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The Growth of Islam in West Africa

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1 The Growth of Islam in West Africa
Section 1

2 Standard 7.4.4 Trace the growth of the Arabic language in government, trade, and Islamic scholarship in West Africa.

3 Section Focus Question
How did the Songhai Empire contribute to the spread of Islam and Arabic?

4 Background Knowledge In the previous lesson you learned that Arab traders brought Islam to West Africa. This section, will discuss the rise of the largest West African empire: Songhai. In addition, we will learn how Islam and the Arabic language spread throughout West Africa.

5 The Rise of Songhai In the 1300s, Mali controlled trading cities along the Niger River. One of these cities was Gao, the capital of the Muslim kingdom of Songhai. When Mali weakened in the 1400s, Songhai grew in power. Under a leader named Sunni Ali Ber, it became the center of a new empire.

6 A Great King In 1464, Sunni Ali Ber “Ali the Great.” becomes king
a Muslim and a great military leader. Army of swift horsemen and war canoes extended Songhai’s empire along the Niger River’s Great Bend.

7 The Conquest of Timbuktu
Crossroad of gold from the south and salt from the north taken over by nomadic raiders known as the Tuaregs. In 1468, Sunni Ali Ber’s army approached Timbuktu cavalry, or mounted troops, carried swords and long spears. infantry, or foot soldiers, were armed with bows and poison arrows.

8 The Conquest of Timbuktu
the Tuaregs fled and the troops looted the city killing many people. Scholars described Sunni Ali as a A tyrant is a cruel ruler who uses his power without any limits. supporters called him “the most high” and praised him for his military victories.





13 The Siege of Djenné

14 The Siege of Djenné Wealthy trading city
Surrounded by water, It was well defended and had never been conquered. A siege is a military plan in which the attacking army cuts off supplies to the defenders. surrendered after seven years, seven months, and seven days. Dominated the trans-Sahara trading routes. Through continuing conquest by later rulers, Songhai eventually became the largest of trading empires of West Africa.

15 Checkpoint How did Sunni Ali Ber control his growing empire?

16 The Spread of Islam and Arabic
Even though Islam influenced life in Songhai many people in nearby lands still practiced their old religions. A devout Muslim named Aski Muhammad took control of Songhai and set out to conquer new lands and spread Islam even farther.

17 Pilgrimage and War Took 300,000 pieces of gold
gave most of it away. Upon his return from Mecca, he launched an attack on the Mossi people, who lived south of Songhai. remained independent and kept its traditional faith. In other cases, however, Askia Muhammad did expand the Songhai Empire.

18 Islamic Law and Scholarship
Askia Muhammad strengthened Islam within Songhai. appointed Islamic judges to enforce laws based on the Qur’an Songhai’s laws were written in Arabic He supported Islamic scholarship through money and gifts Songhai’s scholars learned to read and write Arabic so they could study the Qur’an.

19 Islamic Law and Scholarship
Scholars copied old manuscripts and wrote new books in Arabic. Timbuktu became a leading center of Islamic learning. However, not only scholars used Arabic. Other people in Timbuktu could read and write Arabic. This knowledge was useful in both religion and business. Arabic provided a common language for traders to arrange deals and to keep records.


21 The Decline of Songhai Armed with guns, soldiers from Morocco invaded and overpowered the Songhai warriors in 1591. The Moroccans captured Timbuktu and other cities its once-thriving cities gradually declined.

22 Looking Back and Ahead In this section, you learned how Songhai became great empire. This Muslim empire strengthened Islam and the Arabic language in West Africa. In the next section, you will explore the society and economy of West Africa.

23 Checkpoint How was Arabic important in Songhai?

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