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Western and Central Africa

Throughout the period of 2nd – 4th centuries AH, the Muslim merchants of mostly Malikite and Ibadi orientation, who had crossed the Sahara and established strong commercial ties with the areas of western and central Sudan, such as Ghanah, Mali, Sangha and Kanam, were the first propagators of Islam in the interior regions of western Africa. Some of these merchants, such as `Ali b. Yakhlaf, the Ibadi scholar, were able missionaries who succeeded in converting a number of rulers of Mali and Sangha to Islam and laid the groundwork for the further expansion of the Islamic message. The city of Tadamkah, in the mountainous region of Adrar, was among the oldest Islamic centers in the Trans-Sahara, and the birthplace of the eminent Ibadi scholar, Abu Yazid Nikari (flourished 3rd cen. AH). 

In the 5th century AH, the Islamic sect of Murabitun, which was secretly directed from a ribat, possibly in one of the islands of Tidra, on the shores of Mauritania, succeeded in recruiting a majority of Berber tribes of Sanhajah, in the early 447 AH / 1055 AD. This emerging power soon extended its reach southward through the capture of Sajlamasah, in 446 AH (1054 AD), and Udghast, in 447 AH (1055 AD). Later, the same Murabitun entered into an alliance with the Zanjis of Takrur, who had converted to Islam a century earlier, and came to control vast tracts of Ghana and Sangha in the years 448 – 475 AH. 

In the 6th century AH, the rulers of Sifawa in Kanem, in central Sudan, embraced Islam as a result of a message which originated in Egypt. Toward the close of the 6th century AH, in upper Nigeria, Kanburu, the king of Jani, converted to Islam, and was followed by the people of the city. According to what is implicitly referred to in a treatise of Shadhan b. Jibril on the determination of the direction of the qiblah, in the 6th century AH, Islam enjoyed relative popularity in the land of Zaghawah, in western Nubia, all the way to Takrur, in Senegal. 

In the 7th century AH, the formation of the two Islamic governments of Malinkah, in Mali, and Mandigu, in Ghana, contributed to the spread of Islamic influence in the region, so much so that in the coming century, in the western Sudan, the entire length of the coastal area from Senegal to Lake Chad was part of dar al-Islam. In the coming centuries, we have reports of the expansion of Islam in Bernu (end of the 8th cen. AH), in the lands of the Husa tribe (9th cen. AH), and Darfur (early 11th cen. AH). From the 10th century AH onward, Islam began to infiltrate among other sultanates in Kordofan and around Lake Chad. 

Beginning in the 11th century AH, the Muslim sultanate of Timbuktu, in the heart of Mali, came under increasing pressure from the rulers of Morocco. However, two waves of immigration prevented the situation to change to the detriment of the trend of Islamic expansion, in spite of political instability in western Sudan: first, the migration of Fulanis from the western Sudan to the southern regions of Lake Chad and, second, the migration of the Shuwa Arabs of the Funj, in the Lower Nile, to the western and southern parts of Lake Chad. In the 12th and 13th centuries AH, the long-standing jihad of the Fulanis led to the spread of Muslim political influence in the western and central Sudan, and the establishment of three Islamic governments in the regions of Fouta-toro, Fouta-jalun, and Khasu.

* source: Dianat , Aliakbar "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.541 - 545

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