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Crossing the Sahara: The Failure of an
Early Modern Attempt to Unify Islamic Africa

Stephen Cory
University of California at Santa Barbara


Invisible Barriers: The Problem with Regionalization

            The traditional area studies approach towards Africa is to divide the continent between North Africa (Arab Africa) and sub-Saharan Africa (Black Africa).  The North African states of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco (and sometimes also the Sudan and Mauritania) are linked with the Arab world and the Middle East.1  The countries that border these lands to the south, and that are geographically much closer than those of the Middle East, are usually studied separately as øWest Africa,Ó øEast Africa,Ó or øCentral Africa.Ó   Through the use of this model, a mental barrier is constructed, located approximately in the middle of the Sahara desert, which can blind scholars to the many economic, cultural, religious, and ethnic links between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.  These links have always existed, and continue to exist today, as evidenced by the presence of many sub-Saharan Africans living and working in the states of North Africa, and by the current claims of the Moroccan government to sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

            Economic connections between North Africa and the regions south of the Sahara were established long before the Islamic conquests of North Africa in the early eighth century.  Trade was carried out along several dominant caravan routes over the course of hundreds of years.  Over the centuries, the main commodities being exchanged included gold, ivory, ostrich feathers, cola nuts, civet, ambergris, animal hides, camels, and slaves.  These things were traded for items such as salt, sugar, cloths, brass vessels, horses, and books.  E. W. Bovill describes the cross-Saharan trade in this manner: øFrom the Nile valley in the east to the Atlantic in the west there was trafficking in gold with the interior of Africa at all times in recorded history.  Slaves and gold, gold and slaves, provided the life-blood of the trade of the Maghrib with the Sudan.Ó2  This trade was so prosperous that changes in the trade routes led to the rise and fall of different trading centers over the centuries.  The wealth of the caravan trade also inspired numerous efforts by African and European states to establish control over the trade routes.  Yet, the source of the West African gold trade remained surprisingly elusive for the foreign potentates who made these attempts.

            Another link between the two regions was provided by the Islamic religion.  In both East and West Africa, the spread of Islam moved from north to south.3  The expansion of Islam was initially connected with the work of Muslim traders in the regions south of the Sahara.4  The official recognition of Islam by African rulers led to its further infiltration into African tribal communities.  Often Islam was carried to the south through the efforts of Sufi brotherhoods that originated in North Africa.  One example of this can be seen in the Tijaniyya brotherhood, which began in southern Algeria during the eighteenth century, and which spread extensively throughout West Africa.  The connection to the Tijaniyya is so strong today that many West African Muslims make a stop at the shrine of Ahmad al-Tijani in Fes prior to completing the pilgrimage to Mecca.5 

            Ethnic and cultural connections between the regions north and south of the Sahara are also strong.  In southern Morocco, the dark-skinned Haratin are believed to have descended from unions between Arab or Berber masters and their black slaves.  As a result of changing economic patterns in the twentieth century, the Haratin have moved throughout Morocco, particularly to large cities such as Rabat or Casablanca.6  These same trends can be seen in the other countries of North Africa as well.  Cultural influences from the south are also evident, and are found in such areas as popular music, religious practices, and styles of dress.  Gnaoua musicians, who come from a religious brotherhood consisting of descendents from former slaves, are encountered all over Morocco.  Their music and dress emphasize the sub-Saharan origins of their group, and they are known for their participation in magical and spiritist practices.

The Unifying Influence of Islam and the Caliphate

            Although Westerners have often failed to recognize these links between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, this mental barrier has not always existed in the minds of Africans. The earliest written records that we have of sub-Saharan Africa are almost all from the pens of Arab writers.  Whether they traveled to sub-Saharan lands in person, as did Ibn Battuta, or wrote about this region based upon reports received from others, as did al-Bakri, these writers provide a number of details about life south of the Sahara during the pre-modern period.  Certainly the Arab writers of North Africa and al-Andalus (modern Spain) did not view the black inhabitants of these regions as being equal to themselves in culture, sophistication, or quality of life.  Their writings include many anecdotes about the strange practices and unusual appearance of the sub-Saharan people.  Nevertheless, they recognized the economic value and inherent interest of the region.7

            The expansion of Islam in the sub-Saharan lands during the thirteen and fourteenth centuries created another bond between the two areas.  As mentioned before, it was North Africans who first brought Islam into these regions, through their contacts of trade and travel.   As Islam expanded south of the Sahara, it took on a different flavor than it had in the northern part of the continent.  Yet, it never completely lost its connections with North African Islam.  Black African scholars kept themselves abreast of intellectual and political developments in such northern centers as Cairo and Fes, and those Africans who were fortunate enough to make the pilgrimage to Mecca passed through these lands, further strengthening connections.  Sometimes influences would actually run in the other direction.  In fact, it was nomad tribes from the southern Sahara who established the famous Almoravid dynasty, which ruled the western Maghrib and al-Andalus for over one hundred years.

