Ahmad Baba was born on October 26, 1556 in Araouane to the Sanhaja Berber Aqit family. His father was the teacher Ahmad bin al-Hajj Ahmad bin Umar bin Muhammed Aqit. He moved to Timbuktu at an early age, to study with his father and with a scholar known as Mohammed Bagayogo (sometimes spelled Baghayu'u); there are no other records of his activity until 1594, when he was deported to Morocco, after the Pasha invasion of Songhai where he remained until 1608 over accusations of sedition.
A fair amount of the work he was noted for was written while he was in Morocco, including his biography of Muhammad Abd al-Karim al-Maghili, a scholar and jurist responsible for much of the traditional religious law of the area. A biographical note was translated by M.A. Cherbonneau in 1855, and became one of the principal texts for study of the legal history of the Western Sudan. Ahmad Baba's surviving works remain the best sources for the study of al-Maghili and the generation that succeeded him. Ahmad Baba was considered the Mujjadid (reviver of religion) of the century.
The only public library in Timbuktu, the Ahmed Baba Institute (which stores over 18,000 manuscripts) is named in his honor.
In 1615 Ahmad discussed along with other Muslim scholars on the question slavery in order to protect Muslims from being enslaved. He is known to have provided one of the first ideas of ethnicity within West Africa.
In regards to the enslavement of Africans in 1615, Ahmad Bābā discussed the legitimate reasons of how and why one could become a slave. The driving force, mainly being religious and ethnic, were that if one came from a country with a Muslim government, or identified with specific Muslim ethnic groups, then they could not be slaves. He claimed that if a person was an unbeliever or a kafara, then that is the sole factor for their enslavement, along with that being “the will of God.”