The popular statement, " From here to Timbuktu." conjures up images of remote, isolated and distant parts of this earth. Very few people are aware of this ancient city's location, and fewer still ascribe any kind of civilization to this historic area. Timbuktu is located in the western African nation of Mali at the edge of the Sahara.
Timbuktu was founded by the Tuareg Imashagan in the 11th century. Whenever it started raining in the desert, the Turareg will leave their heavy goods with an old Tuareg women called Tin Abutut who stayed at the well. In the Tuareg language, Tin Abutut means "the lady with the big naval". With the passage time, the name Tin Abutut became Timbuktu.
By the 12th century, Timbuktu became a celebrated center of Islamic learning and a commercial establishment. Timbuktu had three universities and 180 Quranic schools. These universities were the Sankore University, Jingaray Ber University and Sidi Yahya University. This was the golden age of Africa. Books were not only written in Timbuktu, but they were also imported and copied there. There was an advanced local book copying industry in the city. The universities and private libraries contained unparalleled scholarly works. The famous scholar of Timbuktu Ahmad Baba who was among those forcibly exiled in Morocco claimed that his library of 1600 books had been plundered, and that his library, according to him, was one of the smaller in the city.
The booming economy of Timbuktu attracted the attention of the Emperor of Mali, Mansa Musa (1307-1332) also known as “Kan Kan Musa.” He captured the city in 1325. As a Muslim, Mansa Musa was impressed with the Islamic legacy of Timbuktu. On his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought with him an Egyptian architect by the name of Abu Es Haq Es Saheli. The architect was paid 200kg of gold to built Jingaray Ber or, the Friday Prayers Mosque. Mansa Musa also built a royal palace (or Madugu) in Timbuktu, another Mosque in Djenné and a great mosque in Gao (1324-1325). Today only the foundation of the mosque built in Gao exists. That is why there is an urgent need to restore and protect the mosques that remain in Djenné and Timbuktu..
In 1893, with the colonization of West Africa by France, Timbuktu was brought under the French rule until Mali received her independence in 1960. To this day, many manuscripts originating from Timbuktu can be found in French museums and universities.
The manuscripts of Timbuktu cover diverse subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, Islamic sciences, history, geography, the traditions of The Prophet peace be upon him, government legislation and treaties, jurisprudence and much more.
Today, this entire African intellectual legacy is on the verge of being lost. The brittle condition of the manuscripts i.e. pages disintegrate easily like ashes, the termites, insects, weather, piracy of the manuscripts, and the selling of these treasures to tourists for food money pose a serious threat to the future of the manuscripts of Timbuktu.