Important Sites: The University of Timbuktu

Timbuktu, the historic city in the West African country of Mali, housed an ancient university that became known around the Islamic world. Founded in 1100 C.E., Timbuktu eventually became a center for the expansion of Islam in Africa and an intellectual and spiritual capital. The University of Timbuktu is the focus of this post, part of a series on important sites in Islam.

At its peak, Timbuktu was at the center of an important book trade. The emperor Askia Muhammad  supported the collection of thousands of manuscripts, some of which are housed in libraries to this day. The university was established around three mosques, those of Jingaray Ber, Sidi Yahya, and Sankore.

By the 12th century, there were 25,000 students. Moreover, the university attracted students and scholars from all over Africa. The greatest scholar of the university was Ahmad Baba Al Massufi, the author of over 40 books. Not only were religious studies taught at the university, but other topics were taught as well, including mathematics, geography, and history.

The University of Timbuktu is significant because it represents the Islamic interest in the pursuit of knowledge. As mentioned in earlier posts, Muslims are commanded to seek knowledge throughout their lives. It is also important because it illustrates how Islam was often spread through trade and the establishment of centers of learning, rather than by the sword.

Have you visited Timbuktu? What was your experience? Why do you think the University of Timbuktu is important? How do you think institutions like the University of Timbuktu influenced other universities? Please share your comments below.

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