Heinrich Barth and Islam
The mosque of Agadèz
Most unusually for the time, Heinrich Barth had a marked sympathy for Islam, which he recognized as one of the world's great religions. While still at school he learnt Arabic and the first journey he undertook after completing his university studies was to the Islamic countries of the Mediterranean. Under the pseudonym of Abd al-Karim (Servant of the Most High) he travelled Africa, collecting a wealth of information on the history of Islam, a powerful influence throughout the Sahel region. In particular Barth sought out and enjoyed conversing with local Islamic scholars, and some of the character sketches of these figures are among the most vivid accounts of non-European cultures left us by any European travellers. Between Barth and his Timbuktu host, Sheikh al-Baqqai, the leading Koran scholar of West Africa, there developed an intellectual friendship. At a time of fanatical anti-Islamic fervour in Europe Heinrich Barth was the only African traveller of his day to oppose the missionary activities of the Christian churches in Africa.
"Ich wies ferner darauf hin, wie wir bei dem Glauben an einen und denselben Gott trotz der Verschiedenheit unserer Propheten und einiger geringen Abweichungen in unseren Sitten denselben religiösen Grundsätzen folgten, so daß wir einander näher standen, als er [Auab] glaubte, und wohl gute Freunde sein könnten." (Barth 1860, II: 307)