The 333 Saints of Timbuktu

By: Miranda Dodd

The legend says and there is a wide spread and popular belief that there are 333 saints or Awliyya (Friends of Allah) buried in the fabled city of Timbuktu in Mali. Knowledge of their names and history is now incomplete. So we may not account them all today.But the widespread generation to generation transmission of their numbers attests to an actual count of 333 saints or a large number of Awliyya (Saints) who once lived and are buried in Timbuktu. The following is an article authored by an American blogger named Miranda Dodd who made Timbuktu her home with slight adaptations. (ISRA Nexus)

Grand Mosque Djingere Ber

In July 2012, Islamists of the Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) destroyed two tombs at the Djingareyber mosque.[6] Using “hoes, pick-axes and chisels, they hammered away at the two earthen tombs until they were completely destroyed”.

Are there really 333? Why that number exactly? Who are they? These are not easy questions to answer. In fact many of the answers surrounding these saints are unknown, lost in history. I have been assured that there really are 333, but why that number and no more nor less? Others say that in fact there are many more; 333 is a symbolic number and represents the greatest of the saints. For every great saint there are several lesser ones now completely forgotten or unknown.

What made someone a saint? Exceptional wisdom, kindness, scholarship, and generosity. Many of the great scholars and imams have been named saints, but not all. There are many non-saints that are still remembered and respected as great imams or scholars. One thing that distinguishes saints from other great men is the performance of miracles.

Shindouk and some others of the most learned men in Timbuktu have been able to tell me where many of the 333 are buried, and can list a fair number of their names and stories, but not all.

40: Diamune Hanane Cemetery just north of the petit marche.

40: Unenclosed cemetery to the NE of town past the Sidi Mohamed Cemetery, near the Orange cell tower.

42: 40 plus a set of twins who were given sainthood when killed by falling material during the construction of the mosque: Djingere Ber mosque.

3 : Cemetery of Three Saints on the SW corner of town behind the military camp : Shaikh Sidi Ahmed Ben Amar and 2 others

2 : Sidi Mohamed Cemetery NE corner of Abaradiou quartier: Sidi Mohamed and Moulaye Arby

2 : Boucou and one other are buried in the cemetery carrying his name

1 : Sankore mosque In fact an unknown number of saints are said to be buried here; only one is known.

1 : Sidi Yaha is buried in his mosque, also an unknown number of other saints.

1 : Sidi el Wafie is in the cemetery carrying his name 1 : Alfa Moya is in his cemetery 1 : Between the homes of Rene Caillié and Gordon Lang 1 : In front of the home of Gordon Lang 1 : Between Henrich Barth’s house and the Sidi Yahya mosque: Mahamad Baragha 1 : Between the Carpenters after Henrich Barth and the Tidjania Aferu Ber Mosque 1 : In front of the Direction Régional de Jeunesse near the post office 1 : The shadow of the old water tower. 1 : Behind the east wall of the Palais du Justice 1 : In the Military Camp 1 : On the road between the entry to town and the airport road 4 : In Kabara, Timbuktu’s former port town.

Here are the stories of a few of the prominent ones:

Abu Alkassim Attouatti (Abou-‘l Qâsem et-Touati)

Abu al-Kassin at-Toutti was an Imam of the grand Mosque Djingere Ber, only a small path separated his home from the mosque. He was the one who instituted the celebration of Maouloud (the birth of the Prophet Mohamed) in Timbuktu. He was a great mystic and consecrated his life to the faith and the creation of pious acts: complete reading of the Koran on Fridays, creation of a cemetery around the mosque. He is most famous for always having dates and bread in his pockets which he distributed to Koranic students. No mater the time of day or the amount he already gave he would still have some to give to the next person. And the bread was always hot and fresh. Another well known event is that one day when he went to the mosque to pray and at the end of the prayer his boubou was all wet. His companions asked him how he managed to get so wet while praying. He explained that a priogue had capsized in lake Debo and one of the drowning men called out to be saved in the name of God and his saints. God sent him to save the men. He died in 1528-29 (935 Islamic year) at the age of 33. Sidi Mahmoud presided over his burial in the new cemetery. His tomb is located 100m to the west of town.

