24 April 2008
Minister, General Kafougouna Koné,
Regional Governor, Colonel Mamadou Togola,
Mayor Ould Mahmoud,
Imam ben Essayouti of the Djingareyber Mosque,
Imams of the Sankoré and Sidi Yahya Mosques,
Grand Qadi of Timbuktu,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me first of all to thank Minister Koné, Mayor Said Ould Mahmoud, and Imam ben Essayouti for their very kind words.
I should also like to express my thanks to the alumni, students and scholars of Timbuktu for presenting me with these honours. I am also grateful to the Governor and citizens of the city for the warm welcome extended to me and my family.
I have precious memories of my last visit to Timbuktu during which you presented me with the title of “Honorary Citizen” which I bear with very great pride. At the same time, I feel extremely humble, since there can be no greater honour than to be accorded citizenship of a city that has always been renowned for its dedication to the quest for knowledge.
Amid such a worthy and learned gathering I am reminded of the verses of the Holy Qur’an in which Allah reminds us that He gives the blessing of wisdom to whoever He wills, but only those with intelligence remember that He has done so.
My most sincere prayer is that I, my fellow citizens of Timbuktu and my brothers and sisters in Islam can continue our journey to bring greater wisdom and understanding to all.
For a thousand years, Timbuktu has been a town noted for its hospitality. Here, the desert and the River Niger converge and travellers arriving from across the Sahara have found a friendly welcome and an environment of knowledge and profound faith, as well as a cosmopolitan culture.
Today, I feel honoured and proud to belong to this town which has made a lasting contribution to the enrichment of Islam and world civilisation, not only through its scholarship but also in its role as a crossroads where rich cultural and commercial exchanges between Africa, Europe and Asia which have taken place.
I am also very happy to accept the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the prestigious University of Sankoré, the African continent’s most ancient higher education institution. Like Djingareyber and Sidi Yahya, this university has been the alma mater of the town’s 180 Qu’ranic schools and the birthplace of the many scholarly works which became uniquely influential in Africa during the Middle Ages. The sum of all that knowledge has been preserved in the richly-stocked libraries of Timbuktu which house thousands of manuscripts, most of them written by scholars born in the town. This tradition of learning and the transmission of knowledge is at the heart of Islam and the practice of the faith.
I am delighted to receive this degree in such a prestigious centre of Islamic erudition, facing the historic Djingareyber Mosque built in the 14th century in the reign of Emperor Mansa Kankou Moussa by the architect Abu Ishaq as-Saheli.
This mosque is the oldest and most typical example of a unique style of earth architecture developed in the very earliest years of Islam in West Africa and which survives to this day. Today, however, the process of rapid change means that the region is threatened with the loss of technical expertise and the disappearance of the traditional banco technique. That is why the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Mali’s Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the mosque’s governing body, have launched this heritage conservation programme with the aim of reviving traditional construction techniques, improving the state of preservation of the buildings, and ensuring their long-term maintenance so that they can be passed on to future generations.
I shall always remember this honorary doctorate as proof of the harmony between intellect and faith which is Islam’s blessing to Muslims.
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