Muslim Jurisprudence in Timbuktu

Muslim law, its application, and the ideas of the Timbuktu scholars

By SAVAMA-DCI

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Muslim societies were formed on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence that replaced tribal law.

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Various schools of jurisprudence developed over the years. Judges were always tasked with setting Islamic law against the temptation of political powers to impose “the will of the prince”, as well as with responding to the challenges of changing times by basing legal decisions that called for new circumstances on religious texts and precedents.

Muslim magistrates fulfilled civic, judicial, and religious functions, including adjudicating disputes between individuals. They would apply Fiqh (Islamic law) and sometimes the law of non-Muslim communities living in territories under Muslim control.

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They would intervene to resolve any issues that arose between individuals, such as divorces, inheritance disputes, transaction disputes, etc.

The place where judicial power was exerted was supposed to be open to the public, suitable to the climate, and preferably located in the center of the city. No bailiffs who might prevent people from attending the hearing were to be there.

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The act of judging was a pious act as it continued the work of the Prophet. In principle, it was not supposed to involve remuneration, but it was accepted that the judge would be paid by the state. The litigants did not pay and legal costs were almost non-existent.

MS 15445 P001 MHSAVAMA-DCI

An example: informing the decision on tobacco

This manuscript was written by Ahmed Baba, the greatest scholar in Timbuktu, in 1607.

"A sympathizer in God’s cause asked me in [the city of] Dar‘at (Darat), may God protect him and the city, about a question of prime importance posed by a contemporary dignitary of whom it was hard to find an equal at that time, may God make many like him. It was about the consumption of tobacco.

[This consumption] appeared at the beginning of the 11th century. The opinions of Cairo era scholars and others diverged on the subject.

He was asked to decide whether the use of tobacco was permitted. [The applicant] was very explicit and expected a full answer to the question, but found none.

Somebody else replied saying that tobacco consumption was permitted, for it did not contain soporific substances, had no ill effects, and was not intoxicating. The end.

I also answered in this way in Marrakesh, basing myself on this opinion and others, as I did to the judge and muftis in Fez...and to the judge in Darat... and so many others when I was questioned on the topic.

Some scholars of the Chafiite school replied that, as long as tobacco does not harm the mind, its consumption is not prohibited.”

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Before the development of science, the opinions of ulamas diverged on the permission and prohibition of tobacco consumption. The key issue was the impact tobacco consumption had on human physical and mental health.

Some had no objections as long as the consumer managed to maintain their serenity after being stimulated. Others, for fear of falling into laxity, prohibited it according to the principle of removing any room for excuse, in order to prevent someone from committing something illegal by abusing a lawful product.

Today, knowing all the harmful effects tobacco can have on human health, there is a general consensus on the issue that smoking is either completely prohibited by Islam or that it should be banned.

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