|Saving Timbuktu Islamic Heritage|
|Wednesday, 06 February 2008 17:30|
Thanks to a South African initiative, the rich history of the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu will be preserved and made available to visiting researchers and tourists alike.
"The manuscripts are our heritage," Abdel Kader Haidara, the curator of the Mamma Haidara Manuscript Library, the largest of more than 20 private libraries in the city, told The Christian Science Monitor on Tuesday, February 5.
"They have been passed from generation to generation. They are the history of Africa, the history of mankind."
South Africa is allocating $8 million to preserve more than 100,000 manuscripts that can be found on shelves and in boxes in Timbuktu.
The sum is being used to construct a new library and research center to keep the priceless manuscripts, threatened by harsh environment, family neglect and lack of preservation in the world's fifth poorest country.
"Normally funding comes in from aid organizations from the West," notes Riason Naidoo, the South African project manager for the new library.
"The difference with this project is that Africans are collaborating to preserve their own heritage for future prosperity."
The manuscripts, some a thousand years old, are in Arabic and African languages.
Written on paper, tanned gazelle skin, or tree bark, they cover history, medicine, law, human rights, astronomy, philosophy, conflict resolution and literature.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has described the manuscripts as being "among the most important cultural treasures in Africa."
The preservation project is supported by the Pan-African New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
The manuscripts provide a rare glimpse into a pre-colonial African history of intellectual endeavor.
"It is often thought that there was no writing in Africa but the manuscripts prove otherwise," says Mohamed Gallah Dicko, director-general of the Ahmed Baba Institute, named after Timbuktu's leading 15th-century scholar.
"Before and during our colonization there was writing."
He asserts that the centuries-old manuscripts reveal the true image of a much-demonized Islam.
"Here in Timbuktu there is no militant Islam, it is peaceful.
"Look across the road, there is a Catholic church! We all live together. In the [Western] world outside, 'Islam' is a dirty word. But not here. Here there is mutual respect."
Nestled between the Niger River and the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a thriving crossroads for trade in gold, salt, and slaves.
It was also a center for the spread of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Timbuktu's long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is scholarship.
By the fourteenth century, important books were written and copied in Timbuktu, establishing the city as the center of a significant written tradition in Africa.
Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahya, compose the famous University of Timbuktu and stand witness to the rich history of Timbuctu.
Muslims make up more than 90 percent of Mali's nearly 12 million population.
HEYET Net- Islamonline