            Despite these connections, no thought appears to have been given to creating a state that would link the regions north and south of the Sahara until the sixteenth century.  It was the Moroccan Sadi dynasty that made the first attempts in this direction.  By the mid-sixteenth century, the Sadis had managed to wrest control of Morocco from the hands of the Portuguese colonizers and the Berber Wattasid dynasty, and could begin to direct their attention towards the south.  In 1557, the Sadi sultan Muhammad al-Shaykh launched an invasion of the salt mines of Taghaza, which had been under the control of  the West African Songhay dynasty to that time.  Salt was an important element in that it served as the main commodity that was traded for gold.  Muhammad al-Shaykh was unable to follow up on this victory, however, since he was murdered by Turkish mercenaries shortly afterwards.  However, this same interest in the south would be shown  by the son of Muhammad al-Shaykh in the 1580s, but this time with a slightly different thrust.

             Ahmad al-Mansur rose to the throne in Marrakech on the heels of the Sadis magnificent victory over the Portuguese in the Battle of Wadi al-Makhazen (August 4, 1578).  An ambitious man, al-Mansur would not be satisfied with simply ruling over the lands of Morocco.  However, with the powerful Spanish state to the north, and the Ottoman Empire having established control to the east in Algiers, al-Mansur had no direction in which to expand other than southwards.  The region was certainly tempting economically, due to the wealth that was generated by the gold and slave trades originating in West Africa.  Al-Mansur believed that his possession of firearms and the modern military practices utilized by his army should enable him to triumph over the swords, spears, and tribal confederations available to the Songhay state. 

            And yet, the sultan had more than simply economic motivations for considering an invasion to the south.  Sadi rhetoric itself propelled al-Mansur towards expanding his state.  Unlike the preceding Berber dynasties, the Sadis claimed to be sharifs, or descendants of  the Prophet Muhammad.  In their competition with the Wattasids, they had argued successfully that, as sharifs, they were the divinely appointed rulers of the country.  Backing up their position with the use of Quranic verses and hadith that asserted the superiority of the Prophets family, the Sadis had used their sharifian status as the primary justification for their rule.  In fact, the logic of this argument meant that the Sadi sharifs were not only the legitimate rulers over Morocco, but also over the entire Islamic world.  Muhammad al-Shaykh had clearly implied this through statements such as his derisive reference to the Ottoman sultan as øThe Sultan of the FishermenÓ and his claims that he would meet up with him in Cairo (which was being administered at that time by the Ottomans).8  It was for such swagger as this, put into action when Muhammad al-Shaykh attempted to take Tlemcen on the western borders of Ottoman territory, that the Turkish sultan had the Sadi leader assassinated.

            Ahmad al-Mansur had similar ambitions as his father, but he was enough of a political realistic to recognize that he lacked the strength to challenge the Ottomans directly.  And yet, it was under al-Mansur that the theory of sharifian supremacy was developed to its fullest extent.  The sultan employed court panegyrists and poets such as Ibn al-Qadi, al-Fishtali, and al-Masfiwi to trumpet the superiority of his claim to Islamic headship, particularly in the eastern Islamic lands.9  In the meantime, al-Mansur made concrete plans to exert his authority over the Islamic states of sub-Saharan Africa, using the ancient theory of the caliphate as his justification. Al-Mansurs claims represented an attempt by an Early Modern monarch to reinvigorate an Islamic institution that had been important during the earliest centuries of Islam, but which had vanished in all but name after the decline and fall of the Abbasid Empire.10

            The original caliphs were believed to be successors of the Prophet Muhammad.  Their position initially involved both spiritual and political leadership, which is reflected in the title øPrince of the Believers.Ó  The caliph was believed to have authority over the entire Muslim community.  Particularly critical to the political legitimacy of the early caliphs was their association with the house of the Prophet, their claim to uphold the practices of the true faith, and their successful expansion and defense of Islamic realms through military might.  So strong was the sanctity of this office that Muslim potentates continued to give lip service allegiance to the Abbasid caliphs, long after the latter had lost all true political authority.  After the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258 destroyed the Abbasid caliphate, the Mamluk dynasty of Egypt co-opted an Abbasid descendent and moved him to Cairo as a puppet øcaliphÓ in order to substantiate their claims to supremacy in the Islamic world.  However, no serious attempts to revive this institution along its original lines were made until the sixteenth century.  At the same time that the Ottoman dynasty was considering how they might effectively apply the title of caliph to legitimize their primary position in the Islamic world, Ahmad al-Mansur began to openly assert that his caliphal claims better fit the historic qualifications for the position of øPrince of the Believers.Ó11

            It was in his role as the rightful caliph over the Islamic world that al-Mansur made his approach to the Islamic rulers of the kingdoms bordering the Sahara on the south.   In letters written to the rulers of Bornu, Kebbi, and Songhay, al-Mansur asserted his caliphal supremacy and maintained that he was only attempting to restore Islamic unity as God intended it, under the rightful leadership of the family of the Prophet.  The sultans letters to the sub-Saharan monarchs emphasized that he needed their support in order to stem the progress of the unbelieving Europeans, and to fulfill his role as leader of holy war to advance the expansion of Islam.  Nowhere in his letters did al-Mansur ever indicate that he viewed the sub-Saharan lands as a different region from his own territory.  Instead, the clear implication of his message was that, as members of Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam), the sub-Saharan Africans should willingly submit to al-Mansur as the rightful caliph over all Muslims.  Submission would bring blessing and prosperity, while resistance would bring destruction.  The Sadi sultan seems to have been envisioning the reestablishment of the caliphate in the western lands of Islam; a caliphate that would span the Sahara on both sides, and would serve as a challenge to Ottoman supremacy.

