The Muslims Empires of Africa


The African region was the 1st continent into which Islam spread from the South Western part of the Asian continent during the 7th century CE. Almost 1-3rd of the globe’s Muslim population lives in the African continent. The Muslims crossed Djibouti and Somalia to search for safety in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea during the Hijrah to the Christian Empire of Axum. Most Muslims in the African continent are non-denominational Muslims (Sunni). The complexity of Islam in the African region manifests itself in several schools of thought, customs or traditions, and vices in numerous African states.

Islam’s practice in the region is not permanent, and prevailing social, economic, and political conditions or states reshape it. Islam in the area is often modified to African cultural contexts and faith systems, developing Africa’s standards. According to 2002 estimates, Muslims comprised over 35% of the population of the African region. Islam has a considerable presence in the Northern part of Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel region, the Swahili Coast, and most of the West African region. There are minority migrant Islam populations in South Africa.

There are several Muslims Empires and Sultanates on the African continent. Some of them include the Kanem Empire, the Caliphate of Cordoba, the Idrisid Dynasty, the Sultanate of Mogadishu, the Maghrawa Dynasty, the Kano Empire, the Almoravid dynasty, and the Kilwa Sultanate. Others are the Almohad Dynasty, the Mali Empire, the Marinid Dynasty, Ajuran Sultanate, Ifat Sultanate, Warsangali Sultanate, the Songhai Empire, the Bornu Empire, the Adal Sultanate, among others.

For brevity, this article will highlight just a few of these Islamic Empires. We will talk about the Ajuran Empire, the Almoravid Kingdom, the Mamluk Sultanate, the Mali Empire, and the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the longest-lasting Kingdom in all of Africa.

The Ajuran Empire (Ajuran Sultanate)

The Ajuran Sultanate was the Somali Kingdom in medieval times that controlled the Indian Ocean trade. They belonged to the Somali Muslim Sultanate that reigned over large regions of the Horn of Africa in the Middle Era. Through strong centralized management and a fierce army stance towards attackers, the Ajuran Sultanate resisted an Oromo attack from the west and a foreign (Portuguese) invasion from the East during the Gaal Madow.

Trading ways dating from the old and early medieval ages of Somali maritime enterprise got healthy. Moreover, the foreign trade and business in the coastal regions prospered with vessels moving to and coming from many Kingdoms in the Eastern and Southern regions of Asia, Europe, Northern and Eastern regions of the African continent.

The Empire left a broad architectural record, one of the principal medieval Somali powers involved in castle and fort establishment. Many ruined structures dotting the regions of Southern Somalia today connected to the Ajuran Sultanate’s professionals or engineers include several pillar tombs fields and destroyed cities that people established in that period or era.

During the Ajuran era, many areas and people in the Horn of Africa’s southern region changed to Islam due to the theocratic nature of the authority. The Royal Dynasty, the House of Garen, increased its lands and formed its dominating reign via a proficient combination of war, trade links, and relationships.

As a hydraulic sultanate, the Ajuran Empire controlled the water resources of River Shebelle and River Juba. It also built many of the limestone wells and reservoirs of the state that are still functioning and in use in the present-day through hydraulic professionalism. The rulers established a new system for taxation and agriculture, which people continued to use in regions of the Horn of Africa as of the 19th century. The reign of the later Ajuran leaders resulted in several uprisings to occur in the Sultanate. In the 17th century, the Ajuran nation broke into many successor Empires and states, the most notable being the Geledi Empire.

The Almoravid Empire

The Almoravid family was an imperial Berber Muslim Dynasty in the Moroccan state. It formed a Kingdom in the 11th century that stretched over the western Al-Andalus and Maghreb. Abdalla ibn Yasin was its founder or originator. The capital of Almoravid was in Marrakesh. The Dynasty came from the Lamtuna and the Gudala, nomadic Berber ethnic groups of the Sahara. The Almoravids prevented the decline of Al-Andalus to the Iberian Christian Empires when they conquered an alliance of the Castilian and Aragonese militaries at the Battle of Sagrajas in the 11th century (1086). This enabled them to manage a kingdom that stretched over 2500 kilometers (north to south). However, the reign of the Dynasty was short.

