Muhammed Bagayogo

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“He was a source of blessing, a jurist, an accomplished scholar, a pious and ascetic man of God, who was amongst the finest of God’s righteous servants and practising scholars.”

The above is an excerpt from the 17th century chronicle, Tarikh al-Sudan, written by Abd al-Sadi. A fitting tribute to a man, renowned for his scholarship, as well as his humanity. In 16th century Timbuktu, during the time of the Songhai Empire, he was well known for his compassion, generosity – and mediation skills; revered as a man of peace.

His nisba (name) informs us that he was from the Wangara, a scholarly clan of the Soninke. Other scholastic lineages from this Mande sub-group, include the Kamaghate, Fofana and Saganago.

Muhammed Bagayogo, as he was commonly known, was mainly educated in Jenne (where he was born) and Timbuktu. To demonstrate the close connection between the leading scholarly families of Timbuktu, Muhammed Bagayogo was taught, amongst others, by Ahmad Aqit, a member of the Aqit clan – Sanhaja Berbers, of the southern Sahara; he then went on to teach the son of this teacher – Ahmed Baba, the most celebrated figure, of the Golden Age of Timbuktu.

A passionate teacher and bibliophile (his library is extant), he taught and wrote on a wide variety of subject matter, such as medicine, law, history and astronomy. He became the Imam (prayer leader) of Sidi Yayha Mosque, one of the three major madrasas (colleges for Islamic instruction), that constituted Timbuktu University; he also taught at the other two, the more well known Sankore – and Jingerber, the Friday mosque.

During his time of Hajj, while passing through Cairo, he was given a doctorate, by the ulama of Al Azhar University. He died in Timbuktu, in 1594.

The aforementioned Ahmed Baba, who considered Muhammed Bagayogo his principal teacher, said of him:

In sum he is my teacher; from no one else did I derive so much benefit…as I did from him and his books. May God shower him with mercy and recompense him with paradise.”

© Natty Mark Samuels, 2015. African School.

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