The ISITA community mourns the passing of ISITA's "founding father," John O. Hunwick, who died at his home in Skokie, Illinois on April 1, 2015 surrounded by family. Hunwick served as professor of history and religion at Northwestern from 1981-2004 and founded ISITA in 2001 with a generous grant from the Ford Foundation. A generous scholar and mentor, Hunwick’s passionate interest in Arabic manuscripts from sub-Saharan Africa and pioneering research on West Africa’s Islamic intellectual traditions had a profound impact on students, scholars, and the academic world. ISITA will organize an event in the 2015-16 academic year to celebrate and honor Professor Hunwick's career.
Read the tribute published by Northwestern University: John Hunwick, Esteemed Scholar of Islam and Africa, Dies at 78.
News of Professor Hunwick's passing triggered an outpouring of tributes sent by email from colleagues and library owners and former students in Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, South Africa, China, Germany, France, England, Norway, Canada, all over the US, and of course, from Timbuktu. Below is a sampling of these message--a testament to impact of Professor Hunwick's life and work.
"We have learned today, April 2, 2015, of the death of our dear friend and long-time collaborator, Mr. John Hunwick. To his loyal family, to his close friends and collaborators, we address our most saddened condolences, imploring the Lord most powerful to welcome him in his immense Paradise. We will remember his as a wise and courageous man who loved the study of sub-Saharan manuscripts. To these manuscripts he consecrated an important part of his efforts. We owe him much in this area.
We support all initiatives to honor his memory and immortalize his works."
Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, Director, ONG SAVAMA-DCI, Mali
"This is a sad day. My sincere condolences to Uwa and the Hunwick family for their loss. All my sympathy also to John's friends, colleagues, collaborators and students. We lost in John a great scholar, a generous collaborator and a benevolent mentor and teacher. I am privileged to have had the chance of knowing and working with John. He not only introduced me to African Studies but also to his scholarly network and gave all his support to the Moroccan Institute of African Studies. John's generosity and capacity for friendship were truly exceptional.
May he rest in peace."
Fatima Harrak, University Mohamed V, Morocco and President, CODESRIA
"We have lost a great scholar who was truly committed to our fields and the continent. I was fortunate to have hosted him in South Africa on two visits here and my family, students and colleagues all fondly treasure those visits and the times we spent learning from John and just enjoying his company. Our condolences to his wife and family. Hamba Kakuhle."
Shamil Jeppie, Director, Tombouctou Manuscripts Project, University of Cape Town, South Africa
ISITA Senior Fellow, 2002
"The passing of our dear teacher, mentor and father was a great loss to the immediate family and indeed to his extended family of colleagues, friends and the talaba. We may take consolation in the fact that the Shaykh lived a very productive life. He set the highest standards for all to emulate. He expected rigour and precision from students as well as colleagues; and when these were trampled upon, he did not hesitate to use the might of his pen to guide aright. Above all, he exuded humour and cheerfulness and thanks to the puns, lightened the burdens of the usually demanding and serene environment of the 'Arabic Room'.
May God, in His infinite mercy, grant the family, nuclear and extended, the fortitude to bear the loss. May the standards he set serve as a guide to us all as we delve into the complexities of Africa's Islamic intellectual heritage.
We look forward to attending the conference proposed by ISITA."
Hamidu Bobboyi, Nigeria, Former Student, ISITA Senior Fellow, 2001
"John Hunwick’s passing is a source of pain for Africanists and Islamicists the world over. I will mourn his passing, remember his dedication, and extend my strongest condolences to his family.
Northwestern has his imprint in so many ways, and will always be a center for the study of Islam in Africa with unparalleled collections and human resources.
For half a century John has been the leading scholar of Muslim societies in Africa. He acquired an unmatched mastery over the Arabic literature of North Africa, Egypt, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahara and West Africa, and made that knowledge available in a stream of publications (bibliographies, translations and interpretations). He was a role model and mentor to younger scholars studying the same subjects, and his disciples continue his work and teaching the world over.
He published many seminal works that will stand the test of time. Those that come first to mind are the bio-bibliographies of the Arabic literature on my Africa, the Shari`a in Songhay, a translation of a work produced in the early 16th century and an elaborate commentary on the relations of Muslims and non-Muslims in West Africa, and a new translation and commentary of a chronicle composed by a Timbuktu-based scholar in the 17th century (the Ta'rikh al-Sudan). But others will remember other publications, and indeed the many other ways in which he has enriched our lives. May he go with God."
David Robinson, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University
"The death of John is a great loss to scholarship but his footprints in the field of African Arabic/Islamic studies will forever remain indelible. Those of us who had the unique fortune of passing through his hand at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in the 1960s will always cherish his sense of humour and skill in cultivating and nurturing in us a love for academic scholarship. The establishment of the department of Arabic and Islamic studies and the Center for Arabic Documentation in that University owes everything to his foresightedness. My own career as a researcher and university teacher could never have taken off without his continual encouragement and mentoring."
Isaac Ogunbiyi, Professor Emeritus, Lagos State University, Nigeria, Former student, ISITA Senior Fellow, 2002
"A very sad day for the loss of a great scholar, beloved teacher, inspiring mentor and very generous human being. My I extend my condolences to the family, and the entire community of Hunwick’s colleagues, students, and everyone who has been touched by Hunwick's kindness. May his soul rest in peace."
Muhammad Sani Umar, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, Former student and former director of ISITA
"May his soul rest in peace and may the earth lay gently over him; his works will remain forever engraved in the annals of African and Islamic history. My condolences to the entire family."
Ali ould Sidi, Head of the Cultural Mission, Timbuktu