The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Elderly man lost in contemplative reading in a Moorish sanctuary of Marrakech, Morocco. 1995. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts. 


The first diasporic Muslim community was on the African continent, for the Prophet Muhammed sent some of his family to safe refuge in Ethiopia as he fled Mecca for Medina. Soon after the Prophet’s death, an Islamic sultanate was founded on the island of Dahlak off the Ethiopian coast that would flourish for six centuries, and north Africa was swept from Egypt to Morocco by Muslim Arab warriors (Hiskett 1994). Berber (Amazigh) resistance was fierce and prolonged, but Arab enclaves grew across north Africa nonetheless, and by the 11th century, many Berbers had converted and become fervent Muslims. Known as “Veiled Ones,” these fierce warriors conquered a vast area of northwestern Africa and southern Spain, fostering Moorish culture with its rich panoply of arts and architecture (Brett and Fentress 1996). Here a man is lost in contemplative reading in a Moorish sanctuary in Marrakech, Morocco.