Islam spread to Africa initially through Ethiopia

Songhay_Empire
Songhay Empire
Image:Metropolitan Museum of Art

Islam came to Africa very early in its history. When its followers faced persecution in Arabia, the Prophet advised the community to seek refuge in Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). In due course, the presence of Muslims in Africa grew and extended as scholars and merchants exchanged their material and intellectual wares with the peoples of Africa. Islam spread to West Africa along the ancient trading route that linked Egypt to the West African empire of Ghana which flourished from the eighth century onwards. Muslim traders and scholars thus became the early transmitters of Islamic culture and faith to the region.

In the mid-thirteenth century, the state of Mali was founded by the legendary Sunjata Kaita. His successors were known by the title mansa; the most famous of these rulers was Mansa Musa (d. 1327). During his reign, Musa invited the finest scholars, artists, and poets from all over the world to live in the city of Timbuktu. As a result of the empire’s wealth and support for learning, the Mali Empire became one of the most powerful empires.

By the late fourteenth century, the Mali Empire weakened and was absorbed into the expanding  kingdom of Songhay, which was founded as a small state centred on the ancient city of Gao in circa 700 in West Africa. The empire eventually extended to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and east into present-day Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

From the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth century, with several thousand cultures under its control, the Songhay Empire was considered one of the greatest African empires, stretching all the way to present-day Cameroon.

During this period of the spread of Islam in West Africa, the region became part of the larger cosmopolitan world of Muslim culture and civilization in North Africa and the Mediterranean, linked by faith and trade. Ibn Battuta, who travelled in the region, visiting Mali in 1352, noted the presence of mosques, institutions of learning, and the widespread tradition of Muslim practices and education among the inhabitants he encountered.

The Great Mosque, one of Mali’s oldest monuments and a major landmark, and the Djingereyber Mosque were restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.”The Aga Khan Development Network’s activities in Mali date back to 2003. Since that time, activities have grown to encompass cultural restoration and social development projects in Bamako, Mopti, Timbuktu and Djenné, as well as economic development projects. These range from investments in the aviation infrastructure to water, electricity and packaging for agricultural products. Since 2008, Aga Khan Foundation has been implementing the Mopti Coordinated Area Development Programme, which combines interventions in health, education, rural development, financial services and strengthening of civil society to improve the quality of life for the people of the Mopti Region.”*

References:
Nyang, Sulayman. “Islam in Sub-Sahara Africa.” The Muslim Almanac ed. by Azim A. Nanji. Detroit, Gale Research Inc. 1996
Aga Khan Trust for Culture Historic Cities Programme
*AKDN in Mali

Research by Nimira Dewji


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