            Although this idea seems far-fetched to us now, living as we do in the age of nationalism and self-determination, al-Mansurs approach was in accordance with historic Islamic ideology.   During the early centuries of Islam, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates managed to hold together vast empires, spanning large territories that today encompass a number of separate national entities.  During the time of al-Mansur, the Ottoman empire also brought together many different regions under one head, while, superficially at least, applying the title of caliph to their sultan.  Al-Mansur had no reason to think that he couldnt do the same, especially given that his claims for leadership were better than those of the Ottomans.  In addition, the long-standing economic and religious connections between North and West Africa only encouraged the sultan to conceive of these two areas as being part of one community, which ought to be linked politically as well.   He argued that, as a sharif, he was uniquely qualified to lead this community, and that the rulers of the sub-Saharan Islamic states ought to recognize and submit to his authority.

Forced Unity?  Al-Mansurs Invasion of West Africa

            As is often the case, the practice of implementing al-Mansurs ideas of a western caliphate was more difficult than its theoretical conception.  The sultan spent several years in negotiation with the sub-Saharan Borno and Songhay states, and in preparing his army for an invasion to the south.  Although he obtained a written oath of allegiance from the sultan of the Bornu,12 al-Mansurs attempts to exert his authority over the Songhay met with outright refusal from their leader, Askia Ishaq II.  As a result, the Sadi sultan launched his invasion of Songhay in 1591.13  Due to their enormous advantage in firearms and military organization, al-Mansurs troops were initially quite successful in conquering the region and annexing it to the Moroccan empire.  Efforts were made to persuade the most influential members of West African society to willingly give their allegiance to al-Mansur, and to stabilize the area under new leadership.14  Following this victory, the Sadi scribe al-Fishtali would proclaim triumphantly, øThe command of al-Mansur was effective from Nuba to the ocean on the western side . . . (and he gained) marvelous authority that had never existed for anyone before him."15  However, it would turn out that al-Mansurs authority south of the Sahara was ephemeral at best.  After a short period of time, a Songhay resistance movement arose, resulting in many years of armed struggle between the Moroccan conquerors and the Songhay resistance, and dooming al-Mansurs project to eventual failure. 

            If, as I have argued, the regions north and south of the Sahara have long enjoyed many and varied connections, and if al-Mansurs justification for his annexation of West Africa fit in with traditional Islamic ideology, at least two questions are raised by this failure: 1) What were the reasons for the short duration of effective Moroccan authority in West Africa?  2) Why did the West Africans fail to buy into al-Mansurs explanation for the invasion?

            Regarding the first question, many historians explain this failure as being due to several factors.  First of all, they believe that al-Mansur was simply interested in milking profits from the West African gold mines, and that he made no effort to develop the infrastructure for a more permanent annexation of Songhay lands.  Secondly, they argue that Morocco lacked the capacity to effectively incorporate the large Songhay territory, separated from southern Morocco by miles of desert wasteland, into the Moroccan empire.  Although their superiority in weaponry gave the Moroccans an initial advantage in their battle with the Songhay, the permanent annexation of this territory to Morocco was a different story. 

            The Moroccan historian Abd al-Krim Kurayyim contests the first explanation for the failure of al-Mansurs endeavor to annex West Africa to his empire.  He argues that the Moroccans attempted to establish a stable administration for governing the country, and even made efforts to improve agricultural methods in the region.  Kurayyim maintains that not all of the Songhay resented the arrival of the Moroccans, and lists a number of cases in which the invaders received a warm response.16  He places most of the blame for the disorder that befell West Africa after the Moroccan invasion upon the Songhay leaders who continued to resist Moroccan authority, leading to a protracted guerilla war throughout the Songhay regions.17  In addition, misfortunes that occurred within Morocco itself, including an extended plague after 1596, could be adduced to help explain the Moroccan failure to capitalize upon their military victory through effectively annexing the Songhay territory.

