Life and the thought of Ahmed Baba (1556-1627)

Ahmad Baba

Born October 26 1556, in Araouane, Mali Ahmad ibn Ahmad al-Takuri Al-Musafi al-Timbukti was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers of his time. Her life sums up for herself, all the positive and tragic aspects that characterize the turbulent history of Western Sudan.

Quote: "O you who go to Gao, make a detour through Timbuktu. Whisper my name to my friends, and bring them the perfumed salvation of the exile, who sighs after the ground or resides his family, his friends, his neighbors. Console there my dear loved ones, the death of the Lords who were buried ".

His early years

It is in Araouane that the young Ahmed spends part of his childhood. Already, he showed a lot of interest in everything related to science, philosophy and literature. To perfect his knowledge, he went to Timbuktu with his father the lawyer Alhadji Ahmadou. The latter very cultivated, was already known for his knowledge.

Arrived in Timbuktu, Ahmed Baba follows the usual curriculum in terms of schooling. Under the direction of the great professor Mohammed Baghayogo, he was very quick to learn science. He studied philosophy, logic, exegesis, law, grammar, theology, rhetoric, history, literature, and so on. It is only after thirty years that he finishes his studies, after a long training, but more necessary.

Having become a teacher himself, he taught his own philosophy, becoming at the same time one of the greatest Sudanese theologians. He left a very large number of disciples, who even long after his death will spread his doctrine.

Parallel to his educational role, the great scientist had to assume the function of cadi, that is to say, of Muslim judge. Character of the most honest, he would have written no less than a hundred books according to some of which 56 are known to date. Through these volumes, Ahmed Baba describes his religious doctrine, his philosophy, his poetry and even a part of his personal feelings.

His philosophy

Today, Baba's thought is still of great importance to many Sudanese. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that he remains above all a Muslim theologian and that a good part of his reflection is part of dogmas and Islamic morality. Yet his philosophy also reflects his deeply African spirit. He claimed his origins and felt proud to be Sudanese.

Ahmed Baba distinguished himself from his contemporaries by his avant-garde reflection. He was considered the Mujjadid, the renovator of the religion of the century. According to Nsame Mbongo, being the bearer of a new thought, he refused as a philosopher, free speculation and passive contemplation of ideas.

Through a multitude of sometimes very original theses, the Malian defended his political, philosophical and religious ideas. His book entitled "Jalb al-nima my wadaf al-niqma bi-mujanabat al wulat al-zalama" (Lucky charms and against misfortune: avoiding unjust authorities) demonstrates its ability to deviate from the elements harmful to integrity. These positions of power and the doubts he maintains about himself, show how far he pushes the reflection. Written in 1588, this book deals with relations between scientists and politics. However, he does not hide the personal reasons that lead him to write it. "It is to alert me and warn my compatriots and my peers against the attendance of oppressive rulers, I wrote this volume" he wrote.

Aware that man is a weak being, how even the latter would be most cultured, Ahmed Baba castigates many intellectuals for their lack of righteousness. It calls into question the attitude of certain scientists, who allow themselves to be corrupted by power, lose all critical capacity over this same ruler.

This study does not necessarily question power, considering it as an instrument of moral destabilization. On the contrary, for Ahmed Baba the power is harmful only if it is corrupt, abusive or arbitrary. Good governance, combined with a healthy attitude on the part of learned elites, can only prevent many deviant behaviors.

The scientist's attitude towards politics must therefore be determined in relation to moral and non-material criteria. If the power is right, the scientist can ally himself with him by professing these counsels. On the other hand, if he is a manipulator and a corrupter, the theologian must keep his distance. To demonstrate to what extent the intention is more important than the action, the philosopher describes in 1592 the concept of "niyya", in his book entitled "Ghayat al-amalfadl al-niyya ala l-amal" (the superiority of intention over the action).

According to him:

"The niyya is the utterance spoken audibly or mentally by one who wants to perform an act. It has its place in the heart, the central organ of intelligence and action ".

For Nsame Mbongo, the heart being the most noble organ of the human body and the intention being elaborated by this organ, it carries in itself the nobility of this one and is consequently superior to the action, which is the fact "external members" of the body, less noble organs. This argument is reinforced by the consideration that intent belongs to the field of command whereas the act is in the realm of execution. He is therefore inferior in dignity to the intentional will, which commands and to which he obeys. This is just one example of the reasoning work BABA is doing in all of its research.

Still according to Nsame Mbongo, Ahmed Baba is a philosopher in the full sense of the term insofar as he reflects on fundamental general issues. For example, the relationship between intention and act, between knowledge and power, or between power and science. Moreover, he tackles these questions by debating with renowned philosophers and scholars, such as Al-Ghazali or Ibn Kaldoun, or being in relation to this or that philosophical or theological current.

Finally, let's take this passage which shows how much the African thinker is animated by the community spirit.

He thus recalls in 1603, in the volume which he names "Tunfat al-fudala bi-bad fada'il al-Ulama" (precious gifts widening the virtue of the scientists):

"Those who possess knowledge or knowledge and do not act according to their teaching are only half obedient, while those who possess it or possess it and act accordingly have a double merit (...). We look for the idea of ​​the preeminence of scholars, as evidenced by many hadiths and athars and many traditions dating back to the "virtuous old". But the scholars here are those who show piety and devotion and abide by the teaching of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and not those who seek to derive from their knowledge immediate interests or personal glory. ".

This quote leaves no doubt about the spirit of community that animates the thinking of the theologian. Individualism through egoism, should not take precedence over the community. He also opposes blind belief in thoughtful belief, while taking sides with it. By relying on Muslim jurisdiction, Baba quotes quotes from some religion teachers.

Some of these include:

- "seek science in China if necessary";

"The scholars are the heirs of the prophets";

"The ink of the learned is better than the blood of the martyrs."

(see zouber p.164)

In conclusion on the scholarly philosophy of Ahmed Baba. It must be recognized that his thinking is largely based on Muslim canon law, which is not surprising for a religious jurist. It must nevertheless be emphasized that his reasoning remains profoundly African, whether it is to question the relations between scientists and governors, to explain the predominance of intention over action, and above all to assert one's preference for the community over the individual. So many areas of reflection in which the black African philosophical thought is largely expressed.

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