AFRICANGLOBE – For centuries Timbuktu has housed ancient manuscripts detailing the Afro-Islamic contributions to society, academia and civilisation. But last week the historic teachings and readings held in the Ahmed Baba centre came under threat when jihadist group Ansar Dine took destroying the library as they fled advancing international forces led by France.
The group, whose name means “helpers of the (Islamic) religion” or “defenders of the faith” in Arabic, set ablaze a state-of-the-art library that conserved the brittle, camel-hide bound manuscripts of which some date back as far as the 9th century.
The United Nations had designated these Afro intellectual treasures and centuries-old mud-walled buildings including an iconic mosque built with Dogon architecture, a World Heritage Site. This center of African learning predates the European Renaissance.
The library held about 2,000 manuscripts in Arabic and African languages covering subjects ranging from science, astrology and medicine to history, theology, grammar and geography.
Some 28,000 had been transported to the country’s capital, Bamako, when the insurgents first captured Timbuktu last year.
The majority of the 300,000 or so texts based in Timbuktu were safely secured in other locations across and around the city.
Protesting against the “destruction and vandalising of ancient manuscripts kept in the Ahmed Baba Institute of Timbuktu” African intellectuals meeting in Dakar for the Afrika Nko Symposium to discuss “the African Library” said in a statement that “it is an attack against memory, against the human spirit, against African being, and against the whole of humanity”.
The International Criminal Court at The Hague has since described the destruction of Timbuktu’s heritage as a possible war crime.
Many are at a loss as to why the “helpers of the Islamic religion” or “defenders of the faith” would destroy manuscripts 900 years old, which Michael Covitt, chairman of the Malian Manuscript Foundation, has called “the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls”.
Before Timbuktu’s take over by jihadists, the city represented a place where people from different races and creeds could live together harmoniously.
Ansar Dine seeks to convert Mali into a rigid Arab-style theocracy.
The group had imposed sharia law in the country’s northern parts of Mali though French and Malian troops have since taken control of the town to the reported celebration of the locals.
Many arguments about the burning of the manuscripts have since emerged with some analysts suggesting that Ansar Dine set the scrolls ablaze because they were losing ground in the city.
Others say that one wing of the rebel group had split off to create its own movement to negotiate a solution to the crisis in Mali, leaving the more radical members to burn down the library in frustration.
Whatever the reasoning behind the obliteration of a rich body of historical documents, the effects of these actions on the reputation of Islam is left to be seen.
By; Konye Obaji Ori