Jews in Timbuktu? Yes, really

Jews in Timbuktu? Yes, Point of No Return has actually met a  Jew descended from a family from Mali. Here is their amazing story, courtesy of Shalom Life. There could be as many as 1,000 Malians of Jewish descent.

 Rabbi Mordechai Abi Serour

The past and present of the Jewish people in Mali centers around the city of Timbuktu. Many arrived in the West African country in the 14th century, fleeing persecution in Spain after the Spanish Inquisition, and migrated south to the Timbuktu area, which was at that time part of the Songhai Empire. Among them was the Kehath (Ka’ti) family, descended from Ismael Jan Kot Al-yahudi of Scheida, Morocco. Sons of this prominent family founded three villages that still exist near Timbuktu—Kirshamba, Haybomo, and Kongougara.

In 1492, the king Askia Muhammed came to power and the previously tolerant region of Timbuktu had become hostile to the Jewish community. The king declared that Jews must convert to Islam or leave; and shortly after, Judaism became illegal in Mali. Historian Leo Africanus is quoted as saying in 1526: “The king (Askia) is a declared enemy of the Jews. He will not allow any to live in the city. If he hears it said that a Berber merchant frequents them or does business with them, he confiscates his goods.” Once this change had occurred, some Jews chose to stay and converted to Islam, but others fled the region entirely, feeling that it was no longer a safe place to call home.

Another notable Jewish family, The Kehaths, came from Southern Morocco in 1492 and converted to Islam, along with the rest of the non-Muslim population. Several others that arrived include the Cohens, descended from the Moroccan Islamicized Jewish trader El-Hadj Abd-al-Salam al Kuhin, who arrived in the Timbuktu area in the 18th century, and the Abana family, who came even later, in the first half of the 19th century. 

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