Ahmed Baba Ed-Doudani

Son of Alhadji Ahmadou, Ahmad Baba’s tomb lies between that of his father and the mausoleum of his uncle Sidi Mahoud. A veritable well of science, Ahmed Baba is one of the most well known and greatest scholars of Timbuktu and left a colossal and varied work behind him. His works include commentaries on the “kalil” and on the hadiths, praises of the Prophet, books of history, and much more. Like his uncle Ahmed Baba is credited with many spectacular miracles. On famous one took place during his detention in Marrakesh. During the course of a discussion between himself and some learned Moroccans, Ahmed Baba caused a book from Timbuktu to appear at the moment he needed it. It was a book that gave the definitive verdict that was to resolve their disagreement. His adversaries saw a woman’s hand appear and offer the desired volume. Ahmed Baba died in 1631 (1035) at the age of 73 years shortly after being liberated to return to Timbuktu.

Alfa Moya Lamtouni

A great Saint and great philosopher Alfa Moya had many disciples. He was assassinated along with ten other saints in 1605 (1010) by Spanish troupes of the Jaouder who came from Andalusia. He was 55 when he died. His tomb is located east of town.

Alhadi Ahmadou

Al-hadji Ahmadu was a jurisconsultant. Some sources would have him be the German cousin of Sidi Mahmoud. The Tarikh es-Sudan names him as brother to both Sidi Mahmoud and another jurisconsultant Abdallah. It states that “Ahmed was a saint, Mohammed was a saint, Abdallah was a saint” and gives his lineages as Al-hadji Ahmed ben Oumar ben Mohammed-Aquit ben Oumar ben Ali ben Yahia ben Godala and states that he was buried about 100m from the mausoleum of this last.

Amar Ben Mahammed Aquit

The Father of Sidi Mahoud, was also a great Saint. He died in Oualata where he emigrated to escape persecution by Sonni Ali-Ber. The Tarikh al Fettach as well as the Tarikh es-Sudan describe his deboirs with the Touregs and with Sonni Ali-Ber and the consciences of his flight, frightened by the Songai King’s reputation, to Oualata at the time of Timbuktu’s conquest, even though it was Amar himself who had called him for help.

Cheikh Sidi El Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mohammed

Other wise known as Sidi Kiyar, he was a great saint of Timbuktu and great Philosopher. He knew Henrich Barth during his passage through Timbuktu. He died at age 80 around 1853.

Djamane Hana

is an ancient mosque whose construction dates to 1542-43. There are forty saints buried here. It is found to the North of the Petit Marche. One side abuts the paved road.

El Imam Ismail

Originally from Djenne, Ismail came to Timbuktu to take a rest and visit the town. Unfortunately he never arrived. He died three kilometers from town. When there is a serious drought in Timbuktu all the imams, muezzins, learned men and other great personages gather toeghter to pray to God for water. They go to each mosque and the tombs of the saints and finish by going to Ismail’s tomb 3km from town. When they finish the prayer here rain invariable follows. There are living today people who have assisted at this ceremony who swear to its authenticity.

Mohammed Aquit

Mohammed Aquit was the grandfather of the famous Sidi Mahmoud. He lived in Macina. After a misunderstanding with the Peuls of Macina in a question of marriage, he moved to Oualata. He wanted to establish himself in Timbuktu but it was under the reigne of chief Tengueredjef Akil, his enemy. He did not dare enter the city so he installed himself between Birou and Raz el-ma. His friend the grandfather of Masira-Anda Oumar, the jurisconsultant negotiated with the Tuareg chief Akil so that he and his large family could move to Timbuktu. He is buried about 100 m to the north of Sidi Mahmoud’s tomb.

Mohammed el-Micki

Sidi Mohammed el-Micki was very pious and could easily go three days neither eating nor drinking. He died at the age of 80 in the year 1844. His tomb is about 30 m to the south of the Abu-Kassin.

