Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

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

Tuareg man on camel, near Mopti, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


Contact between north and western Africa has probably existed for millennia, although clear documentation begins in the 8th century CE. The Empire of Ghana east of the Senegal and west of the Niger Rivers (and so not in the present-day republic of that name), may have been founded by Berbers (Amazigh) in the 4th century, or at least it was in contact with them for the gold so avidly sought by north African traders (Hiskett 1994). By the 11th century, many in Ghana had converted to Islam and an alliance with Berber states ensured a flourishing trans-Saharan caravan trade that still exists today (Lydon 2009). The veiled man seen here is Tuareg, a Berber-speaking peoples who ply the routes from Algeria and Libya to Mali and Niger established so long ago. His wooden camel saddle, a duffle, and a Muslim prayer rug are all he requires for long-distance travel (Seligman and Loughran 2006).