Report from 2022 William A Brown Research Awardee: Jibril Gabid

Jibril Gabid is a Ph.D. student in the Department of African Cultural Studies, at UW-Madison. He graduated from the University of Ghana with a double major in Arabic and Psychology. He also earned an M.A. in Arabic Language and Literature from the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations at the American University in Cairo. Before that, Jibril was at Ain-Shams University, Cairo, where he obtained a certificate in Arabic language and literature. Jibril speaks Arabic, English, Hausa, Zarma, and Twi. He teaches first and second-semester Arabic and is currently learning Swahili.  

I am grateful for the support of the William A. Brown Research Award, which allowed me to conduct a ten-week research trip to Ghana and Nigeria from June 15 to August 24, 2022. During my visit, I spent four weeks at the Balme Library at the University of Ghana and six weeks at the National Archives of Kaduna and Arewa House Center for Historical Documentation and Research, accessing valuable manuscripts on West African Arabic literature.

My research initially centered on 19th and 20th century West African Arabic scholarship and aimed to offer new ways of reading the literary works of Muslim scholars. After familiarizing myself with the advancements in West African Arabic literature and education during my visits to the archives, I had to adjust my research focus to include these developments. As a result, I chose to focus on contemporary works from the last few decades, including novels and drama that address a wide range of themes such as social alienation, crime, the intersection of humans and the environment, gendered access and discrimination, and the individual’s assertion against cultural and traditional norms. These works reflect the social and political landscape of postcolonial Africa and have relevance to a broad audience.

I sourced my primary materials from the National Archive of Kaduna, the Arewa House Center for Documentation and Research, and private libraries of scholars in Kano and Kaduna, which included some previously unpublished or out-of-print works.

The significance of my research project cannot be overstated. It makes significant contributions to the study of West African Arabic literature. Firstly, it broadens the scope of analysis to include prose fiction and drama, which have received limited attention in previous scholarly works that mainly focused on poetry. This project not only examines the themes of these works, but also their form. Another critical contribution of this project is its emphasis on the works of Muslim women, an aspect of West African Arabic literature that has been overlooked in previous scholarship. Despite the acknowledged contributions of women in Islamic West Africa, recognition has been limited, and the voices of female authors in the field have been underrepresented, largely due to cultural practices that limit women’s access to higher education.

Aside from my visits to the archives, I also had the chance to engage with scholars at Kaduna State University and Bayero University in Kano. These discussions were productive and provided me with new insights and perspectives into the West African Arabic literary landscape.

I would like to express my profound gratitude to the William A. Brown Research Award for generously funding my summer 2022 trip, which facilitated the crucial preliminary archival research that laid the groundwork for my PhD dissertation. The trip proved invaluable in providing me with novel insights and perspectives into the literary landscape of West African Arabic works, beyond the scope of archival research. The outcomes of this archival research were instrumental in facilitating the composition of my dissertation proposal.


The William A. Brown Research Award is intended to support research on Islam or West African history. Funds must be used to advance research; recipients may propose to use this award for travel, archival work, or as direct support for writing. Awardees may receive up to $4000 in support of their research. Graduate students in good standing from any department or program who are engaged in the study of Islam or West African history.

Persons interested in fostering talent and promoting the study of global Black cultures can extend the impact of this generous gift by also donating to the award. To make your tax deductible gift, visit the University of Wisconsin Foundation website today.