“Wisdom and knowledge reside in Timbuktu”
(old West African proverb)
A 900 years ago, in the 12th century, Timbuktu was becoming one of the great centers of learning in the Islamic world. Scholars and students travelled from as far away as Cairo, Baghdad and Persia to study from the noted manuscripts found in the town. Respected scholars who taught in Timbuktu were referred to throughout North Africa as “ambassadors of peace”.
B An integral part of Timbuktu’s history was always trade – the exchange of salt that came from the hearth of Sahara. To this day, camel caravans laden with salt, also known as “the gold of the desert”, journey to Timbuktu, in present-day Mali, West Africa, where the salt is sold in the markets of Niger River towns of Mopti, Djénné and beyond.
C Accompanying the camel caravans rode the scholars of Islamic learning, bringing with them over the centuries hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. These bound texts highlighted the great teachings of Islam during the Middle Ages, on an array of subjects: astronomy, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, judicial law, government and Islamic conflict resolution. During this period of human history, when intellectual evolution was virtually at a standstill in most of Europe, within the Muslin world Islamic study was growing, evolving and breaking new grounds in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy, law and philosophy.
D By the 1300s, the “ambassadors of peace” centered around the University of Timbuktu created scholastic campuses and religious schools of learning that travelled between the cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Djénné, helping to serve as a model of peaceful governance throughout a region that was often the scene of tribal conflict. At its peak, over 25,000 students attended the University of Timbuktu.
E By the beginning of 1600s, however, partly because of invasions, the scholars of Timbuktu had slowly begun to drift away and study elsewhere. As a result, the city’s sacred manuscripts started to fall into disrepair. While Islamic teaching there continued for another 300 years, scholastic study fell of sharply with the French colonization of the region in the late 1890s.
F In mud homes down sand-filled alleyways lie private collections of sacred manuscripts that date back hundreds of years. The Ahmed Baba Research Centre houses the largest collection. Some scholars estimate that there are over 700,000 manuscripts housed in numerous collections in Timbuktu.
G With the pressures of poverty and a series of droughts, many manuscripts have been sold illegally to private collectors abroad. However, through the efforts of the Timbuktu Heritage Institute, the manuscripts of Timbuktu are beginning to be re-catalogued, preserved and protected against theft.
H Today, Timbuktu, designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), lies at a crossroads. Its rich legacy of sacred manuscripts could possess a treasure chest of African history.
Which paragraph (A-H) contains the following information? You may use any letter more than once.