Sidi Yahya

Djingere Ber was, for a long time, the only mosque in Timbuktu. When Sankore was first built it was not a mosque but a center of learning, a university. So all the great scholars had to leave the university, cross the river, which at the time cut through the area in order to go pray at Djingere Ber. One man had a dream in which the prophet appeared to him and told him to construct a second mosque halfway between the Mosque and the University.

As in Muslim tradition anything that comes via the prophet Mohamed in a vision or dream etc. is considered to be from God Himself, and should be heeded. So they constructed the mosque. The question remained who would serve as Imam? The most learned among them said well, if this is truly the design of God, the Imam will come without our interference. So they shut the mosque and locked it.

A few months later a man from Oualata, in Mauritania, showed up in front of the Mosque and asked for the keys. The neighbors to the mosque gave him the key and he opened the mosque and went in. He said his prayers and sat and began reading the Koran. Sidi Yahya, the imam, had arrived.

He since performed many miracles:

Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar Ben Mahammad

According to tradition the Cadi Sidi Mahmoud belonged to a Berber tribe of the Godala. His ancesters moved to Timbuktu after living in Macina and then Oualata. He was born in 1463 or 1464 and was named Cadi in 1498 or 99 and he died in 1548. Sidi Mahmoud was Ahmed Baba’s great uncle. The Tarikh (histories) of Timbuktu attributed him with numerous legends. His tomb is a place of pilgrimage and his descendants count many scholars.

Muhamed Baghyogo

He was Ahmed Baba’s instructor, most famous for the following legend: when Ahmed Baba was in exile in Morocco he ended up teaching and advising many people there. Someone made reference to his being the most knowledgeable person and in his modesty he declined the honors saying it went instead to his teacher. When asked the name of this erudite he gave it. According to legend Muhamed Baghyogo in Timbuktu sat up in his yard where he was surrounded by young scholars and said Ahmed Baba sold me to the Moroccans. They will come here to seek me but will never find me. Sure enough the Moroccans did come seeking him out, but the day they entered town by the north Muhamed Baghyogo was leaving it by the south. He was on his way to his funeral, so the Moroccans never did find him. He is buried today …

Sane Haji

This is the first saint venerated in Timbuktu. He was born in Timbutku in 868 of the Hegire (1490). He had four sons who were well educated and wrote several books. It is said of Sidi Mohammed that at the burial of his brother al-Hadji Ahmadou, he remained prostrate during the presentation of condolences. When he regained control of his faculties he excused his muteness explaining that he was following the soul of his cousin all the way till he was delivered to the angels. He died in 956 and was buried about 150m north of town.

Sidi Ahmed ben Raggadi

Sidi Ahmed was a great philosopher. He had numerous disciples who were very well educated. He died in 1718 at the age of 85. His tomb is 100 m west of town.

Mohammed Tamba-Tamba

Mohammed was a member of the tribe of Kel-es-Souk who lived north of Gao. He came to Timbuktu to perfect his knowledge. He died in the year 1210 of the Hegira (1832) and was buried to the south west of town on the Route to Babara. His tomb is now within the boundaries of the fort Sidi-el-Beckaye.

Al-Imam Said

The Shaikh al Imam Said was a native of Timbuktu. He died in 1260 (1882) at the age of 70. He tomb is next to the Pharmacy Popularize.

Sidi Mohammed Boukou

Boukou lived at the beginning of the 16Th century. He was part of the tribe Id Ouali of Chinguiti (in Mauritania). He has relatives in Touat to this day. He is buried to the east of town.

Sidi el-Wafi el-Araouani

Sidi el-Wafi lived in the 17Th century. He came to Timbuktu with two goals. To take a retreat and to improve his knowledge. He died in 1121 (1743). His tomb is found about 25m to the east of town.

Mohammed Sankare

He came to Timbuktu to study. He died at the beginning of the 17th century at the age of 60. His tomb is at the east of town.

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