Looking to the past
May 12, 2019
Written by Michaela Hill
Abdelkader’s personal identity was inseparable from his spiritual identity. He viewed himself as a devout Muslim above anything else. One of the most defining aspects of his personality was his unshakeable devotion to Islam. The Islamic faith has played an unmistakable role in global affairs since its genesis. In particular, North Africa, Abdelkader’s homeland, was redefined politically and socially after the coming of Islam. Upon realizing the effects that Islam had on the vast region of North Africa, one must wonder how Islam entered these distant lands? Religious movements are almost always catalyzed by some zealous prophet or an extraordinary occurrence. In this case, it was both. Perhaps the most charismatic and influential bearers of Islam was King Mansa Musa of Mali. In many ways, Mansa Musa is largely responsible for spreading the knowledge of Islam across North Africa. Masa Musa was one of the most extravagant and well-known kings in all African history, and I am sure that Abdelkader knew something of this mighty king’s reign and influence on Islam.
King Mansa Musa was one of the wealthiest kings to ever live, and his net worth is nearly unimaginable today. He would certainly outshine our modern-day billionaires. Mansa Musa became ruler of the Empire of Mali after its former king, Abu-Baker, was lost on a seafaring journey. Mali was a rich territory with an abundance of natural resources like salt and gold, as well as a fertile soil. In addition, the Empire of Mali was an empire of warriors and determined leaders. Musa’s empire expanded to inhabit most of West Africa, encompassing the trading routes along the coast, the mysterious Timbuktu, and the outlying edges of the Sahara Desert. With the expansion of his territory, Mansa Musa’s wealth expanded as well. Mansa Musa ruled over a prosperous and unified kingdom. He was a devout Muslim and most of his subjects practiced Islam. Mali was a thriving empire of economic stability, religious contentment, and peace (Morgan).
In 1324, King Mansa Musa decided to make the ultimate pilgrimage; he would go to Mecca like a truly devout Muslim. The journey from Mali to Mecca was no small undertaking, and Musa would make it in no ordinary way. Legend has it that King Mansa Musa made his pilgrimage with 60,000 warriors, 500 slaves, and 100 camels laden with gold. Along his way, he stopped in Cairo to pay tribute to Al-Malik AL-Nasir, where he gave away such costly gifts that the cost of gold in Egypt was deflated for over a decade. Once Musa arrived in Mecca, he reveled in his destination. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage changed his life forever and altered the social destiny of North Africa. When he journeyed home to Mali, his faith had experienced a revival and he was ready to put his inspiration to work. He enticed Muslim clerics and teachers to return to Mali to lead his people spiritually. King Mansa built a series of exquisite mosques and Islamic libraries and schools. Celebration of Islamic holidays and prayer became common place. Islamic fervor and interest grew rapidly across Northern Africa, partly to King Musa’s incredible pilgrimage, but mostly due to the resulting effects of his return. People gave Islam great respect because the mighty and influential Mansa Musa was a follower. King Mansa Musa’s sincere dedication and adoration of Islam captivated his subjects and the rest of Africa. His example soon set the pattern for the rest of Africa. Years after Mansa Musa’s death, the European world became fascinated by his pilgrimage. The decadence and mystic of his journey’s purpose gave Europeans an enchanted and respectable outlook on Islam. It is worthwhile to note that King Mansa Musa never used violence to spread influence. He believed his people should be free to practice whatever religion they desired (Harms, 137-138).
Even if Abdelkader had never encountered Mansa Musa’s fabulous story or the important work he did for the Islamic faith, Abdelkader still emulated all these virtues in his own life. It is remarkable, that a King from Mali, long, long ago in the 1300’s was sowing seeds of Islamic devotion that would inspire our Algerian hero, who has impacted our present lives so greatly!
Morgan, Thad. “This 14th-Century African Emperor Remains the Richest Person in History.” History.com. March 19, 2018. Accessed May 09, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/who-was-the-richest-man-in-history-mansa-musa.
Harms, Robert W. Africa in Global History: With Sources. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Michaela Hill is a 2017 Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize winner and is currently at Sam Houston State University, studying History and Business. She hopes to attend law school and become an environmental lawyer.