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Prayer Traditions: A Virtual Journey through Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia

(The following is a post by the African and Middle Eastern Division’s story map editorial team: Edward Miner, Head of the African Section; Joan Weeks, Head of the Near East Section; Anchi Hoh, Program Specialist; and Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian & Georgian Area Specialist.)

The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) recently launched a story map, titled “Prayer Traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia: a Journey through the Library of Congress Collections.” The story map takes visitors on a virtual journey through these regions, exploring major religions and prayer traditions through a selection of prayer materials housed in the Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

Screenshot of the story map with title "prayer traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia."

Screenshot of the story map, titled “Prayer traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.”

This online exhibit is part of the Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative generously funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The purpose of the initiative is to enhance public awareness of cross-regional and intercultural religious understanding in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and their global diasporas.

The story map highlights African religious traditions, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many of the division’s most prized and some never-seen-before prayer materials are on digital display, including manuscripts, rare books, lithographs, and historical postcards in African languages, Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Ladino, Persian, Turkish, and Turkic languages. Some items are in western languages.

A collage of color screenshots illustrating rare books and manuscripts.

A collage of screenshots from the story map, “Prayer Traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.”

The story map also features an interactive geocoded map highlighting major cities and cultural centers in the region, each featuring items from AMED’s collections that reflect the area’s religious and cultural practices. The map data is also available for download.

A color map marking major cities and cultural centers in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Screenshot of the interactive map marking major cities and cultural centers in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Religion in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia is a complex subject, often interwoven with the issues of conflicts, violence, colonialism, slavery, etc. Through its prayer collection, AMED saw an opportunity to develop an exhibit that advances the general public’s understanding of cross-regional and cross-cultural religious engagement.

The Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative also includes a series of “Islam in Africa and the Middle East” public programs and a symposium titled “Religious Practices, Transmission and Literacies in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia” (recordings to be released in mid-August), all made possible with support from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

To view a select listing of the prayer collection housed in the African and Middle Eastern Division, click on this link.

For reference assistance, please contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room via Ask a Librarian.

Taytu Betul: The Cunning Empress of Ethiopia

This blogpost uses the Library of Congress’ resources to introduce Empress Taytu Betul, spouse of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, who occupies an important page in the history of Ethiopia. She is remembered for her towering contributions in time of war, such as in the Battle of Adwa, and in the process of modernizing the country. Empress Taytu follows the example of her titanic women ancestors such as the Candaces, the Queen of Sheba, Queen Yodit [Judith], to name a few, who provided a legacy of excellence to the womenfolk of today’s Ethiopia.

Introduction to the African Section Poster Collection

This blog post introduces the African Section Poster Collection, including a brief history of how and when these materials entered the collection and the types of posters contained within the collection. The blog post also discusses the significance of the posters’ contents and how scholars, researchers, and members of the public may benefit through their continued study.

In Memoriam: Abdul Samed Bemath: A Committed Librarian

This post is a personal reflection on a professional friendship that African Section librarian Eve M. Ferguson had with renowned bibliographer, Abdul Samed Bemath, who recently passed away after producing a third bibliography of the legendary African historian, the late Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, who was memorialized at the Library of Congress in December 2014. Eve Ferguson worked with Bemath to create a chapter in a book of tributes, A Giant Tree Has Fallen: Tributes to Ali Al’Amin Mazrui. Abdul Samed Bemath died in South Africa on July 31, 2020.

East Africa Meets Hollywood

(The following is a post by Eve M. Ferguson, reference librarian in the African Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division.) Black Panther is the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics. The Library of Congress holds the Marvel Comics series, including “Black Panther,” dating back to his debut appearance in “Fantastic […]

20th Century Images of East Africa’s Swahili Coast Online

(The following is a post by Eve M. Ferguson, Reference Librarian for East Africa, African and Middle Eastern Division.) The name “Zanzibar” often conjures up visions of exotic landscapes populated by Arabian princesses and sultans, palaces by the sea and a vigorous trade of spices, gold and ivory. But for centuries, trade across the Indian […]

May 25th, Africa Day

(The following is a post by Angel D. Batiste, Area Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.) May 25th, Africa Day (originally called African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day) marks the annual commemoration in Africa and around the world of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The organization was created […]