Civilizations in Africa

The Islamic Invasions

   Islam entered Africa shortly after its inception in the seventh century AD. After the death of Muhammad, the rasul, or "messenger," and prophet of Islam, in 632, the first caliph ("deputy of the prophet") of Islam, Abu Bakr, ambitiously undertook a series of military conquests to spread the new faith across the world. Although he died two years later, his nephew, Umar, continued the ambitious program. In 636, the Muslims occupied Jerusalem, Damascus, and Antioch; in 651, they had conquered all of Persia. But they also moved west into Africa, for Arabic culture saw itself as continuous not only with Middle Eastern culture, but with northern African culture as well. In 646, the Muslims conquered Egypt and quickly spread across northern Africa. From northern Africa, they invaded Spain in 711. Look at the dates: Islam is founded in 610 when Muhammed has the first of his revelations in the caves above the city of Qumran. In 711, one hundred years later, the Muslims conquered the Middle East, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, northern Africa, and had just entered Europe. The initial spread of Islam is the single most dramatic cultural change in the history of the world, and it loomed large in the subsequent history of African civilizations.

   The largest African cities and kingdoms were located in the Sahel, a desert and savannah region south of the Sahara. After 750 AD, these cities and kingdoms arose because they served as waystations and terminus points for the trade routes across northern Africa. The northern Africans, however, were Muslim; one particular people, the Berbers, were a north African people who were fervently Muslim. The Berbers and their wars of conversion figure very large in the history of the Sahelian kingdoms; by the 1300's, these large kingdoms became Islamic and, more importantly, centers of Islamic learning.

   Beyond religion, there are several important cultural practices that the Arabic culture of Islam gave to Africa. The first is literacy. Egypt and the Nilotic kingdoms of the Kushites and the Nubians had long traditions of writing, and the Ethiopians had acquired it through their ties to the Semitic peoples of southern Arabia. But these writing systems did not spread throughout Africa. Islam, however, as a religion of the book, spread writing and literacy everywhere it went. Many Africans dealt with two languages: their native language and Arabic, which was the language of texts. However, this gradually changed as Africans began using the Arabic alphabet to write their own languages. To this date, Arabic script is one of the most common scripts for writing African languages.

   With literacy, the Arabs brought formal educational systems. In north Africa and the Sahel, these systems and institutions would produce a great flowering of African thought and science. In fact, the city of Timbuctu had perhaps the greatest university in the world.

   Islam also brought social fragmentation. As the faith spread throughout Africa, political authority of established African institutions and kingdoms began to collapse under the burden, particularly when groups of Muslims declared holy war, or jihad, against pagan social groups.
Contents






























Civilizations in Africa

Egypt: A Learning Module

Kush

Axum

The Iron Age South of the Sahara

Ghana

The Islamic Invasions

The Almoravids

Mali

Songhay

The Hausa Kingdoms

Kanem-Bornu

The Forest Kingdoms

The Swahili Kingdoms

Great Zimbabwe / The Mwenemutapa Empire

Internet Resources on Africa

About "Civilizations in Africa"

Copyright Notices
































World Cultures

World Cultures Home Page


1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 11-15-96