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During the early medieval period, Timbuktu was a seasonal camp of Berber nomadic tribes as they took their livestock to the Niger River during the dry season. It became a semi-permanent settlement in the twelfth century. By the fifteenth century, the settlement had become one of the most famous intellectual and commercial cities of the African continent. Salt and gold were among the precious products sought after in Timbuktu. Merchants and scholars from North Africa visited or settled in there during the second half of the fourteenth century. A number of universities were established in Timbuktu from the fifteenth century onwards. Notable among them are the following: Sankore, which was established by Sanhaja Berbers; Djingerey Bey; and the Oratory of Sidi Yahya. Their course offerings included the study of the Qur˒an, the hadith, law, theology, rhetoric, logic, prosody, and Arabic grammar. The universities of Timbuktu maintained close contact with other universities in North Africa and Egypt. They offered the same topics and recognized each other's degrees.

The two major sources of the political history of the medieval Western Sudan are the Ta˒rikh al-Sudan (History of the Black people) and the Ta˒rikh al-Fattash (History of the researcher ) were written by Timbuktu scholars: ˓Abd al-Rahman al-Sa˓di and Mahmud Ka˓ti, respectively. During the 1990s, the al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation published catalogues of thousands of manuscripts in Arabic or Ajami located in the libraries and private collections of Timbuktu. These manuscripts include scholarly works and other documents, providing crucial information on the religious social, economic, and political history of the region.

See alsoAfrica, Islam in ; Kunti, Mukhtar al-.


Hiskett, Mervyn. The Development of Islam in West Africa. London and New York: Longman, 1984.

Hunwick, John. Timbuktu and the Songhai Empire: Al-Sa˓di'sTarikh al-Sudan down to 1613 and Other Contemporary Documents. Leiden : Brill, 1999.

Ousmane Kane

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Timbuktu Town in n Mali, w Africa. It was founded by the Tuareg people in the 11th century, and soon became a centre of Muslim learning. The southern terminus of a Saharan caravan route, it later became famous throughout Europe as a market for slaves and gold. Sacked by the Moroccans in 1591, and seized by the French in 1893, its most important trading commodity today is salt. Pop. (2002 est.) 34,600.