            Another scholar, Lansine Kaba, disagrees with Kurayyims favorable interpretation of Moroccan efforts to integrate the Songhay lands into their empire.  Kaba mostly attributes the Moroccan failure to the second factor listed above, i.e. that Morocco lacked the capacity to effectively incorporate Songhay territory.  Kaba argues that, while al-Mansur had developed a highly sophisticated army (by sixteenth-century standards), the Moroccan governmental, societal, and economic infrastructure lacked the same degree of sophistication.  Indeed, in order to develop such an army, al-Mansur had been forced to rely upon mercenary troops mostly recruited from Andalusian refugees, European renegades, and Turkish mercenaries.  Since these troops lacked any long-term identification with Morocco itself, they were untrustworthy, and tended to be overly harsh in their administration, and unreliable in their commitment to the sultans goals.  Finally, Kaba argues that al-Mansurs invasion of the Songhay was carried on mostly with Europe in view.   Desirous of keeping pace with the European powers, al-Mansur sought to unite West Africa under his authority, in order that he might be able to utilize its resources to strengthen his position vis-a-vis the other Mediterranean states.  However, instead of achieving this goal, Kaba believes that the invasion turned out to be a complete disaster, which øfinally swallowed up both the conqueror and the conquered.Ó18  Not only was the effect of continued warfare devastating to the economy and society of West Africa, but the cost of supporting a long-distance foreign war placed undue strain upon the Moroccan economy.  It drained away resources that could have been better used elsewhere in developing an infrastructure that would be able to compete economically with the Europeans.

            Regarding my second question (as to why the West Africans did not buy into al-Mansurs justification for his invasion), I again refer to the works of Kurayyim and Kaba.  As Kurayyim points out, the sources indicate that a number of the Songhay leaders did initially welcome the Moroccans, and seemed prepared to cooperate with their authority.  However, the documented abuses undertaken against the local population by Moroccan troops seem to have turned the populace against the invaders.  This hearkens back to Kabas point that the mercenary nature of al-Mansurs troops may not have been the most advantageous for establishing a long-term connection with the Songhay lands. 

            Indeed, it seems that most West Africans believed that al-Mansurs claims to unify the Islamic community were made for self-serving reasons, and not for the purpose of advancing the cause of Islam.  Their experience of this øunification projectÓ was violence, turmoil, the loss of their possessions, and general anarchy.19  Whether the rebellious Songhay are blamed for this chaos (per Kurayyim), the mercenary soldiers (per Kaba), or the disingenuous aims of al-Mansur himself (per many other historians, including Dahiru Yahya,)20 the end result was not conducive to garnering West African support for a greater Western Caliphate under the headship of al-Mansur. 

            Kaba makes one other observation that is relevant to our discussion.  Regarding the Songhay resistance, he writes that the retreat of the Askia and his entourage into the historic Songhay heartland øgalvanized the resistance and gave a ¥national character to it.Ó21  In a footnote, Kaba explains that resistance to the abuses inflicted upon the populace by the Moroccan army øassumed a ¥national character in that it entailed broad trans-ethnic feelings hostile to alien rule and based on some type of common historical traditions.Ó22  Thus, Kaba alludes to the beginnings of proto-nationalist feelings in West Africa, some of the earliest forebodings of a mindset that was to become predominant in Africa and the rest of the world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.23

The Divisive Impact of Nationalism

            After the time of al-Mansur, no further attempts were made to reinvigorate the Islamic institution of the caliphate in its role of providing political and spiritual leadership for the entire Muslim world.  Although the Ottoman Empire maintained the position of caliph down to the twentieth century, the Ottomans never relied upon this title as a key foundation for their political legitimacy.  In fact, the caliphate became so unimportant to the Ottomans that several modern scholars have debated over whether they ever asserted caliphal supremacy at all.

            Perhaps the Ottomans neglect of this title was simply a sign of changing times.  Overarching unifying concepts, such as the Islamic ideal of the caliphate, have not done well during the modern period.  Since the early nineteenth century, the concepts of the greater Islamic community and the caliphate have increasingly been unable to combat the rising tide of nationalism, and its accompanying fragmentation into smaller and smaller communities.  While it is outside the scope of this paper to trace the rise of the nationalist ideal, suffice it to say that nationalism is a western concept, developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which has had mixed results when applied to the non-western world.24  Because of the economic and political power of the West, and also because nationalist ideologies have proven to be an effective means by which local elites in developing nations can legitimize their authority, the nationalist ideal became almost exclusively dominant throughout the world during the twentieth century.  This was true even in states that presumed to adhere to more universalizing doctrines such as Muslim nations and communist countries. 

            Certainly the concept of the modern nation state, which includes such ideas as the right of self-determination, common citizenship available to all inhabitants of a country, and other related notions, promises many advantages to developing states.  And yet, what it has frequently delivered is increased inequality and ethnic conflicts, øborder warsÓ over proper boundaries between lands, and the subdivision of regions that once functioned effectively as a unit into smaller entities that have trouble competing on their own.  Many of the modern nation-states are clearly colonial constructs arising from Western political decisions during the colonial period.  These include the rather spurious distinction between the nations of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, states that had no separate identity prior to the intervention of the colonizers.  Another example is the linking of the Christian southern Sudan with the Islamic northern Sudan (a decision that has resulted in a long and bloody civil war that continues to this day).  It is also interesting how often a nationalist conception seems to develop in contradistinction to an opposing øother,Ó such as we saw earlier in this paper when we observed the beginnings of a Songhay ønationalismÓ coming into being only in response to the oppression of the Moroccan invaders.  In the same way, it can be argued that Palestinian nationalism has developed only in response to the imposition of the Israeli nationalist vision, or that Bosnian nationalism arose in response to Serbian aggressiveness.  The Armenians coexisted relatively peacefully with the Ottoman Turks for hundreds of years prior to the late nineteenth century, when the simultaneous development of Turkish and Armenian nationalism led to the infamous Armenian massacres.  In the same way, similar examples could be multiplied with regard to Africa and other parts of the developing world.

