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Religion and Philosophy: Ahmad Baba

500-1590: Religion and Philosophy: Ahmad Baba




Scholar and Book Collector. Born to a prominent family near Timbuktu, Ahmad Baba was educated there in Islamic theology and religious law. During his lifetime he wrote more than fifty-six books on those subjects, as well as history and Arabic grammar. About half of his works have survived, and some are still used by Islamic scholars. Ahmad Baba was also a book collector and had a personal library that included several thousand volumes. Because it was home to Ahmad Baba and other great scholars, Timbuktu was considered a major center of learning, not just in the Songhai Empire but throughout the Islamic world.

The Moroccan Invasion. When the Moroccans conquered the Songhai Empire and took Timbuktu in 1591, Ahmad Baba and other scholars in the city refused allegiance to the invaders. In 1593 he and other prominent people of the city are said to have instigated a rebellion, and the following year, they were deported to Marrakech, the capital of Morocco. The Moroccans also confiscated books from several scholars’ libraries, including some 1,600 belonging to Ahmad Baba.

Exile. While in Marrakech, Ahmad Baba was allowed to write and practice law. Among the books he wrote there was a biographical dictionary of well-known jurists in the Maliki school of Islamic law, which is still considered a valuable historical source. Around 1607 he was allowed to return to Timbuktu.

Final Years. After returning home, Ahmad Baba wrote a catalogue of West African peoples practicing Islam and traditional religions, an important contribution to the religious history of the region. He also wrote an Arabic grammar book, which is still used in some parts of northern Nigeria.


“Ahmad Baba,” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online <http:/>.

Elizabeth Heath, “Ahmad Baba,” in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), pp. 53-54.

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