Rudolph Ware Huffington Post 8/31/2012In this excellent montage Alexandra Huddleston closes by reminding us of a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad -- still learned and taught in Timbuktu -- "the ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr." These words echo today as a reminder that the mainstream Islamic tradition has always harbored the most profound respect for scholarship and sanctity while questioning worldly ambitions.
Unfortunately, the "radical Islam" of groups like Ansar Dine and al-Qaida have spilled far too much blood and ink in Northern Mali and beyond. Armed with deadly weapons, a false doctrine of jihad, and a perverse sense of martyrdom they have committed countless acts of violence. While the Western imagination is captivated by fear of 'radical Islam' its victims -- in Timbuktu as elsewhere -- are almost invariably Muslims.
Ms. Huddleston shows us their faces -- the men, women, and children of Timbuktu -- many warmly rejoicing in the pleasures of ancient knowledge, all fully connected to the contemporary world. In a single blow they have suffered a double violence: their lives and ways of life have been taken, and their religion has been disfigured, disgraced, and defamed by their tormentors.
It is important to understand that the leadership of groups like Ansar Dine and al-Qaida often has little or no formal training in the Islamic religious sciences. This does not stop them from passing judgment upon the Islam of their well-learned and lettered adversaries. To make up for their lack of knowledge they routinely resort to spectacles of symbolic violence, desecrating the tombs of scholars and destroying manuscripts. They seek, not only to cow opposition, but to wipe the slate clean of competing forms of Islamic authority
In a place like Timbuktu this is no small task, for it first gained an international reputation for Islamic knowledge in the fourteenth century when the great medieval empire of Mali was at its height. Its fame as a city of learning attracted students and scholars from all over West Africa as well as the Maghrib, Egypt, Baghdad and Damascus.
Though they usually maintained cordial relations with emperors, the scholars and teachers of Timbuktu, like most West African Islamic scholars, tended to scrupulously avoid overt involvement in politics. Islamists like to say "Islam is religion and politics," but this is no Prophetic tradition, it is a maxim little more than a century old. It was coined as some began to transform Islam from a universal religion to an ideology of resistance to Western imperialism. The classical tradition, of which Timbuktu was an integral part--tended to be suspicious of such things. As a rule it preferred for scholars to maintain a pious distance from power for fear that it might corrupt their intellectual and ethical autonomy. In the West, efforts to separate church and state evolved primarily to protect the latter. In Muslim Africa scholars and saints usually maintained distance to protect the former. Continue reading here The article also contains an excellent video.