The Voices Behind the Timbuktu Manuscripts

Meet the scholars behind these great texts

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The fame of Timbuktu’s intellectuals stretched far beyond Sudanese borders. It reached as far as Al-Azhar University in Cairo and Marrakesh, where Ahmed Baba, the greatest of Timbuktu’s scholars, established an important professorship and was known for his fatwas (religious sentences) that date from the period of his detention by the Saadi sultan.

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Ahmed Baba

Ahmed Baba was a Malian from Timbuktu. An erudite and astute scholar, his fame surpassed his humble beginnings. A jurisconsult, philosopher, historian, and biographer, he wrote several books on different themes, including slavery, tobacco consumption, and whether intention is superior to action, to name but a few.

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Mohammed Bagayogo

The writer Mohammed Bagayogo (1523–1593) was a jurisconsult skilled in all branches of Islamic law. He was righteous and devout, and undoubtedly one of those who had the most profound influence on Ahmed Baba, a writer known as Timbuktu’s greatest scholar.

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Abdullahi Dan Fodio

Abdullah Dan Fodio was born into a scholarly world and sought out knowledge wherever he was able. Founded by his older brother Usman Dan Fodio in 1804, he played a leading role in the Sokoto Caliphate alongside his nephew Muhammed Bello.

In 1812, he became emir and advocated a new method of governance based on gentleness and peace. At this time, he wrote many books on the exegesis of the Noble Quran, Sufism, and other areas affecting community life, such as human rights to education and medicine. He died in 1829.

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Abd al-Rahman Ben Abdallah Ben Imran Ben Amir al-Saadi

Abd al-Rahman Ben Abdallah Ben Imran Ben Amir al-Saadi was born on 28 May 1594 into an illustrious family of ulamas (scholars) from Timbuktu. He was the author of the manuscript Tarikh al-Sudan (History of Sudan), an account of the historical past of West Africa.

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Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥīm al-Mᾱzinī al-Gharnᾱtī al-Awqalīshī

Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥīm al-Mᾱzinī al-Gharnᾱtī al-Awqalīshī Abū Ḥᾱmid was an Arab traveler born in Granada in 1080. His travels took him to Alexandria in Egypt in 1114 and Baghdad in Iraq in 1122. Three years later, he moved to Mosul, where he met a scholar named Mu’in al-Din.

This scholar encouraged him to write about what he had seen and heard on his many trips. In response, Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥīm al-Mᾱzinī al-Gharnᾱtī al-Awqalīshī Abū Ḥᾱmid wrote the book Gift to Friends on the Elite Wonders. He died in Damascus in 1170.

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‘Usman b. Mohammed b. ‘Usman b. Fudio

‘Usman b. Mohammed b. ‘Usman b. Fudio, born in Gobir, Niger, in 1754, was a pious Muslim member of the Qadiriyya brotherhood, religious reformer, writer, and Fulani statesman, founder of the Islamic State of Sokoto. He wrote several books about Sufism and the Holy War. He died in 1817. His books on morality and tolerance in Islam make particularly fascinating reads.

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Al-Qaṣrī b. Muḥammad b. al-Mukhār b. ‘Usmān al-Walātī

Al-Qaṣrī b. Muḥammad b. al-Mukhār b. ‘Usmān al-Walātī was a great jurisconsult. He served as a judge, imam, mufti and teacher in Oualata. He wrote manuscripts on jurisprudence.

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Cerno Saadu Dalen

Cerno Saadu Dalen was undoubtedly one of the great authors of the Fouta Djallon. He wrote mainly in Arabic on the subject of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), including about inheritance, grammar, prosody, and advice. He was instrumental in mediating the conflict between the Alfaya and the Soriya, two Almami factions in the Fouta Djallon. He is still thought to have been alive in 1855–6 but died shortly afterwards

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