'Abd-Al-'Aziz 'Abd-Allah Batran (1941–2011)
Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, January 2012
Historian of Africa
Aziz Batran, professor of African history in the history department at Howard University, passed away unexpectedly on October 14, 2011.
Aziz Batran was born in the southern Sudan on November 18, 1941. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors at the University of Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan, in 1964. Two years later, he gained a diploma in West African studies (with distinction) at the University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England. He went on to obtain a PhD in African history at the University of Birmingham in 1972 under the supervision of Professor Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias with a dissertation titled "Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti and the Recrudescence of Islam in the Western Sahara and the Middle Niger, c.1750–1811." He belonged to a first generation of post-independence African scholars who sought a professional career teaching and researching African history. During the academic year 1972–73, he worked as a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. From 1973 to 1976, he was an assistant professor of history at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya. The following year, he served on the Research Faculty at Princeton University. From 1976 until 2011, he taught African history in the history department at Howard University. He was academically active until his untimely passing.
His fields of specialization included the history of West and North Africa as well as Islam in Africa. His published monographs include Islam and Revolution in Africa (1984), Battle over Tobacco-Smoking Between African Muslim Scholars (in Arabic, 1995), The Turbaned Junta of Sudan: Manipulation of Song and Music (1997), The Qadiryya Brotherhood in West Africa and the Western Sahara (2001), and, Tobacco Smoking Under Islamic Law (2003). He published in numerous professional journals including the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, The Journal of African History, Majallat Al-Bohouth and The Transafrican Journal of History. His essays appeared in several edited volumes including Studies in West African Islam (John R. Willis ed., 1979), Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, Vol. 2 (John R. Willis, ed., 1985), Fes et l'Afrique (Morocco: Institut des Études Africaines, 1996), and UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VI (Ade Ajayi ed., 1989). One of the most important contributions of Batran's work is its reliance on original source material with excerpts from rare Arabic and Islamic documents. This is particularly evident in his essay on Morocco's forcible recruitment of freedmen in Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa as well as his revaluation of the renowned North African Islamic reformer al-Mughali (d. 1503/4) in The Journal of African History.
Batran appeared frequently on television, especially on WETA in Washington, D.C., as well as in the African and European media. He was also a consultant to, and board member of, several academic and cultural centers and organizations.
During his 35 years at Howard University, Batran opened the eyes of countless undergraduates to the significance of African history. He also mentored doctoral students who are now teaching and researching African history in the American academy and elsewhere. His collegiality was special. One fellow Africanist, who shared an office with him for 10 years, recalled a fun, easygoing, and pleasant companion. Another colleague enjoyed drinking coffee and having political discussions with him. I recall our numerous chats about English football, especially his favorite team Arsenal, as well as African politics past and present. He will be missed.
Aziz Batran is survived by his wife Hadia Talsam and their two sons Omar Batran and Nassir Batran. Ma'a Salaama.
—Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie