Kunti, Mukhtar Al- (1729–1811)

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KUNTI, MUKHTAR AL- (1729–1811)

Al-Shaykh Sidi-Mukhtar al-Kabir al-Kunti was born in 1729 near Arawan north of Timbuktu. He was a descendant of a highly ramified Arabic-speaking tribe, the Kunta, that has become widely dispersed over the Southern Sahara, from Mauritania to the Adrar-n-Ifoghas in Eastern Mali and beyond. The Kunta tribe claims descent from noble origins, specifically from the celebrated Qurashite Muslim commander ˓Uqba b. Nafi˓ al-Fihri, who was the stepbrother of ˓Amr b. al-˓As al-Sahmi, the first governor of Muslim Egypt.

According to the so-called ta˒rikh, Kunta Sidi ˓Ali, a descendant of ˓Uqba b. Nafi˓, married the daughter of Muhammad b. Kunta b. Zazam, who was chief of the Ibdukal (also called Abdukal), a subgroup of the Lamtuna Berbers, allegedly in the early fifteenth century. Their son, Muhammad, married into another Lamtuna group, as did also his son, Ahmad al-Bakka˒i. Ahmad al-Bakka˒i then had three sons of his own, from whom all the later branches of the Kunta were derived.

After the death of Sidi Ahmad-al Bakka˒i in the second half of the sixteenth century, a quarrel broke out between two of his sons, which is said to have caused the Kunta to split into two groups. The Western Kunta lived in and around the Hawd, today the southern part of Mauritania, and the Eastern Kunta lived in and around Azwad, the area of the Sahara immediately southwest of Tadmakkat.

While a young man, Sidi al-Mukhtar gained a wide reputation as greatly gifted, intellectually, and as an outstanding Muslim scholar. When only twenty-five years old he was given the title of Shaykh al-tariqa al-Qadiriyya, making him a spiritual leader within the Qadiri order of Sufis. In this position he attracted many students, who came to study in the zawiya he established at al-Hilla in Azwad. His camp at al Hilla rapidly became not only the center of studying the Qadiriyya teachings, but also the center from which a new Qadiri suborder was spread throughout the Sahara regions. This new suborder bore the name of Sidi al-Mukhtar, and its followers came to be known as al-Mukhtariyya.

Al-Kunti achieved a high degree of social and political influence among the active political players in the Sahara arena. He succeeded in healing the rift between the eastern and western branches of the Kunta, and he did much to help conclude a peaceful settlement between the Tuareg chiefs and Arab warrior groups in the area. He also mediated between the leadership of the city of Timbuktu and the Tuaregs, who were known to harass that city on several occasions, most notably in 1770–1771, when a siege of the town was lifted only after his intervention.

Al-Kunti furthered the use of peaceful means in spreading the Islamic faith among infidel groups in the Sahara. He also adopted tender and graceful methods for preaching and for the propagation of the Qadiriyya order, but although he restricted himself to this moderate approach, he nonetheless expressed his approval of the militant jihad employed by ˓Uthman dan Fodio in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Shaykh Sidi al-Mukhtar proclaimed himself a regenerator (mujaddid); in fact, he claimed to be the sole regenerator of the thirteenth century of the hijra.

Shaykh Sidi al-Mukhtar the Great died in 1811. His son, Sidi Muhammad (1765–1826), inherited his position as the Shaykh and leader of the Mukhtarriyya-Qadiriyya suborder. The wird, a phrase-patterned devotion used by the Mukhtarriyya order, became widely propagated in south Mauritania and in Hausaland in northern Nigeria, by the successive shaykhs of the Kunta tribe.

See alsoAfrica, Islam in ; Tariqa ; Tassawuf ; Timbuktu .


Batran, A. A. "The Kunta, Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti and the Office of Shaykh al-Tariqa al-Qadiriyya." In Vol. 1, Studies in West African Islamic History, Edited by J. R. Willis. London: F. Cass, 1979.

Clarke, Peter B. West Africa and Islam. London: E. Arnold, 1984.

Hisklett, Marvin. The Devolopment of Islam in West Africa. London and New York: Longman, 1984.

Levtzion, Nehemiah. Muslims and Chiefs in West Africa. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1968.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. A History of Islam in West Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Khalil Athamina