The Almoravids declined when they were unsuccessful in stopping the Masmuda-led uprising, which Ibn Tumart started. As a result, the Almohad Caliphate murdered their last ruler Ishaq ibn Ali in Marrakesh in the mid-12th century.

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The Mamluk Sultanate

The Mamluk Sultanate was a medieval empire covering Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz that formed itself as a caliphate. It lasted from the coup of the Ayyubid family until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in the early 16th century (1517). Historians have divided the era of the Mamluk reign into two periods. The 1st one covers from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century. The other one is from 1382 to the early 16th century (1517)—historians from the West label the former as the Bahri era and the latter as the Burji era. Modern-day Muslim researchers refer to the same divisions as the Turkic and Circassian eras.

The Mamluk Empire reached its climax under the Turkic reign and then fell into a long decline under the Circassians era. The Empire’s ruling class comprised Mamluks, Cuman Kipchaks, Circassian, Abkhazian, Oghuz Turks, and Georgian slave origin. While slave traders bought Mamluks, their level was higher than that of regular slaves, whom authorities did not permit to carry arms or perform some jobs. People considered Mamluks to be true Lords with the social class above the citizens of the Egyptian land. At its height, the Empire or the Sultanate symbolized the Zenith of medieval Levantine and Egyptian economic, political, and cultural glory in the Islamic Golden Era.

The Kanem-Bornu Empire

The Kanem-Bornu Kingdom existed in regions that are currently part of Chad and the Nigerian land. The Arabian geographers identified it as the Kanem Kingdom from the 8th century AD and existed as the independent Empire of Bornu (the Bornu Kingdom) until 1900. The Kanem Kingdom was in the modern-day states of Chad, Libya, and Nigeria. At its climax, it covered a region encompassing not only a large portion of Chad but also sections of Fezzan (southern Libya) and the eastern region of Niger, North Eastern Nigeria, and the northern part of Cameroon. The Bornu Kingdom was a state in what is currently North Eastern Nigeria, becoming more prominent than Kanem, including regions that are presently sections of Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Cameroon. The Empire converted to Islam in the 11th century.

The Mali Empire

The Mali Empire was a Kingdom in West Africa from the 13th century to the 17th century. The residents of the Empire mainly spoke the Manding languages. Popularly, many people know that the Mali Empire was the biggest Kingdom in West Africa and influenced the way of life of West Africa via the spread of its language and traditions. The Kingdom started as a small Mandinka Empire. During the 11th century and the 12th century, it grew as a Kingdom following the Ghana Kingdom collapse. In this era, trading ways changed towards the savanna, promoting the development of the Bonoman state.

Mansa Musa, the nephew of Sundiata, made a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca during the reign of the Mamluk Sultan Baibars. Musa was a dedicated Muslim. To Mansa Musa, Islam was access into the cultured world of the Eastern region of the Mediterranean. He would spend a long time promoting the development and growth of Islam within his Kingdom. History records that Mansa Musa visited the Mamluk Sultan of the Egyptian land, Al-Nasir Muhammad, in July 1324 (early 14th century). Due to his giving character, Mansa Musa’s significant spending and kind-hearted donations formed a massive 10-year gold decline. In the historic cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the abrupt arrival of the precious metal devalued the metal considerably. The prices of items and wares increased significantly.

Some historians firmly believe that the Hajj journey was less out of religious dedication than garnering Mali state’s prospering. Al-Umari, who visited Egypt’s current capital city (Cairo) after Mansa Musa’s journey to Mecca, noted that “It was a luxurious show of might, richness and its size and pageantry recorded it.”

Mansa Musa created a principal point of boasting his state’s richness. His target was to form a ripple, and he succeeded in this, so much that he lands himself and his state on the Catalan Atlas of the 14th century (1375). Mansa Musa made the city of Timbuktu a significant center of culture, trade, and Muslims. Indeed, Musa did so much for the great Mali Empire, and his name will last forever in the mouths of many generations to come.



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