The name SANKORE’ is taken from one of Black Africa’s oldest educational institutions located in the ancient city of Timbuktu. In the 15th century Timbuktu, in general, and the Sankore’ University/Mosque complex, in particular, was the religious, scientific and literary center of the Bilad’s-Sudan. The University of Sankore’ was the intellectual magnet where pious scholars were drawn from all over the Muslim world.
In the mosque there lived and taught the murabit, a scholar who by his profound knowledge of the shari`a, his learning and the dignity of his personal life became a model to society. This devout and cultured group lived within or around the precincts of the Sankore’ University/Mosque disseminating the teachings of al-Islam and providing the people of the government with highly sought after legal decisions. These scholar/notables were held in great esteem by both dignitaries and common people alike. Their knowledge astounded the most learned people of al-Islam. Because of them, pupils flocked to this university from all regions of the Muslim world.
To the government of Islamic Africa, the Sankore’ University/Mosque supplied generations of administrators, judges and functionaries of the state. To the wider community, the university furnished teachers, men of religion, jurist and a class of merchants, notaries and clerks. There emerged within the vicinity of the Sankore’ University/Mosque complex scholarly guilds who combined the teaching of `ilm with the transmission of professional vocation.
There were the Alfa guilds responsible for the transmission of the craft of scribe, tailoring and embroidery. There were the Arma guilds responsible for the transmission of tanning and leather work. There were the Modibe’ guilds responsible for the transmission of city planning, architecture, masjid construction and the important craft of grave digging (malu). They also supervised the gabibi guild of masons (soro banna), carpentry and smithing (diamouasi). Among these respected and venerated modibe’ scholar/master builders was the erudite chief judge of Timbuktu, al-Qadi al-Aqib ibn Mahmud ibn Umar who built the Sankore’ University/Mosque. He accomplished this with the financial assistance of a wealthy African woman who left a generous endowment for the founding and building of the famous educational center.
Shaykh Mahmud Ka`ti described the process and building codes utilized for the building of Sankore’ in his Tareekh ‘l-Fataash, “Al-Qadi Aqib made the pilgrimage . . .in the year 989 he began building the Sankore’ mosque, may Allah be merciful to him. I was informed by one of the shaykhs, ‘When he made the pilgrimage and prepared to take leave to return to Timbuktu, he took authorization from the attendants of the noble Kaaba to delineate the measurement of the Kaaba in length and breadth.
They gave him permission and he measured it with a long cord measuring the length and breadth by marking these on the cord. He then brought this cord back to Timbuktu to serve as proportions. When he was ready to build the Sankore’ Mosque, he unrolled the cord and delineated the exact breadth he wanted to build by placing four pegs planted on the corners of the four directions. Thus the inner court of the mosque had the exact dimensions of the Kaaba. It is not deficient nor does it exceed it in any way.
In short, the products of this religious and educational institution became the leaders of society in all its spheres of activity. The Sankore’ University was the symbol of the spirit of the society, the guardian of its morals and the formulator of its hopes and aspirations.
The Sankore’ Institute of Islamic-African Studies International was first conceived December 15, 1985, in the Republic of Sudan as the result of conversations between the present Sultan of Maiurno al-Hajj Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Bello Maiurno ibn Attahiru ibn Ahmad Zuruku ibn Abu Bakr Attiku ibn Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio, our shaykh, Imam Muhammad al-Amin ibn Adam Karagh, Ahmad Abideen Hassan and the founding director Muhammad Shareef.
The sultan gave written authorization and commissioned S.I.I.A.S.I. to collect the Arabic and Ajami manuscripts of the Sokoto Caliphate from northern Nigeria and convey them to the town of Maiurno in order to be edited and republished to provide capital for the public amenities and the general welfare of the people. As a result trips were made to Chad, Northern Nigeria, Mali to collect and copy old manuscripts relevent to the Islamic heritage of the Bilad ‘s-Sudan. Later the Sultan al-Hajj Abu Bakr and the Imam Muhammad al-Amin gave written authorization for S.I.I.A.S.I. to translate these works into English and disseminate these works among the Muslims of the United States.
To date S.I.I.A.S.I. has collected 3000 Arabic manuscripts and 123 Ajami manuscripts (Fulbe’, Hausa, Wolof and Mande’). Of these, more than 89 have been translated and published by the institute. Classes utilizing the works published by the institute have been established in the cities of Houston, Atlanta, Compton, Los Angeles and Oakland. Presently in two correctional institutions in California the S.I.I.A.S.I. curriculum is being taught to some 400 Muslim inmates. In 1992 the S.I.I.A.S.I. was officially made a research organization of IHRAAM (the International Human Rights Association for American Minorities), the only non-governmental organization that represents American national minorities in the United Nations.
Our teacher, the late Waziri of Sokoto, Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari once said, “Knowledge is universal and eternal but it has a social and cultural stamp. It also has a purpose and a commitment to a particular world view. It therefore cannot be neutral.” History has shown that African Muslims around the world have been branded and stamped with a social and cultural stamp which not their own. The world view that they now share is completely alien to them.
Waziri Junayd also said in his book called Nayl ‘l-Arab Fi Istifsaa’i ‘n-Nasab
“Whoever does not inform his children of his grandfathers then has destroyed his child, marred his descendants, and injured his offspring the day he dies.
Whoever does not make use of his ancestry, then he has muddled his reason
Whoever is not concerned with his descent, then he has lost his mind.
Whoever neglects his origin, then his stupidity has become critical
Whoever does not know his roots, then his idiocy has become great.
Whoever does not cause his ancestry to be abundant then his opinion has become corrupted.
Whoever is ignorant of his lineage then his intellect has dissipated.
Whoever does not increase his place of descent, then he has abolished his honor.”
Although this searing poem was originally composed more than 500 years ago, it accurately describes the psychosis suffered by Africans the world over, especially the Africans in the United States and the western hemisphere. The above poem by our Muslim ancestors foretold our sickness and the work of the Sankore’ Institute of Islamic-African Studies International will help (Allah willing) calculate the cure. The overall aims of the institute is to rediscover the authentic purpose, commitment and particular world view of Islamic Africa and to revive the learning which gave it its unique social and cultural stamp. In short, the Sankore’ Institute is, with the help of Allah ta`ala, preserving and extending the intellectual heritage of the ancient Sankore’ University/Mosque of the 15th century – making this legacy viable for the electronic age for the Muslims of Africa, America and the world.
Shaykh Muhammad Shareef