Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

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

Mopti, Mali, 1989. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


As medieval Ghana lost prominence, other polities rose. The Empire of Mali occupying the fertile farmlands of the Niger “inner delta” of what is now the Republic of Mali, saw the creation or incorporation of cities such as Timbuktu, Mopti, and Djenné. These communities were significant for their mosques, Koranic schools, and libraries as well as their wide-ranging commerce (Levtzion and Pouwels 2000). In 1324 AD, Malian emperor Mansa Musa performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and his lavish gifts of gold along the way stimulated further trade across the Sahara and impacted the economy of western Europe. Ambassadors from southern Europe and northern Africa came to visit or reside in Mali, and even today, the architecture of the ancient city of Mopti, shown here, reflects both sub-Saharan and north African influences. Dwellings in the foreground are typical to African lands skirting the desert, while the yellow buildings behind are of a Moroccan style.