Saturday, February 04, 2006

Askia Muhammad Toure (1493-1528)

Askia Muhammad Toure--The Great King of Songhai

After the reign of Sunni Ali, Askia Muhammad Toure captured the throne. Sunni Ali was a great military king who conquered Timbuktu and Djenne, the great cities of Sahel. Askia Muhammad was Sunni Ali's former general and overthrew the reign of Sonni Ali's son, Sunni Baru. Askia Muhammad would continue the expansionist policies of Sunni Ali by conquering the oases of the Sahara, Mali and the Hausaland. Under his reign, Songhai would achieve the height of greatness as the mightest empire of all of Africa.

Askia Muhammad Touré further centralized the government by creating a large and elaborate bureaucracy to oversee his extensive empire. He was also the first to standardize weights, measures, and currency, so culture throughout the Songhai began to homogenize. Muhammad Touré was also a fervent Muslim; he replaced native Songhay administrators with Arab Muslims in order to "Islamicize" Songhai society. He also appointed Muslim judges, called qadis , to run the legal system under Islamic legal principles. These programs of conquest, centralization, and standardization were the most ambitious and far-reaching in sub-Saharan history until the colonization of the continent by Europeans.

Under the leadership of Askia Mohammed, Timbuktu once again became a prosperous commercial city, reaching a population of 100,000 people. Merchants and traders traveled from Asia, the Middle East and Europe to exchange their exotic wares for the gold of Songhay. Timbuctu gained fame as an intellectual center rivaling many others in the Muslim world. Students from various parts of the world came to Timbuktu's famous University of Sankore to study Law and Medicine. Medieval Europe sent emissaries to the University of Sankore to witness its excellent libraries with manuscripts and to consult with the learned mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, and jurists whose intellectual endeavors were said to be paid for out of the king's own treasury.

And while Islam was the official religion of the state, particularly in the urban centers, most people followed traditional African beliefs or a hybrid of traditional African beliefs and Islam.

Songhai: Africa's Largest Empire

Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu

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