The leaders of Mali converted to Islam around the thirteenth century (1200-1300) after the empire’s Lion Prince Sundiata Keita united his people. Many of Mali’s kings even became devout Muslims after the death of Sundiata Keita. They also listened to Muslim advisers who were influential in the royal court of Mali’s kings. The conversion of Mali to Islam is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during 1235 AD.
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Islam in West Africa
During the seventh century, Arab Muslims reached the African continent via the Sinai desert and the Red Sea. Despite the dangers, they still managed to reach Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Apart from their religion, they also brought the Arab culture to North Africa. Native North African Christians called Copts eventually became minorities in Egypt, while ethnic Nubians who practiced Christianity also struggled against the popularity of Islam.
Muslim traders from North Africa crossed the Sahara Desert and reached the western part of the Sahel to trade salt in exchange for the region’s abundant gold. They also preached Islam to the people of the Sahel but what they brought was the Sunni religious law called Maliki. One by one, the people of the Sahel region (particularly the people of the Ghana and Mali Empires) converted to Islam. Many, however, combined their new-found faith with their native religions. Others only converted to Islam so that they could take part in the lucrative Saharan trade.
Around the thirteenth century, many of the West African leaders had converted to Islam which included the leaders of the Mali Empire. The most revered of these Mali kings was Mansa Musa, who was said to be the richest man on earth at that time because of his kingdom’s gold.
Mali’s Muslim Kings
Before the arrival of Islam, the people of ancient Mali worshipped the spirits that lived inside objects. This practice is known as animism. Their village chiefs also served as their religious leaders. Around the twelfth century, Arab, Berber, and Tuareg merchants trickled from the northern part of the Sahara to trade salt for region’s gold. Some of the people of the Ghana Empire (which came before the Mali Empire) converted to Islam.
The Mali Empire replaced Ghana after it crumbled. Sundiata Keita, Mali’s Lion Prince, united his people and formed the Mali Empire after he defeated Sumanguru, King of Sosso. Although King Sundiata did not convert to Islam, he had many Muslim men who served in his court. He ruled between 1217 and 1255. His son, Mansa Uli, became the new king after his father’s death.
The Mali kings who followed Sundiata Keita converted to Islam. Some of them even made a pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj). The greatest of these Muslim kings was Mansa Musa who reigned from 1307 to 1332. He made Islam the state religion of the Mali Empire and made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. He and his entourage of about 60,000 people passed through North Africa on the way to Mecca. He was said to be so rich that he brought with him many camels loaded with gold, and was known to be the richest man on earth at that time. He established good relations with the rulers of Morocco and then built a mosque in Egypt. He spent so much of the gold he brought with him in Egypt that its value went down many years after he and his people returned to Mali. The Malian cities of Timbuktu and Djenne also became important centers of worship and Islamic studies.
The Empire of Mali also crumbled after its people rebelled and it was attacked by the Tuaregs in the fifteenth century. It was conquered by the kingdom of Gao, which later gave way to the Muslim Songhay Empire.
Picture By Holger Reineccius at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Hill, Margaret. “The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century.” FSI | SPICE. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century.
Oliver, Roland, ed. The Cambridge History of Africa C. 1050-c. 1600. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977. Print.
Pouwels, Randall L. “The History of Islam in Africa.” Ohio University Press. Accessed November 23, 2016. http://www.ohioswallow.com/extras/0821412965_intro.pdf.
Zamosky, Lisa. Mansa Musa: Leader of Mali. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, 2010.
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