In Piety and Power an African scholar provides a unique perspective on historical patterns of religious interaction in West Africa and their meaning for world Christianity and Islam today. Sanneh's topics range from Muhammad's significance for Christians, to an examination of a nineteenth-century "ecumenical" opening between the two faiths in Freetown, to an overview of the relation between religion and politics that directly challenges many Western assumptions about Africa and Islam.
Other treatments of Christian-Muslim encounter in Africa are often framed in terms of European colonial and missionary history. In contrast Piety and Power places the inter-faith issues firmly in an African social setting. Sanneh explores the impact of Islam, Christianity, and European mission and colonialism in terms of African adaptations and expressions. An autobiographical essay on Sanneh's own education in an African Qu'ran school gives readers a rare and revealing look at the power and influence of Islamic institutions in their African adaptations.