Islam throughout the world: Mali

World Contributor

The Republic of Mali is a landlocked state in West Africa. Mali is surrounded by Mauritania, Algeria and Niger, as well as several states on the southern border of the country, namely, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal. Mali is a secular state, but the vast majority of the country’s inhabitants are Muslims (96%).

Religion in Mali

Muslims in Mali are mostly Sunnis of the Maliki madhhab, although there are also Ahmadis and a small percentage of Shiites. Sufi tariqas are very influential (as in Muslim Africa in general). Despite the fact that Sharia courts have been put into effect in the north of the country, Malian Muslims lead a fairly secular lifestyle, in particular, women in Mali are not obliged to wear hijabs and headscarves and actively participate in the political and public life of the country.

Spread of Islam

Islam came to West and Central Africa in the most peaceful way, through trade. Within the northern belt of Africa (in Egypt, Tunisia, on the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea and among the Berbers of Morocco) the armies of the Caliphate asserted the true faith through armed struggle against idolaters. Under the Umayyad caliphs, by 715, all of North Africa was Islamized. But further south, along the entire length of the continent, from the Atlantic Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, lay the great Sahara Desert. No army could cross it.

But where an army cannot pass, the camels of trade caravans will. Arab merchants, and with them Islamic preachers and Sufi dervishes, crossed the Sahara and saw beyond its southern edge states inhabited by African black-skinned nations: Hausa, Fulani, Sonnike, Yoruba. So, starting from the 10th century CE, Islam began to gradually spread in West and Central Africa, when the rulers of African states and the leaders of African nations began to convert to it.

Ethnicity and territories

After the end of the colonial period in the middle of the 20th century CE, modern African states were created on the territories of the former colonies. However, their boundaries differed from those of ancient tribal unions and states. So, the Fulani people turned out to be dispersed over several countries, namely, Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea. The Sonnike people ended up on the territory of Burkina Faso and again in Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal. The Hausa people now live in Cameroon, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, and so on. The leaders of all these peoples adopted Islam in the 10th-11th centuries CE, therefore all Hausa, all Fulani, all Sonnike from then to the present are Muslims. Accordingly, all modern states in which they live also became Muslim.

In addition, Islam was accepted by the rulers of ancient states that were located in the territories of these nations (West and Central Africa). These are the empires of Ghana (6th-13th centuries CE) (does not correspond to modern Ghana), Mali (neither corresponds to the modern state) (1240-1645), Kanem (900-1390), Bornu (1390-1808) and the Islamic Sultanate of Sokoto (the core of modern Nigeria) which replaced it in 1808, Songhai (1460-1591). Islam has become the ubiquitous religion of West Africa.

Adoption of Islam in Mali

All the states formed in the territory of this region in the modern period inherited Islam from these ancient empires and sultanates. By embracing Islam, the rulers pursued not only spiritual goals. Islam contributed to the strengthening of trade with the Muslim countries of the East, from which a vast amount of goods came to Africa. One can probably say that this way of spreading Islam in the world is the ideal model of its propagation, when it presents itself as a combination of the highest human values to follow and an offer of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Islam was widely developed in Mali in the Middle Ages. The Malian cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kano turned in the 14th century CE under the ruler of the Mali empire Musa into centres of scholarship and Islamic thought in African countries. Timbuktu still has several large madrasahs and three of the oldest mosques in the entire African continent. Currently, the country has full religious freedom for all religions. The operation of foreign religious missions and the freedom to convert from one faith toanother are not prohibited. The state does not exercise control over the religious sphere, therefore even unregistered religious organizations freely carry out their activities in Mali.