            Regionalism is also a by-product of the West, arising from the nineteenth-century drive to understand and categorize the world, particularly in a way that made it clear that the West was the most advanced civilization on earth.  Regionalism tends to essentialize certain areas according to characteristics that are felt to typify them.  Sometimes the process of regionalism is spurred on by the inhabitants of those regions themselves.  In the case of North Africa, the dominant culture has been a self-identified Arab culture.  Believing Arab cultural values to be superior to Berber or sub-Saharan cultural values, the Maghrib has chosen to identify itself with the Arab world, even during periods of dominance by Berber dynasties such as the Almoravid or Merinid dynasties.  By focusing solely upon this self-chosen identification, however, scholars run the risk of missing very important cultural contributions by subordinate groups within the society.   

Towards a New Conception of Africa

            Through this study, I have sought to demonstrate the long-lasting connections between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.  Although these connections existed centuries before the coming of Islam, they grew stronger throughout the Islamic period.  During the sixteenth century, the Sadi sultan Ahmad al-Mansur observed the economic, cultural, and religious connections between the two regions, and argued that there ought to be political unification between them as well.  And yet, it was at this point that things broke down, as al-Mansur was unable to achieve his dream of a caliphate that spanned both sides of the Sahara.  The unification project for such a broad expanse of territory was too difficult for a moderately-powerful state, lacking in sophisticated infrastructure, such as Morocco, to achieve.   Despite the existence of these many inter-connections, they were insufficient to support political unification.

            In fact, if Kabas argument is correct, al-Mansurs attempt at integrating West Africa into his state had long-lasting disastrous consequences for both North and West Africa.  By destroying the strongest centralized state in sub-Saharan Africa, al-Mansurs invasion did irreparable damage to the trans-Saharan trade routes that had enriched both Morocco and West Africa.  Instead, this trade increasingly began to be diverted to the south, where it was accessed by European merchants along the Gold and Slave Coasts.  And the process of devoting all of the states efforts towards the invasion exhausted the Sadi dynasty, making it extremely vulnerable to outside interference and collapse, once misfortune hit in the form of the plague and various famines.  The sons of al-Mansur tore his dynasty apart after his death, and Morocco would never again challenge for supremacy in the Islamic or Mediterranean worlds.  In attempting to establish a form of African political unity, al-Mansur hastened division and decline, leaving West Africa unprotected before the European onslaught that was to come in the following centuries.25

            Perhaps we make the same mistake as did al-Mansur, albeit with less disastrous results.  We assume that where there are economic, religious, and cultural connections, political connection ought to exist as well.  Or, conversely, we conclude that if there is not a dominant political or ethnic connection between different areas, then the two areas ought to be considered as separate and distinct.  One of our primary modern conceptions for viewing the world, nationalism, develops unity among people by emphasizing their distinctions from others.  This naturally leads to division and conflict.  Thus the Maghrib, which has been unified under different dynasties several times in the past, cannot get past the nationalist barrier to achieve any degree of Maghribi unity today.  This is true even though attempts have been made towards this end, and it is clear that there would be  benefits for all the countries of the Maghrib through the achievement of some higher degree of cooperation between them.

            In contrast to nationalism and regionalism, I have argued that the historic Muslim ideal of the caliphate established connections that lasted for centuries between regions that we would view as being very different from one another.  These connections did not always involve strong political control.  One example of this can be seen in the decentralized approach that the Ottomans took towards ruling the provinces on the outer reaches of their sizable empire.  Another example is found in the efforts made by sub-Saharan rulers in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries to have their authority officially approved by the puppet Abbasid caliph in Cairo.  Simply having this seal of approval legitimized the Islamic status of these African kingdoms, and tied them in with the Islamic heartlands, no matter how remote their states might be.

            Certainly I am not recommending a return to the Islamic caliphal ideal, nor could such a thing be brought about even if it were attempted.  The modern world is different from the medieval world in substantial ways, and there is no way to turn back the clock.  Still, I think it is time to recognize some of the weaknesses of the modern concepts of nationalism and regionalism, and to work to move beyond the limitations that they place upon us.

            How can scholars overcome the pitfalls of the blinders that are set up by these modern concepts?  If I were to propose another model for viewing the continent of Africa, I would be falling into the same regionalist trap that I am criticizing.  Instead, we, as teachers and scholars, must make a concerted effort in our instruction and research to point out the unifying connections between regions that often go over-looked in todays world.  If we can teach our students to think in the same way, perhaps tomorrows leaders can emerge as somewhat more broad-minded than our generation has proven to be, and less limited by constructs that are viewed as being hard and fast.  At any rate, it would be worth our best efforts to attempt to achieve such results.


