The Tuareg, Fulani, Arabs and Songhai are the main groups that shaped the history of Timbuktu. These groups intermarried and worked together as one united Islamic family.
The Tuaregs are nomadic people and desert dwellers. The Tuareg are either Messufa, Lamtuna, or Judaala, who traced their ancestry back to the Sanhaja. The Sanhaja traced their lineage back to the Himyar who are people of Southern Arabia. They, however, lived among the Berbers before crossing the Sahara and settling in West Africa. They are the founders of the city of Timbuktu. They contributed scholarly and commercially to the legacy of Timbuktu. Today, the Tuareg live in Mali and Niger.
The Fulani are nomadic people and are well-known for their herds of cattle. They are astute merchants and excellent Islamic scholars. The Fulani, the Tuareg and Arabs have been instrumental in spreading Islam in West Africa. They are nation builders and ruled over the Futa Jallon and Futa Tora. Under the leadership of Shayk Ahmadu, they formed the caliphate of Massina. In the 18th century, the famous Fulani scholar and warrior Uthman Dan Fodio founded the Sokoto caliphate in northern Nigeria. The Fulani produced most of the eminent scholars of Jenne and Massina. According to the manuscript number 43 of Ahmed Baba Center in Timbuktu, the Fulani trace their lineage back to the Koraysh of Mecca through Oqba ibn Yasir who married a Fulani princess of Futa Toro by the name of Madeumaa. From this marriage she had four boys. They are the ancestors of the Fulani tribes: these are the Diallo, Dicko, Sangare, Balde' or Ba, Barry and Diakite. Today, the Fulani are mainly in West Africa.
The Songhai people are sedentary people unlike the Tuareg, Fulani and Arabs. Their original capitol was fixed at Kukya, on the border of Niger and Mali. Later on they intermarried with the Sonike people under the Sonis and Askias dynasties. They are farmers and fishermen. They are the founders of the Songhai Empire and have brought a lot of prosperity, prestige and reputation to the Black people. They are good Muslims and have spread Islam in West Africa. They are generous, noble, hardworking, excellent and courageous warriors in addition to excellent planners and organizers. The Songhai Empire was one of the most democratic social entities of its time. The Empire was well managed politically and economically.
Islam arrived in the African continent in the 5th year of Muhammad’s prophethood; this would be around the 7th century.(CE) with the migration of his followers from Mecca to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). These early Muslims carried the noble message of Islam to Africa even before its explosive spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Upon reaching Abyssinia, the Muslims met with the King Negus who, impressed with their gentle and noble mannerisms, embraced Islam and himself became a Muslim. From there, Islam spread quickly like wild-fire throughout Bilad-us-Sudan (Black Africa). Muslim traders from East Africa reached sub-Saharan Africa where the Emperor of Ghana was also introduced to Islam. Because of their impressive character, he hired these traders as administrators in his government. They were so adept at managing his affairs that he converted to the Islamic faith. From there the Muslims reached Timbuktu through the Trans-Saharan caravan trade. Once in Timbuktu, they settled in Sankore around the 13th and 14th centuries. They are excellent traders and Islamic scholars. Their presence in Timbuktu has added more flavor to the already flourishing intellectual life. Timbuktu was a veritable melting pot. The city welcomed everyone.
Today, the city of Timbuktu continues to attract visitors from far away lands. Timbuktu is the city of light, the city of knowledge...it is the city of trade and the city of hospitality. Indeed, travelers have said that Timbuktu is the Rome of the Sudan, the Athena of Africa and the Mecca of the Sahara.