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ZAKHOR (Heb. "Remember"), black Judaizing movement in Mali comprising around 1,000 people. It was founded in Timbuktu in 1993 by the Malian historian Ismael Daidé Haïdara, whose followers claim to be the offspring of Saharan Jews. In a manifesto published in 1996, the members of Zakhor recognize themselves as Jews and declare themselves to be descendants of the Jews of Touat. The Touat, the region at the limit of the Sahara in western Algeria, was, up to 1492, inhabited by Jews involved in trans-Saharan trade. At that time, Sheikh Abd el Krim el Meghili, a scholar and a mystic, exterminated them and ordered the destruction of their synagogues at Siljimassa and Tamentit.

According to Zakhor, some of the Jewish survivors from Touat, following the routes of caravans, took refuge with other Jews settled along the Niger, but their safety was only temporary. Soon afterwards, in 1493, under the influence of the same el Meghili, Askyia Muhammad the Great, the ruler of this region, introduced an edict for the eviction of the Jews of the Songhai. They apparently found themselves in the position of choosing either to renounce their faith or to die. Haïdara, the leader of Zakhor, noted that "the Jews could not go further, in front of the great Nile of the Arabs [that is, the river Niger]. They stopped facing the Koran and the sword. They converted." This was how, he concluded, the black Jews became Muslims. Today, the members of Zakhor portray themselves as a small, early Jewish population which is said to have been superseded by the subsequent Islamic community, with only tiny remnants of Judaism surviving. The heads of the families who founded Zakhor relate that the three families constituting their community from the 16th century, the Levite Kehaths, now named Kati, the Cohens and the Abanas, were not in fact the first Jewish inhabitants of these regions.

In the 11th century, el Bakri and el Idrissi, the great Arab historians and geographers, referred to the presence of populations "who read the Tawrat" in what would become Mali. Abraham *Cresques, the famous Majorcan Jewish geographer, upon establishing the Catalan Atlas, in 1375, presumably located Mali and its emperor, on the basis of information from his Malian co-religionists. Leo Africanus who visited this region in the first part of the 15th century, the Tarikh el-Sudan of the 15th century, and the Tarikh el-Fetash of the 17th century, the essential corpus of sources of information about medieval western Africa, mentioned the presence of Jews in the region of Gao and Tendirma.

Under the aegis of UNESCO, the gradual discovery at Timbuktu of old manuscripts, some of which date back to the 13th century, constitutes an unpublished scientific treasure trove likely to bring much information about the possible settlement of Jews in this area.


I.D. Haïdara, Les Juifs à Tombouctou, Recueil de Sources écrites relatives au commerce juif à Tombouctou au XIXè siècle (1999); J. Oliel, Les Juifs au Sahara (1994); M. Abitbol, Juifs Maghrébins et commerce transsaharien du VIII au XVè siècle, in Bibliothèque d'Histoire d'Outre-mer, Etudes 5–6, 200 ans d'histoire africaine, le sol, la parole et l'écrit (1981); T. Lewicki, "L'Afrique noire," in: Kitab al Masalik wa l-Mamedik d'al Bakri, (XIè siècle), Africana Bulletin, 2 (1965), 9–14; V. Monteil, "Al Bakri, un routier de l'Afrique," in: IFAN, 30 (1968), 39–116; J. Cuoq, Bilad Al Sudan, Recueil des Sources Arabes concernant l'Afrique occidentale du VIIIè au XVIè siècle (1975); O. Houdas and M. Delafosse, Tarikh el Fattash (1964); Ch. de La Roncière, Découverte de l'Afrique au Moyen Age (1924).

[Tudor Parfitt (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.