Lehigh News Article

Documentary highlights ancient manuscripts of Mali
Michael D. Covitt addresses the audience during a question and answer session after screening his documentary, "333."
A film highlighting the historical significance of Mali and the nation’s ancient manuscripts was recently shown to students, faculty and staff at Lehigh’s Whitaker Laboratory.

“333,” a documentary created by the Sabatier Film Group, seeks to increase understanding and awareness of the Ancient Manuscripts of Mali, said Michael D. Covitt, who produced the film. The documentary explores Timbuktu, and analyzes various aspects of society in Mali. He says that the title is derived from the name of the mausoleums of Muslim holy figures in Timbuktu, known as “the city of 333 saints.”

Covitt said his goal in making the film was to demonstrate that Mali is traditionally a very peaceful society, and that religious extremism does not define the nation’s discourse. The ancient manuscripts are a key to understanding significant nuances of Islam, he said, and they can provide a roadmap to peace in one of the world’s most tumultuous regions.

“There have been wars going on in the region for years,” said Covitt. “We want to use this documentary to educate people about the manuscripts and spread a message of peace.”

Covitt said he was drawn to making a film about Mali after reading stories about the nation in The Wall Street Journal. This is an extremely important time for Mali, he added. A coup d’etat led by ex-Malian soldiers broke out earlier this year, as chronicled by Bruce Whitehouse, assistant professor of anthropology and Fulbright Scholar, who went to Bamako, Mali’s capital city, in August 2011 for a year-long study.

The documentary centers on “The Ambassadors of Peace,” a group of Islamic scholars who meet daily to interpret the ancient manuscripts and apply their findings to solve the social and political problems that plague several nations in the region. These meetings, referred to as the “Circle of Knowledge,” have taken place for nearly a thousand years, according to the documentary.

The film also features several experts, religious leaders and educators, including Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Institute, which seeks to build bridges between Muslims and American society, as well as to resolve conflicts between the West and Islam.

Rauf, who was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2011, spoke at Lehigh last spring to discuss his book, his experiences, and to advocate for interfaith dialogue.

Photos by John Kish IV