Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

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

Mosque in Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


Islam in Africa is characterized by a tension between adaptation to local realities, and acceptance of universalist doctrines, social structures, and aesthetics shared throughout the Muslim world. “African Islams” across the continent are grounded in cultures that have produced distinctive expressive forms (Launay 1992). Sacred architecture is an example of how universal ideas may be realized according to the brilliance of indigenous aesthetics. Mosques of eastern Senegal, Mali, western Burkina Faso, northern Guinea-Conakry, and northwestern Côte d’Ivoire constitute some of the most remarkable vernacular architecture (that is, created without formal training) found anywhere in the world. This small mosque in Mali demonstrates a convergence of forms from tombs and ancestral shrines of peoples throughout the area, and the mihrab-mineret is the holiest sanctuary pointing toward Mecca (Prussin 1986). The rounded forms result from resurfacing the building with mud after each rainy season.