1 The four countries of North Africa that are located to the west of Egypt (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) are usually referred to as a group by the term øMaghrib,Ó which comes from an Arab word meaning øthe farthest west.Ó

2 Edward William Bovill, The Golden Trade of the Moors: West African Kingdoms in the Fourteenth Century (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1995), 22.  Originally published by Oxford University Press in 1958.

3 Since my expertise is in western Africa, most of my examples are derived from that region.  However, many of the same points can be made about East Africa as well.  For more information on the Islamic connections between the regions north and south of the Sahara in East Africa, see Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, editors, The History of Islam in Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000).  In particular, the following articles in that volume deal with the spread of Islam in East Africa: øThe East African Coast, c. 780 to 1900 CEÓ by Randall Pouwels, pp. 251-272; øEast Central AfricaÓ by Edward A. Alpers, pp. 303-326.

4 On this point, Levtzion and Pouwels write øThough merchants opened routes and exposed isolated societies to external influences, they did not engage in the propagation of Islam.  Conversion to Islam was the work of men of religion who communicated primarily with local rulers.Ó Ibid., 3.

5 Further information on the role of Sufi brotherhoods in North and West Africa can be found in an article by R.G. Jenkins, entitled øThe Evolution of Religious Brotherhoods in North and Northwest Africa, 1523-1900Ó in Studies in West African Islamic History, edited by J.R. Willis.  (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1979), 40-77.

6 One recent study of the Haratin in Morocco is found in Remco Ensels book, Saints and Servants in Southern Morocco (Leiden: Brill, 1999).  Ensels research on the Haratin took place mostly in an oasis community in southeast Morocco, and it focuses upon the relationship between the Haratin and the sharifian nobility of this community.  However, Ensel also touches upon the effects of modernism upon the traditional roles of the Haratin and upon their exodus from the rural areas to the urban centers of Morocco.  Ensel also includes an extensive bibliography for further research on this topic.

7 For more on the early Arab writings about sub-Saharan Africa, see Nehemia Levtzion and J.F.P. Hopkins, editors, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner Publications, 2000).  Original publication: Cambridge University Press, 1981.  This work contains an exhaustive collection of excerpts from the early Arabic writers on sub-Saharan Africa, translated into English by J.F.P. Hopkins, which makes these texts extremely accessible to the modern reader.

8 These comments by Muhammad al-Shaykh are recorded in an anonymous history of the Sadi dynasty, entitled Tarikh al-dawla al-Sadiyya al-Daraiyya al-Tagmadertiyya, edited by George Colin, Institut des Hautes Etudes Marocaines (Rabat: Editions Felix Moncho, 1934).  This text has been translated into French, and is included in a collection of Moroccans sources by E. Fagnan, entitled Extraits inedits relatifs au Maghreb: Geographie et Histoire (Alger, 1925).  The quotes mentioned above are found on p. 381 of Fagnans translation.

9 Abu Faris Abd al-Aziz al-Fishtali.  Manahil al-safa fi maathir mawalina al-shurafa.  Editor: Abd al-Karim Kurayyim. (Rabat, 1973).  This is the one surviving work from the pen of al-Fishtali, the chief scribe of al-Mansurs state, and it is considered to be the main source for the dynasty of al-Mansur.  The other leading writer from al-Mansurs court was Ahmad Ibn al-Qadi.   A number of Ibn al-Qadis works survive to this day.  His primary panegyric work is entitled  Al-Muntaqa al-maqsur ¥ala maathir al-khilafat Abi al-Abbas al-Mansur.  Editor: Muhammad Razzouq. (Rabat: Mektabat al-Maarif, 1986).  This work consists mainly of a meditation upon the great character qualities of al-Mansur which, the scholar argues, showed him to be the rightful caliph of Islam.  The surviving poetry of al-Masfiwi can be found in Manahil al-Safa, as well as in  Kitab al-Istiqsa li-akhbar duwal al-Maghrib al-Aqsa by the nineteenth-century Moroccan historian, Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Khalid al-Nasiri al-Salawi.  The section on al-Mansur is found in Volume Five of this work.  This volume has been translated into French by al-Nasiris son, Muhammad al-Nasiri, and appears in Archives Marocaines 34 (1936).  The poetry of al-Masfiwi, as well as that of the other main poets of the age of al-Mansur, is analyzed in a recent book by the Moroccan scholar Najala al-Marini, entitled Al-Shar al-Maghribi fi ¥asr al-Mansur al-Sadi (Rabat: Nashurat Kuliat al-Adab wa al-Alum al-Insania, 1999).  The panegyric role of the works of Ibn al-Qadi and al-Fishtali is analyzed in detail in my upcoming dissertation, entitled øChosen by God to Rule: The Revival of the Caliphate and Political Legitimacy in Early Modern MoroccoÓ (Ph.D. diss., University of California Santa Barbara, 2001).

