Ajami (Arabic: عجمي, ʿajamī) or Ajamiyya (Arabic: عجمية, ʿajamiyyah), which comes from the Arabic root for 'foreign' or 'stranger', is an Arabic-derived script used for writing African languages, particularly those of Songhai, Mandé, Hausa and Swahili, although many other African languages are written using the script, including Mooré, Pulaar, Wolof, and Yoruba. It is an adaptation of the Arabic script to write sounds not found in Standard Arabic. Rather than adding new letters, modifications usually consist of additional dots or lines added to pre-existing letters.[1]


The script was first used between the 10th and the 16th centuries.[1] It was likely originally created with the intent of promoting Islam in West Africa.[2] The first languages written in the script were likely old Taseelhit or medieval Amazigh, Kanuri, or Songhay.[1] Later, Fulfulde, Hausa, Wolof, and Yoruba would use the script.[1][3] By the 17th century, the script was being used to publish religious texts and poetry.[3] Guinean Fulani poetry was written in Ajami from the middle of the 18th century.[3]

During the pre-colonial period, Qur'anic schools taught Muslim children Arabic and, by extension, Ajami.[2]

After Western colonization, a Latin orthography for Hausa was adopted and the Ajami script declined in popularity.[3] Some anti-colonial groups and movements continued to use Ajami.[4] An Islamic revival in the 19th century led to a wave of Ajami written works.[1]

Ajami remains in widespread use among Islamic circles[3] but exists in digraphia among the broader populace. Ajami is used ceremonially and for specific purposes, such as for local herbal preparations in the Jula language.[5]

Hausa Ajami script

There is no standard system of using Ajami, and different writers may use letters with different values. Short vowels are written regularly with the help of vowel marks (which are seldom used in Arabic texts other than the Quran). Many medieval Hausa manuscripts, similar to the Timbuktu Manuscripts written in the Ajami script, have been discovered recently. and some of them describe constellations and calendars.[6]

In the following table, some vowels are shown with the Arabic letter for t as an example.

Latin IPA Arabic ajami
a /a/   ـَ
a //   ـَا
b /b/   ب
ɓ /ɓ/   ب (same as b), ٻ (not used in Arabic)
c //   ث
d /d/   د
ɗ /ɗ/   د (same as d), ط (also used for ts)
e /e/   ـٜ(not used in Arabic)
e //   ـٰٜی (not used in Arabic)
f /ɸ/   ف
g /ɡ/   غ
h /h/   ه
i /i/   ـِ
i //   ـِى
j /(d)ʒ/   ج
k /k/   ك
ƙ //   ك (same as k), ق
l /l/   ل
m /m/   م
n /n/   ن
o /o/   ـُ   (same as u)
o //   ـُو (same as u)
r /r/, /ɽ/   ر
s /s/   س
sh /ʃ/   ش
t /t/   ت
ts /(t)sʼ/   ط (also used for ɗ), ڟ (not used in Arabic)
u /u/   ـُ   (same as o)
u //   ـُو (same as o)
w /w/   و
y /j/   ی
z /z/   ز     ذ
ʼ /ʔ/   ع

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Ngom, Fallou (2016-08-01). Muslims beyond the Arab World. Oxford University Press. pp. 8–9. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190279868.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-027986-8.
  2. ^ a b Ngom, Fallou (2018-02-15). Albaugh, Ericka A.; de Luna, Kathryn M. (eds.). "Ajami Literacies of West Africa". Oxford Scholarship Online. doi:10.1093/oso/9780190657543.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-065754-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e Pasch, Helma (January 2008). "Competing scripts: the introduction of the Roman alphabet in Africa". International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 2008 (191): 2, 9–10. doi:10.1515/IJSL.2008.025. ISSN 0165-2516. S2CID 144394668.
  4. ^ Callahan, Molly (21 December 2022). "Unearthing a Long Ignored African Writing System, One Researcher Finds African History, by Africans". Boston University. Retrieved 2023-01-21.
  5. ^ Donaldson, Coleman (1 October 2013). "Jula Ajami in Burkina Faso: A Grassroots Literacy in the Former Kong Empire". Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL). 28 (2): 19–36. ISSN 1548-3134.
  6. ^ "Saudi Aramco World : From Africa, in Ajami". Archived from the original on 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2011-10-16.

Further reading