The African Scholars Of Ancient Timbuktu
Timbuktu is one of the most important learning Centres of the Ancient World.
Located in present day Mali, it was so renowned for its learning that Leo Africanus’ description of the City at the height of the Songhai Empire noted that the Trade in Books was more profitable than the trade in goods.
Timbuktu has its origins in the 12th Century when it transitioned from being a seasonal to a permanent settlement.
Its success was based on the fact that it was along the most important Trading routes for Salt, Ivory, Slaves and Gold. In the 14th Century it became part of the Mali Empire until it was later absorbed into the Songhai Empire.
The fortunes of the City were tied to the Songhai Empire, and with its decline, Timbuktu also declined following a Morrocan invasion in 1591.
In its Golden Age Timbuktu was renowned for its Scholarship, and it produced notable African Scholars whose memory has been lost to the mists of time.
Although today Timbuktu stands as a shadow of its former self, we can still get an idea of the majesty of this City and its Scholars from its Ancient Manuscripts.
The most respected Scholar in Timbuktu was Mohammed Bagayogo.
He was born in Timbuktu and he became one of the most eminent Professors of Timbuktu’s Sankore University.
The Scholars of Egypt bestowed the the title of Doctor on Mohammed Bagayogo as an accomplished Jurist well-versed in all branches of Islamic knowledge.
He is remembered because he loved imparting knowledge to people with great patience, and he was known for lending his books to his Students without asking for them back.
Although he was offered the position of Supreme Judge of Timbuktu, he gracefully declined for fear of being unjust.
His lectures were sought after and always well attended, and his own personal copies of the Quran still remain with his descendants today.
Mohammed Bagayogo’s other great achievement was to inspire and teach our next great Scholar, Ahmed Baba the Black.
Ahmed Baba liked to be called Amin Baba the Black.
From an early age he dedicated his time to learning, surpassing all his contemporaries who regarded him as highly gifted Jurist, Scholar and Imam.
His reputation soon spread all over sub-saharan and North Africa.
He was widely consulted at Timbuktu where people sought his advice in matters pertaining to legal decisions, and with his personal Library of more than 1600 Manuscripts, he was a storehouse of Islamic knowledge.
Sadly his library was looted during the Moroccan invasion of Timbuktu after which he was deported to Fez in 1593.
Nevertheless today Ahmed Baba’s legacy of writings on Theology, Grammar, History and Jurisprudence survives in the 60 books he authored.
Mohammed Al Kaburi was a Fulani, Scholar, Jurist and Judge.
He is very important to West African Scholarship because he developed the first Curriculum at Sankore University, and this curriculum would shape the intellectual foundation for generations of West African Scholars to come.
Muhammad Ibn Utman was a Toureg Scholar and a well learned Professor whose intellectual prowess and insights led the people of Timbuktu to regard him as a man who possessed the God Consciousness.
Last but not least is Ibn Aqit who was a Supreme Judge of Timbuktu, Imam and the Dean of Sankore University.
Although the City of Timbuktu stands as nothing more than a desert today, its legacy of Manuscripts and the Scholarly Culture it produced is an important part of the History of Africa and the Ancient World during the Islamic Golden Age.
It would be hard to find any other City in the world both past and present where the Trade in Books was more profitable than the Trade in Gold.