After a brief lunch and a quick nap our group gathered for a meeting with the Governor of Timbuktu. We had been scheduled to meet with him earlier that day. However, the schedule was too tight for us. He had also been busy, called away from his office attending to some business. Our paths had briefly crossed at the home of the Imam of Timbuktu during our meeting with the scholars of the city. The Governor had stopped by briefly to pay his respects to the assembled Imams and to greet us.
He is a well-groomed stately gentleman who was formerly a Colonel in the Malian Army. His gentle demeanor barely hides a serious and sternness that led a member of our party to comment that he appeared to be the kind of person you did not want to cross. We sat before him in the cool, shaded courtyard of the Hendrina Khan Hotel and listened intently as he slowly began to give us a lesson on the history of the city in halting English. When he realized that a French translator was available he quickly switched to French and the details of his presentation became a lot richer. Much of what he presented had been mentioned earlier by the Imam at his house. He did present us some details about his own life and how he ascended to the governorship of Timbuktu. He kindly offered his good offices to us and urged us to continue the great work being undertaken by Islamic Relief, which he mentioned government officials were well aware of.
After his departure, we prepared for dinner and a trip to one of the larger cemeteries in the city. We were told that one hundred sixty saints were buried there, so we decided to go there and pay our respects. After dinner, and Magrib and Isha prayers, we set out for the visit to the cemetery. Upon arriving during the dark of night we found a well lit, walled burial ground that could well have been in Cairo or Damascus. We stopped and issued the greeting of our Prophet, peace upon him, for the deceased, “Peace upon you, inhabitants of the home of believers. God-willing we will soon be joining you.” We then prayed and left. Upon returning to our car we were informed that we were at the wrong cemetery. So we proceeded to the right one and repeated the litany we had engaged in at the previous one. As we stood there beneath the African sky, our feet slightly depressed into the every present sand, the souls of the generations of righteous believers who surrounded us seemed to be calling out to us across the expanse of time that separated us. They seemed to be welcoming us home on the one hand, and urging us to return to our homes in the western lands to let the people there know of Islam and its beauty. It is ironic that although some of our ancestors were brought to America in chains, it is the only home we have. The spirits of the mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters of those slaves who had been so violently torn from their homes and families seemed to be urging us to stake our claim in that strange land of so many contradictions.
The serenity and depth of the moment was interrupted for me. Some meat that had been left out in the sun too long the previous day caught up with me, and I was overcome by nausea. I moved to the side for a violent fit of vomiting, the aftermath of which I was able to completely cover in the sand before returning to the other members of our group to catch the final part of the prayer that was being recited by Imam Talib Abdul Rashid. We returned solemnly to our hotel. Most of the group probably slept a few hours, but I was up all night afflicted by fits of vomiting and diarrhea. Despite the trauma of that night, and the lack of sleep, I actually felt much better in the morning. We got up early and prayed Fajr. I skipped the breakfast. Before 6:00am we were on the road heading back to Bamako. As the mosques, homes and markets of Timbuktu faded into the distance behind us, I could not help but think how blessed I was. I had been to a place most people cannot even dream of going. I had met righteous people who carried the heritage of the Prophets in their hearts, and I had visited places who owed their existence solely to Islam. All Praise is for Allah!