Mali empire: The rise and fall of the rich culture

Africa Contributor
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Mali Empire
Front view of the Djenne mud mosque in Mali. © Trevkitt | Dreamstime.com

From the 12th century to the 17th century, West Africa was considered a home to the great Mali empire. And the ruler who established it was known as ‘The Lion King’. His actual name was Sundiata Keita. He established the kingdom after conquering the kingdom of Sosso.

According to the famous Muslim scholar Al-Bakri, the kingdom of Mali rose from the ruin of the great Ghana Empire. There are two important names in the history of Islam in Mali, one is Sundiata and Mansa Musa. Though Sundiata called himself the lion king, he was actually a weak Muslim. On the other hand, Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim and is considered to be the real founder of the Mali Empire.

The spread of the empire of Mali

After conquering the former capital of the Ghana Empire in 1240, Sundiata and his followers established control and continued expanding the kingdom. The kingdom actually united a number of smaller Malinke kingdoms which were near the Upper Niger River. It was protected by the well-trained imperial army. As it was in the middle of the trade routes, Mali expanded its territory and influence for more than four centuries. Gold dust and salt was the resource of the empire. This helped in expanding the empire’s commercial assets. Mali even included the city of Timbuktu. This city is well known as a hub of knowledge. Mali also developed a center for the Islamic faith and religion before poor leadership led to the empire’s ultimate decline in power and influence.

The reign of Mansa Musa 

The word Mansa means emperor. His actual name was Musa I. He came to power in 1312 and was so able that his fame reached beyond the realm of Sudan and Africa. It even reached Europe. Mansa Musa was known as a scientific emperor. He preferred science and Religion in such a harmony that till now the Islamic scholars praise him. From the year 1324 to 1325, he set out 4 Hajj to Makkah. When he returned, he brought with him many Muslim Imams and scholars who built the stepping stone of Islam in the Mali empire. He even brought architects who built 5 mosques for the first time with baked bricks. Thus Islam received its greatest boost during Mansa Musa’s rule.

Administration in Mali empire

According to Al-Bakri, Mansa Musa could give new ideas to his administrative officers. Famous traveler Ibn Battuta visited Mali during the year 1341. He gave an excellent account of Mansa Musa’s administrative legacy. The Hajj projected the wealth of Mali which attracted a lot of Islamic traders, this improved the economic condition more.

Following the death of Mansa Musa around 1337, the declination of the empire began. After 1350, poor leadership set the kingdom on the way of civil wars. By the 17th century, Mali was completely engulfed by the Moroccan Empire.