Timbuktu, Home to a Humanist and Tolerant Islam

Timbuktu has always been a welcoming place, one of tolerance and cohabitation between different religions.

By SAVAMA-DCI

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Timbuktu is a prominent example of a city with a Muslim religious heritage, which has inherited hospitality and tolerance based on the principles of Islam.

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Thanks to their great scholars and their texts, the Timbuktuans have inherited an Islam that is humanist and enlightened, in which the principles of tolerance, respect, simplicity, and goodness are divine prescriptions.

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Muslim humanism, as it is understood in Timbuktu, is focused on the development of all the spiritual and intellectual qualities humans possess. It strives to promote tolerance and understanding of other religions instead of ignorance or any form of fanaticism.

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This is illustrated by the following quotation from Ahmed Baba: "Culture is humanizing.”

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Although it was a city of Muslim culture, Timbuktu was also a place of dialog between cultures, and a fine example of religious cohabitation. Throughout its history, it would accept and then integrate religious leaders of other religions, such as Reverend Auguste Dupuis, the French missionary in West Africa known as Dupuis Yakouba, and the Rabbi Mardochée, an influential Moroccan rabbi.

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Askia, who ordered the Timbuktuans to expel the Jews from the city, was contradicted by the scholars, who replied that the Jews were also people of the book.

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Response from Ahmed al-Bakkai al-Kunti about Heinrich Barth

The letter was written between 1853 and 1864 (Al-Kunti died in 1864) in response to one written by the emir of Massina, who demanded the execution of the Christian (the German Heinrich Barth). Barth had disguised himself as a Muslim to enter Timbuktu. When he was discovered, the emir ordered his execution and the seizure of his property.

The following quotation, written in response to the execution orders, shows us clearly that Islam is a religion of tolerance, understanding between people, and cooperation. It also specifies, that in such circumstances, no law could legitimize the killing of the Christian because he had not come in war against the Muslims. On the contrary, the Muslims had a duty to watch over him and his belongings.

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“Does he not know... that Allah, the Exalted, has permitted us to marry Christian and Jewish women who practice the religion of their parents and brothers?

How can you marry a woman, share her intimacy, and have children with her without wanting to sit, talk, or collaborate with her father and brother of the same religion?

This is by no means a Quranic precept, but rather an alteration resulting from ignorance”.

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Ahmed al-Bakkai al-Kunti wrote a long plea that demonstrated, in more than one way, his high culture and capacity for analysis, as well as that of the ulamas of Timbuktu. All this goes to prove that Timbuktu has always been a welcoming place, one of tolerance and cohabitation between world’s different religions.

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The exceptional tolerance that the inhabitants of Timbuktu have always had with regard to other religions is therefore not the result of chance, but inspired by the principles of a tolerant Islam.

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