A Visit to the Paden Collection at George Mason University

Today I had the chance to do a few hours of reading and research in the John N. Paden Papers collection, which is held at George Mason University’s Fenwick Library. The guide to the collection is here. Professor Paden is the foremost American expert on northern Nigeria, and he donated a massive collection of books, sources, and notes to George Mason when he retired last year. Prof. Paden has been an extremely generous mentor to several generations of Nigerian and American researchers, including me.

My own academic research of late has mostly focused on the Sahel, but over the long term I hope to get back to one of my abiding interests: Muslim intellectuals in Northern Nigeria during the period of decolonization. Visiting the Paden collection today was a chance to re-immerse myself in that period and to discover reams of new material.

Picking a bit at random from my notes today, here is a quotation from an article by the northern Nigerian author, publisher, and politician Abubakar Imam, writing in the official magazine of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam, Nur al-Islam, in 1965:

In February, 1960, The Honourable Premier, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, appointed a committee to investigate the ways and means of assisting the vast number of Koranic and Islamic Schools existing in Northern Nigeria so that their standard may improve in accordance with the needs of the modern age.


In light of the recommendations of this Committee, the Government approved the following measures for assistance to these Schools and Islamic Education in general: (a) That more Islamic Schools be assisted financially as has already been done in the case of Islamic Schools in Sokoto and Zaria. (b) That subsidy be made towards the printing of cheap Islamic Religious Knowledge books for use by Koranic, ‘Ilmi and Islamiyya Schools; and contemporaries for the development of Northern Nigerian Islamic Culture. (c) That a Teacher Training College for Islamic Education be established for the training of Teachers of Primary Islamic, Koranic and ‘Ilmi Schools. (d) That Native Authorities be encouraged to establish Schools for Higher Muslim Studies and that Government Grants be paid to assist these projects; and (e) That Government Supervision and financial assistance be given to Koranic Schools, but as a first step a team be sent to Moslem countries, e.g. Egypt and the Sudan, to study the organisation of Koranic Schools prevailing in those countries.

If you are doing research on northern Nigerian history, the collection is well worth a visit.

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