a historical survey with relevant Arab documents
Joseph Kenny, O.P.



   Introduction (below)

  1. Christianity before Islam: a summary
  2. Islam meets Christianity in northeast Africa
  3. The conquest of the Maghrib
    A later embellished version by Ibn-`Idharī (c. 1300)
  4. Later history of the Maghrib
  5. Crusaders and preachers in North Africa
  6. Trans-Saharan communication: Early Arab crossings and impressions
  7. West African kingdoms, 8th to 10th centuries
  8. The Murābit movement
  9. West African kingdoms, 11th to 13th centuries
  10. Empires and states, 13th to 16th centuries
  11. Mali in the Arab accounts
  12. The Songhay empire according to Ta’rīkh al-Fattāsh, Ta'rīkh as-Sūdān and Leo Africanus
  13. The Jihād states, 17th to 19th centuries
  14. 19th century Sokoto, Oyo, Borno
  15. Islam in colonial and independent times


         Northwest Africa—The Maghrib
         Northeast Africa
         West Africa—The Niger River


The present and past West Africa cannot be understood without knowing the major role Islam has played in shaping events in the region.  Islam in one way or another affects the lives of all the people there, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  To understand the present it is good to take a look at the past, how Islam came to West Africa, took root and spread before the dramatic changes introduced by colonial and independent national rule.

To reach West Africa, Islam had to come first to Egypt, then to the Maghrib, and then filter across the Sahara.  In Egypt and the Maghrib Islam met Christianity;  in West Africa it met Traditional Religion.  Its confrontation and interaction with these two religions is a sub-theme of this book.

Since our chief source of information for the period surveyed is Arabic literature, we must not only summarize or refer to it, but present they key passages that give not only information but also the perspective of the writers.  Certainly there are distortions, prejudices and exaggerations; these are most easily detected and corrected by presenting the very words of the writers.

We can appreciate the acumen and systematic approach of the Arab geographers with their division of the world by latitude into climes and by longitude into sections.  We can admire the first-hand accounts of travellers and the care of other writers to get accurate information from those who did travel.  Nevertheless, considerable confusion emerges from the identification of the Nile with the Senegal and Niger rivers and from place names which are often garbled and vary from one writer to another.  The dating of events and assessment of the state of power, wealth, culture and Islam in an area also vary from one author to another.

There is considerable literature by recent writers who attempt to interpret and resolve the problems raised by the Arabic accounts.  They have solved many problems, but many points are still controverted.  I refer to this literature in the appropriate places.

Since the focus of this book is West Africa, the texts on North Africa and the Sahara are briefer.  Yet in the interest of studying the interaction of Islam with Christianity and African Traditional Religion, I carry the story of Islam in the Maghrib to the final extinction of indigenous Christianity.