05 October 2005

O My Lord, Increase me in my knowledge!

As promised after my dinner with the President last week, I have done some reading on the Timbuktu manuscripts. You often hear the expression ‘Go to Timbuktu’, referring to a place that is difficult or impossible to reach, a mirage of the imagination, a place that is not real, just a fairy tale, mythical destination!
But since the 12th century, Timbuktu, in current day Mali, was a centre of trade and Islamic learning- scholars and students from as far away as Baghdad and Cairo to study from the renowned manuscripts found in Timbuktu. Yet since the 1800s, the city's importance had declined, drifting to the sandy edges of the Sahara desert and into the imaginations of Western minds…

These bound texts highlighted the great teachings of Islam during the Middle Ages, covering an array of subjects such as astronomy, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, judicial law, government and conflict resolution. Islamic study during this period of human history was growing, evolving and breaking new ground in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy, law, and philosophy while the intellectual evolution had stalled in the rest of Europe!

By the 1300s the University of Timbuktu created roving scholastic campuses and schools of learning that travelled between the cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djénné, helping to serve as a model of peaceful governance throughout an often conflict-riddled tribal region. At its peak, over 25 000 students, in a city of 100 000 people, attended the University of Timbuktu.

Over time, with invasions and the drifting of scholars to other centres of learning, the city’s manuscripts fell into a state of disrepair, the biggest decline occurring with the French colonization in the late 1890’s. With the resultant pressures of poverty, a series of droughts, and a civil war the manuscripts had began disappearing into the black market where they were sold to private and university collections in Europe and the United States.

Today there are still an estimated 700 000 endangered manuscripts in Timbuktu and its surroundings, a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilization in Sub-Saharan Africa, which if not preserved, translated and studied, will be lost forever! I believe that it is truly admirable of our President to have initiated the project to preserve the manuscripts- however; there is still the need for true scholars to begin translating and studying these great works…
I have place Timbuktu on my ‘Places to visit as soon as I get more leave’ List! Anyone up for a trip?

Istiyaq Shukri, author of the Silent Minaret, winner of the EU literary award, and travelling companion on our recent trip to Palestine, was here on a tour for his book- read parts of it and spoke a bit about our trip at Wits and in Newtown. His book, a fictional story that ended in the Palestinian town of Qalqilyah (the same town that our trip ended in!), has received rave reviews all over. I personally don’t feel it’s healthy to mix fact and fiction, but not having read the book yet, maybe he has been able to not allow the reader to blur the two… Will get back to you once I have read the book!

30 Tonnes of groceries- rice, meali meal, can food, etc…
At least 30km- from Mayfair to Vlakfontein, Soweto, Lenz South, etc…
Yup- it was hectic! Feel sorry for those who imagined hamper distribution would have been smiling at some aunty and giving her a packet of groceries! But also, while I pray that Allah rewards all those you assisted, just giving hand outs is not the be all and end all- people are suffering and they need to be empowered so that they can change the doomed path of their lives. And even the environment is against them now- the economic environment; the theory of economics states that under an interest based, capitalistic system, the poor will get poorer and the rich get richer!

The anti-capitalist, at a “Entrepreneurial Networking Event”, and the leftist at “Shukri’s Farewell”, in my mind both seem very similar- the former against the system because it restricts his passion and creativity, and the latter against the very same system because it restricts his thought and progress of the masses he ‘represents’- but both seem to be fighting a losing battle, because the system appeals to every man’s modern day acceptable desires!

Keep all your fasts, pray all your Taraweehs, and make lotsa dua for the entire Ummah! Also, while you find that you have more time on your hands due to the TV/social life/etc taking a back seat for a while, try to sit down and collate the thoughts that are going through your head, construct them into readable sentences and email to me as soon as possible for publication in the next annual National Magazine- written for the youth by the youth…

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