10 The Abbasid dynasty, known as the second great caliphate of Islam, arose in Baghdad after the overthrow of the Umayyads in 750 CE.  The dynasty finally came to an end when the Mongols sacked Baghdad and destroyed the caliphate in 1258 CE, however the Abbasid caliphs had lost most of their political power approximately 300 years before that date.  From the mid-tenth century to the mid-thirteenth century, political power in the Islamic east was divided between a number of sultanates, most of whom looked to the Abbasids as figureheads who could legitimize their reigns.  These dynasties, such as the Buyids, Ghaznavids, and Seljuks, provided political and military protection for the Abbasid caliphs, in exchange for being formally recognized by these caliphs as Gods designated political leaders (sultans) for their regions.

11 For information on the Ottoman use of the title of caliph, see the following works: H.A.R. Gibb.  øLufti Pasha on the Ottoman CaliphateÓ in Oriens 15 (1962), 287-95; Colin Imber, øSuleyman as Caliph of the Muslims: Ebus-Suuds Formulation of Ottoman Dynastic IdeologyÓ in Soliman le Magnifique et son Temps, edited by Gilles Veinstein.  (Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1992); Colin Imber.  øIdeals and Legitimation in early Ottoman historyÓ in Suleyman the magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World, edited by Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead.  (London: Longman, 1995); Chantal de la Verone, øRelations entre le Maroc et la Turquie dans la seconde moitie du XVI et le XVII siecleÓ in Revue de lOccident musulman et de la Mediterranee 15-16 (1973), pgs. 391-401.

12 Al-Fishtali includes a detailed account of the negotiations between al-Mansur and the Bornu in Manahil al-Safa, 67-73.  Apparently, the Bornu sent a delegation to al-Mansur while he was in Fes, requesting military aid to assist them in their holy war against the infidels in their region.  Al-Mansur responded that he could not provide the requested aid until the sultan of the Bornu, Mai Idris Aloma, took an oath of allegiance to the sultanate of al-Mansur.  Al-Fishtali asserts that Idris Aloma agreed to these conditions, and signed an oath of allegiance, which the Sadi scribe drew up himself, and which he appends to his account of the negotiations with the Bornu.  The main problem with this account is that it does not fit with subsequent events.  There is no indication anywhere that al-Mansur provided the military aid that Idris Aloma had asked of him.  Indeed, given his planned assault upon the Songhay, it is doubtful that the Sultan would have had the resources to devote to such an alliance with the Bornu.  And there is also no record that the Bornu aided the Moroccans in any way when al-Mansur later launched his offensive against the Songhay capital in Gao.  Indeed, there is no further mention anywhere about this supposed alliance, a fact that seems very strange given the strong language in which the agreement was couched.  In his 1972 article, "Songhay, Bornu and Hausaland in the sixteenth century," John Hunwick speculates that al-Mansur was unable to fulfill his promise of military aid due to his other obligations and that consequently "no appeal for support was made to Bornu by al-Mansur when his forces were engaged in subduing Songhay during the last decade of the century." John Hunwick, in History of West Africa, Volume One, ed. J.F.A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 211-212.  Al-Fishtalis account is largely included in al-Nasiris history, almost word-for-word from Manahil al-Safa, and can be found in the Archives Marocaines French translation (cited above), 178-192.

13 A considerable amount of scholarship has been produced on the topic of the Moroccan invasion of the Songhay state.   Among the most important works: Henry de Castries, øLa Conquete du Soudan par el-Mansour (1591)Ó in Hesperis 3, 1923, 433-488; John Hunwick, øAhmad Baba and the Moroccan Invasion of the Sudan, 1591Ó in Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria 2 (1962), 319-24; Evariste Levi Provencal, øUn document inedit sur lexpedition sadide au SoudanÓ in Arabica Occidentalia 2 (1955), 89-96; Raymond Mauny.  øLexpedition marocaine dOuadane (Mauritanie) vers 1543-1544Ó in Bulletin de lInstitut Francais dAfrique Noire 11 (1949), 129-140; L. Mougin, øLes Premiers Sultans Saadides et le SaharaÓ in Revue de lOccident musulman et de la Mediterranee 20 (1975), 169-187; Georges Pianel, øLes Preliminaires de la conquete de Soudan par Mawlay Ahmad al-MansurÓ in Hesperis 40 (1953), 185-97; John Ralph Willis,  øMorocco and the Western Sudan: Fin de siecle - fin de temps.  Some Aspects of Religion and Culture to 1600,Ó in The Maghreb Review 14:1-2 (1989), 91-95.  In addition to these articles, the invasion is also discussed in Weston F. Cook, Jr., The Hundred Years War for Morocco: Gunpowder and the Military Revolution in the Early Modern Muslim World.  (Boulder : Westview Press, 1994), as well as in the works of Bovill, Kaba, Yahya, Hunwick, and Kurayyim, referred to elsewhere in these notes.

