The Jewelers of the Ummah

The Jewelers of the Ummah:A Potential History of the Jewish Muslim World

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A deeply personal exploration into family, empire, art and identity - from the author of Potential History

Algeria’s Arab Jews were renowned for their metal-working and jewellery-making skills, and these jewellers of the ummah—the Arabic community—are, for Azoulay, the symbol of a world that can still be reclaimed and repaired.

In a series of letters written to her father, her great-grandmother, and her children—and to the thinkers and artists she claims as intellectual kin, such as Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt—Azoulaytraces the history of Arab Jewish life in Algeria, and how it was disrupted by French colonialism. She begins by asking how her family became assimilated into the identities of “Israeli,” “Jewish,” or “French.” As she does, she finds a whole lost world open up to her – the world of her family, the Arab Jews of Algeria. She traces how Arab Jews were severed from other Arabs, and how Arab Jews were severed from their Arabness by the Israeli vision of a Jewish diaspora, and sets out to repair those breaks and revive their world.

But it is in the return to the carefully crafted jewels, whose beautifully crafted objects act as messages to the future, reminds us of the conviviality of a world that existed long before colonial disruption, and whose memory challenges the imperial ways of thinking we have all inherited.


  • A tour de force of formal, conceptual, and historiographical innovation, not to mention ethical creativity. In keeping with Azoulay's historiographical innovation, not to mention ethical creativity. In keeping with Azoulay's terms-this powerful book refuses the partitioning of composite Arab and Jewish identities and shared forms of life in colonized Algeria. Azoulay reopens the foreclosed past by means of a dazzling epistolatory experiment. In letters to ancestors and elected kin (Hannah Arendt, Frantz remain. This work is a manifesto of repair in times of unconscionable violence.

    Leela Gandhi, author of Affective Communities
  • Azoulay has thought deeply about the many specificities of Algerian Jews - people she calls Jewish Muslims-and draws lessons from their destroyed worlds. The Jewelers of the Ummah - which sparkles and glows like the heavy and handmade jewelry which Azoulay crafts to help her think differently - teaches readers how existing recitals of the past obscure luminous and complicated realities. It opens precious possibilities to think about Palestine as well as what anticolonial futures-freedom from every river to every sea-could look like.

    Todd Shepard, author of The Invention of Decolonization
  • Colonialism severed the Jewish Muslim world, conscripting the Arab and Berber Jews of North Africa into the European settler project, initiating a violent historical erasure perpetuated under Algeria's nationalist conceits. Ariella Azoulay's quest to recover and restore this world has produced her latest masterpiece-a sublime, richly illuminating meditation on how and why decolonization requires repairing pre-and anti-colonial Muslim and Jewish entanglements. She communes with ancestors through letters, archives, and art as anti-imperialist refusal. This book is also a work of art, carefully crafted like the jewelry fabricated by her ancestors, forged in fire and strung together by revolutionary love and a profound responsibility to rebuild the ummah and remake the world.

    Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination