The Response of Ahmad al-Bakayi to the Letter of Amir Ahmad, Ruler of Massinah


Timbuktu (present-day Tombouctou in Mali), founded around 1100 as a commercial center for trade across the Sahara Desert, was also an important seat of Islamic learning from the 14th century onward. The libraries there contain many important manuscripts, in different styles of Arabic scripts, which were written and copied by Timbuktu’s scribes and scholars. These works constitute the city’s most famous and long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization. This document is a reply to the ruler of Massinah (present-day Macina), Amir Ahmad, who ordered the arrest of the noted German explorer Heinrich Barth (1821–65), who was suspected of spying for the British. There are two copies of the work: a shorter version, and a longer version, which incorporates information not given in the shorter. Shown here is the shorter version. The author of the reply cites Islamic law in arguing that the arrest is illegal and declines to obey the amir. The scholar states that a non-Muslim entering the domain of Muslims in peace is protected and may not be arrested, have his property confiscated, or to be otherwise hindered.

Last updated: April 28, 2015