14 An example of this is the Sultans letter to Abu Hafs Umar, the qadi (Islamic judge) of Timbuktu, prior to the invasion of Songhay.  Al-Mansur writes, øWe addressed this noble letter to you, so that you might be the first to respond to (the) call (to submission to al-Mansurs caliphate), and give answer to its summons; and so that you might through it raise your voice in those lands, and make clear to people these gleaming proofs, for them to learn from them what God has made incumbent upon them as regards obedience to this noble Prophetic imamate, without which practices (of religion) are not accepted by God.Ó øLetter from Mulay Ahmad al-Mansur to Qadi ¥Umar b. Mahmud, dated Shawwal 998/August 1590Ó translated into English and included in John Hunwicks book, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 300-301.  Not only does this book include an English translation of al-Sadis Tarikh al-Sudan, the main West African account of the Songhay empire, including the invasion by al-Mansur, but it also includes a number of other accounts of the invasion, as well as some diplomatic letters related to the conquest.  Although al-Mansur attempted to persuade Qadi Umar to support his regime, the religious leadership (ulama) of Timbuktu remained so hostile to the Moroccan invaders that the Moroccans were forced to export all of the leading ulama from Timbuktu to Marrakech in 1594 in attempt to quell rebellions in that city.

15 Al-Fishtali, quoted in Al-Nasiri, Archives Marocaines 34, 217.

16 Abd al-Krim Kurayyim, Al-Maghrib fi¥ahd al-dawla al-Sadiyya (Casablanca: Sharikat al-Taba wa al-Nashr, 1978), 164-165.

17 Ibid., 165-171.  In these pages, Kurayyim presents his argument that the majority of the Moroccan pashas ruled justly, and did their best to establish peace and security in the former Songhay lands.  He also suggests that al-Mansur took concrete steps to deal with Moroccan abuses every time they were brought to his attention, and that he established an administrative system that was actually functioning effectively for the majority of al-Mansurs reign.

18 Lansine Kaba, øArchers, Musketeers, and Mosquitoes: The Moroccan Invasion of the Sudan and the Songhay Resistance (1591-1612),Ó in Journal of African History, 22 (1981), 457-475.

19 The Sudanese historian al-Sadi put it this way, in his seventeenth-century work, Tarikh al-Sudan: øThe Sadian army found the land of the Sudan at  this time to be one of the most favored lands of God Most High in any direction, and the most luxurious, secure, and prosperous, thanks to the baraka (blessing) of the most auspicious, the divinely-favoured Commander of the Faithful Askia al-hajj Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, because of his justice and the strictness of his all-encompassing authority, which was as effective at the borders of his kingdom as it was in his palace . . . . All of this changed then: security turned to fear, luxury was changed into affliction and distress, and prosperity became woe and harshness.  People began to attack one another throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom, raiding and preying upon property, (free) persons and slaves.  Such  iniquity became general, spreading, and becoming ever more serious and scandalous.Ó  This selection is excerpted from John Hunwicks translation of Tarikh al-Sudan in Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire (cited above), 192-193.

20 Dahiru Yahya, Morocco in the Sixteenth Century: Problems and Patterns in an African Foreign Policy (Harlow, Essex: Longmans Press, 1981).  Yahya is one of the few historians who write in English to seriously consider the ideology put forth by al-Mansurs panegyrist, al-Fishtali.  Yahya argues that al-Mansurs main motivation for the invasion of Songhay was to gain control of the gold trade, but that the sultan had an ideological problem in justifying the invasion of another Islamic regime that had been living at peace with his state.  For this reason, states Yahya, al-Mansur was forced to develop the elaborate ideological justification regarding øuniting the lands of Islam,Ó so that he could quiet the objections of the Moroccan religious leaders who took issue with the invasion.  While Yahya should be credited for his extensive archival work and his thoroughness in dealing with the original source materials, I believe that his interpretation of the reasons for the development of al-Mansurs ideology is too limited.  Yahya fails to take into account other evidence demonstrating that al-Mansur was attempting to advance the same ideology in Cairo and Damascus, locations which would have no bearing at all on his invasion of the Sudan.  In addition, Yahya fails to conclusively demonstrate the existence of the Islamic opposition to the Sudanese project that he claims motivated the development of al-Mansurs ideological justification.

21 Kaba, 468.

22 Ibid., 469.

23 Interestingly, the Moroccan historian Mohammed Hajji has argued that the 16th and 17th centuries witnessed the beginnings of Moroccan nationalism as well.  In his article, øLIdee de Nation au Maroc et quelques-uns de ses aspects aux XVI et XVII sieclesÓ (Hesperis Tamuda 9, 1968, 109-121), Hajji maintains that the Moroccan resistance against Portuguese and Spanish territorial incursions represent the earliest expressions of a Moroccan national consciousness, and that the same resistance displayed against Turkish attempts to exert authority over the region show that the Moroccan response included an element of national consciousness that superceded religious affiliations.

24 For a thought-provoking and convincing argument regarding the foundations and growth of nationalism in the modern world, see Benedict Andersons monumental work, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983; revised and extended edition published by Verso 1991).

25 Kaba makes this point when he writes øWith the disaster in the Sudan, the last great Arab hope, unfortunately, came tumbling down.  Then there emerged a Europe-centered dominion of the economy from which the Maghrib and West Africa have yet, nearly 400 years later, to recover.Ó  Kaba, 475.


Copyright Statement

Copyright: © 2001 by the American Historical Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle. Format by Chris Hale.

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