Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

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

Mosque of Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 1989. Photo by Allen F. Roberts. 


An architectural aesthetic common to many mosques throughout central west Africa is associated with Dyula peoples (Prussin 1986). Clustered structures, often surmounted by earthen cones and pillars, characterize tombs, shrines, and residences of important religious and secular leaders. In earlier times, even when the majority of people may not have been Muslims, mosques were constructed following these conventions to reflect a shared social status. A mosque of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso exemplifies the practical and spiritual dimensions of such construction. Built in the late 1800s, the mosque shows regional influence of cities like Djenné in Mali and Kong in Côte d'Ivoire that were in close religious and commercial contact. The pillars are similar to those of Bobo shrines, and have anthropomorphic aspects. Wooden studs support the towers, allow men to climb while resurfacing them, and keep away evil spirits. Whitewashing is a recent addition.