Developments in Africa

Unit 1: c. 1200-1450

Main Ideas:

  • Kingdoms & merchants adopted Islam (but still retained their indigenous beliefs) to have better relations with Islamic merchants

  • Religion was defined on a local scale and supported the kinship model of African society

Mali Empire

 1235 - c. 1600 CE 

Key Ideas:

  • Merchants converted to Islam to forge better relations with Islamic merchants (from North Africa) but retained their indigenous beliefs → Religious syncretism

    • Islamic merchants from North Africa traded with Mali via trans-Saharan Trade Route

    • Mansa Musa (King of Mali) was inspired by Islam during a hajj → Spread Islam to the Kingdom of Mali and built Islamic schools & mosques

    • Those who converted to Islam retained some indigenous African religious beliefs → Didn't strictly follow Islamic sharia law

The Great Mosque of Djenne, built first in the 13th century and rebuilt in 1907. It represents Islamic influence in the Kingdom of Mali 


Mansa Musa, the King of Mali who patronized Islam in Mali


Swahili City-States

City-States on East African Coast 

Key Ideas:

  • Merchants converted to Islam to forge better relations with Islamic merchants but still retained some indigenous religious beliefs → Religious syncretism

    • Many East Africans converted to Islam but didn't follow strict Islamic ideals of women subordination → Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta got surprised by this

  • African society was based on a kinship model, and African religion supported this societal model

    • African society was divided into clans made up of different family units → Social structure was based on familial relationships

    • African religion was localized and involved a creator god, and ancestors would become intermediaries with the gods

The Great Mosque of Kilwa, built in the 11th or 12th century. It represents the expansion of Islam in East Africa


Female figurines representing African deities and spirits