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Islamic Manuscripts from Mali: About the Collection

By digitizing Arabic manuscripts from Timbuktu, Mali, the Library of Congress has entered into a new and evolving field of collection development and scholarly activity. The Library successfully exhibited and copied these manuscripts, initiating positive and productive contacts with Malian scholars, manuscript owners, and government officials–especially Abdel Kader Haidara, owner and director of the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library in Timbuktu.

The Library of Congress and the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library began a cooperative project in December 2004 to make available some of the extensive holdings of the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library via the World Wide Web. This effort will provide the international scholarly community with greater access to these important primary sources. It will also enable scholars and students to familiarize themselves with West African Islamic manuscripts prior to traveling to Mali and other West African countries to conduct research using such manuscripts.

Malians themselves have long recognized the importance of their cultural heritage and have been working to preserve these manuscripts and make them available to scholars. Two organizations–L’ Association Malienne de Recherche Action pour le Developpement et son Bureau d’Etude Associe (AMRAD/CEDREF) and the Institut de Hautes Etudes et de la Recherche Islamic–Ahmad Baba (Ahmad Baba Center)–have been quite successful in this regard. The former organization has been working with these manuscripts for more than 20 years and has received U.S. Government assistance for its efforts. The latter organization was created by the Malian Government to collect, organize, conserve, and make manuscripts available to scholars.

During the last decade, various actions have sought to preserve and conserve these West African and Malian manuscripts. Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University rediscovered the manuscripts in Timbuktu in 1998–bringing attention to the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library’s collection. Subsequent to Professor Gates’ visit, the Mellon Foundation provided funding to better house the manuscripts held by Abdel Kader Haidara. The Al-Furqan Foundation of London created and published a handlist for Abdel Kader’s manuscript library and for other libraries in Mali and West Africa. A PBS film series was created based on Professor Gates’ travels in Africa–which did much to inform the general public of the existence of this important cultural patrimony.

The Haidara family has produced scholars for more than 400 years. Abdel Kader’s father, for whom the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library is named, was a well-known judge, scholar, and teacher of Islamic subjects. As did his ancestors, the elder Haidara purchased books and manuscripts throughout his life to add to the family library. Abdel Kader’s library, inherited from his father, is a textbook case demonstrating the development of the family libraries of Timbuktu. The Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, dating from the 16th century, is one of the largest libraries in Timbuktu–with more than 5,000 items.

In 1984 Abdel Kader Haidara began working at the Ahmad Baba Center in Timbuktu. The center’s mission is to collect, preserve, catalog, and make available to scholars manuscripts from Timbuktu and Mali. At that time, Dr. Mahmoud Zouber was director of the center. He encouraged Abdel Kader to master the techniques of manuscript librarianship. Abdel Kader worked at the Ahmad Baba Center until 2002, by which time he had become a recognized expert on Islamic manuscripts.

Abdel Kader’s work at the Ahmad Baba Center, combined with his father’s tutelage, inspired him to find new ways to develop and preserve his family’s collection of manuscripts and documents as a private research library. This experience provided additional training for further expanding the groundwork of his father’s scholarship. Abdel Kader has been active in encouraging owners of other manuscript collections to preserve and catalog their manuscripts and to establish libraries for conducting research. As a result of his tireless efforts, Abdel Kader was elected spokesman and representative of Détenteurs de Manuscrits de Tombouctou (Timbuktu Manuscript Owners), the association of private manuscript libraries in Timbuktu. He now spends much of his time working to further advance identifying and preserving manuscripts in Timbuktu, Mali, and West Africa.

A Library of Congress exhibit of items from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library is available at:

The contact information for Abdel Kader Haidara and the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library is:

Abdel Kader Haidara, Directeur
Bibliotheque Mamma Haidara de Manuscrits et la Documentation
Siége: Tombouctou BP 71 Rèp.du Mali
Tèl    B 292 16 76
         D 292 12 54
Cell   636 96 60

Contact Bamako
Tèl    D 220 18 88
Cell   636 96 60


Mama Haïdara holding an open book.
enlarge image icon [Detail] Pictured here is Abdel Kader Haidara , one of Timbuktu’s leading manuscripts experts and son of a deceased renown local scholar, Mama Haïdara. In front of Haïdara in a glass case is a Koran, with, on the lower part of the image, a note indicating that several kings of Morocco owned it. The writing is typically Moroccan 12th century.
Mama Haïdara holding an open book.
enlarge image icon [Detail] Abdel Kader Haidara is curator of the Mamma Haïdara Commerative Library. The library houses a family collection of over 5,000 manuscripts which cover various topics including astronomy, chemistry, medicine, poetry, geography, family histories, travel journals, legal and philosophical documents dealing with conflict resolution strategies and a culmination of the Islamic arts and sciences studied in West Africa during the Middle Ages.
Water damaged manuscript.
enlarge image icon [Detail] This water damaged manuscript is an example of the fragile condition of most manuscripts that have only been brought out of hiding in the last 20 years since Mali’s independence.
Manuscript on history of Sharifians.
enlarge image icon [Detail] This manuscript from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library explains the history of the Sharifians and their geneology.
Manuscript of an astrology treaty.
enlarge image icon [Detail] This manuscript of an astrology treatise dating back to 1144 in the Hegira can be found at the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library.

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