Saharan Jewry: History, memory and imagined identity

Aomar Boum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Scholars of North African Jewries have recently begun to study, rethink and challenge some of the field's terminology and conceptualisations of the Maghribi Jewish experience, including, for example, terms such as 'Berber Jews', 'Arab Jews' and even the most deeply entrenched 'Sephardic Jews'. Such categories of analysis remain largely unexamined, despite the fact that they constitute an essential part of larger colonial and post-colonial discourses on the Islamic world and its diverse populations. In this article, I focus on one such category, 'Saharan Jews', and attempt to assess its meanings and articulations within the history and imagined identities of the Sahara. Using source materials including the reports of European colonial travellers, the communications of Mardochée Aby Serour to the Société de Geographie de Paris in 1870, French ethnological sources, local Arabic sources, select post-colonial writings, and blogosphere material, I debate the meaning of 'Saharan Jews', moving us from Sijilmasa to Timbuktu by way of the Saharan oases Tuat, Akka and other areas of Jewish settlement in the region. In these contexts, I pay particular attention to the construction of group identity through mechanisms like trade, minority-majority relations and local religious practices. As I evaluate the concept of 'Saharan Jews' for better understanding Jewish history in North and sub-Saharan Africa, I simultaneously call for a more nuanced approach to the social imagination of Jewish identities in post-colonial African societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-341
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of North African Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Saharan Jews
  • borderlands
  • historiography
  • imagined communities
  • liminality
  • memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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