The first settlers in Timbuktu were the Kel Tamasheq tribes and the merchants of the Jenne tribes. The destruction of the Ghanaian empire by King Sosso caused a mass exodus of scholars to flood Timbuktu. Because of this, Timbuktu became known as the divine city- a place of knowledge, trade, and hospitality. The scholars of Timbuktu were said to all possess the same divine qualities: they all managed to combine the practices of the Qur’an and Hadith commands with the sciences of the purification of the heart and soul. The city of Timbuktu was blessed with at least 333 scholars all of whom adhered to righteousness, piety, self-denial, truth, sincerity, among other amiable characteristics.
Timbuktu’s booming economy attracted the attention of the Emperor of Mali, Mansa Mussa. Impressed with the Islamic heritage in the city, Mansa Mussa paid an Egyptian architect 200kg worth of gold to build a mosque for worshippers and a royal palace for himself in Timbuktu. The scholars of Timbuktu amassed so much knowledge within the city that even the Arab scholars invited to Timbuktu were unqualified to debate against the scholars residing within the city. Some of the scholars included Sheik Sidi Abu Al Barakaat Mahmud ibn Umar ibn Aqui, Supreme Judge of Timbuktu and the Imam and Dean of Sankore University, Modibo Mohammad Al Kaburi, a Fulani Jurist and Judge who developed the curriculum at Sankore Univerisity, and Abd Arahman Ag Mohammad ibn Utman, a Tuareg scholar who was also a learned professor. Many of the scholars helped develop the intellectual and spiritual power of the city Timbuktu.
Learn more here: Scholars of Timbuktu
The photograph by Brent Stirton, Getty Images, National Geographic