enhance knowledge about faiths practiced in the regions, including Indigenous African religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and their influence on daily life.
A page of Omar ibn Said’s autobiography, written in Arabic in 1831, and a restored, colorized portrait of Omar ibn Said, right, around the 1850s. Page courtesy of LOC; Photo courtesy of Yale University Library
“Africa and the Middle East constitute the birthplace of humanity, the cradle of civilization, and the origin of Abrahamic traditions,” said Lanisa Kitchiner, chief of the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division, in a statement in the library’s announcement. “They are exceptionally …

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