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Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...


Matteo Salvadore

Ethiopian monk and intellectual, was also known as Pietro Malbazó, Mlheso, and Indiano. Little is known about his early years, but in all likelihood he left the monastery of Debre Libanos while the area was ravaged by the war between Christian Ethiopia and the Muslim Sultanate of Adal (1529–1543). He traveled to Italy via Jerusalem in 1538, exploiting a route well known to early-modern Ethiopian pilgrims. Once in Rome he became prior of Santo Stefano; his tenure coincided with the institution’s golden era, one during which the hospice hosted an average of twenty to thirty monks before becoming deserted during the era of the Jesuit mission to Ethiopia (1555–1632). Tesfa Seyon used his linguistic skills to develop an exclusive network of acquaintances and befriend some of the most important Roman personalities of the time—among which was the powerful Farnese—who in turn supported both his work and the Santo Stefano ...