It should be pretty obvious why I didn't previously post this image, as it is not particularly eye catching, but as it turns out, it helps explain why Ansar Dine is destroying so many of the religious icons of Timbuktu.
Apparently Timbuktu considers itself the "city of 333 saints", something I never realized while there, nor came across in all the reading I subsequently did. But today, Timbuktu is all over the news as a city of saints and here it is, unbeknownst to me, on one of my photos, written in bold letters at the Timbuktu welcome center.
Facts are sketchy but some say that Timbuktu, a great center of Islamic scholarship in the 14th to 16th centuries, was greatly influenced by the Sufi saints who helped bring Islam to this part of the world. It should be noted that Islam primarily spread in two ways – by Arab invasions and by the teaching of wandering Sufi religious figures. Sufis tend to practice a more mystical version of Islam that sometimes contains pre-Islamic elements. For this reason, orthodox practitioners of Islam, such as the Salafist Ansar Dine, have traditionally despised the Sufis. In this vein, the Ansar Dine are destroying the mausoleums and shrines of the 333 Sufi saints that rest in Timbuktu.
Whether the Ansar Dine's motivations are truly religious is questionable but meanwhile, an important part of history is being lost – not just for Timbuktu or for Africa, but for all of us.
Explore #79 on July 3, 2012