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Ancient Africa

Islam in North Africa

Islam had a great impact on the culture of North Africa. It affected the way people lived including their government, trade, and education.

Muslim Conquest

The religion of Islam began in the Middle East during the early 600s CE. Not long after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 CE, the Arabs began to expand their empire. They first invaded northern Africa in 647 CE. They conquered much of the land, but turned back after defeating Libya in return for tribute (payment).

The Arabs once again invaded in 665 CE. This time they conquered virtually all of north Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean and Morocco. They continued to fight against the armies of the Byzantine Empire and the local peoples (the Berbers) for several years. By the year 709 CE, all of northern Africa was firmly under Arab control.

The Great Mosque of Djenne
The Great Mosque of Djenne from the USDA

As a result of Arab rule, many northern Africans were converted to Islam. Islam had a significant impact on the culture of northern Africa. Although some local traditions and values were often incorporated into the religion, Islam had a unifying influence in the government, the culture, the architecture, and the economy.

The Maghreb

The area of northern Africa that came under Muslim rule is called the Maghreb. The Maghreb stretches from the border of Egypt and Libya all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and the country of Mauritania. It includes the modern day countries of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania.

The people who originally lived in the Maghreb are called the Berbers. The Berbers are similar in ethnicity and speak similar languages, called Berber languages. Although the Berbers initially fought back against the Muslim conquest, they were eventually converted to Islam and took on much of the Muslim culture.

Map of Maghreb in Northwest Africa
Map of Maghreb by Ducksters
The Moors

After northern Africa (the Maghreb) was conquered by the Arabs, the people of northern Africa became known as the Moors. The Moors were a very powerful people in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. They not only controlled all of northern Africa, but invaded Europe at one point controlling much of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and the island of Sicily (Italy).

Expansion into Europe

In 711, the Moors invaded Europe with an army led by General Tariq ibn Ziyad. Tariq and his men captured much of the Iberian Peninsula (the region that is today Spain and Portugal). The Moors held control over this land for hundreds of years until they were finally forced out by the Christian Reconquista in 1492.

Central Africa

Islam also spread to the empires of Central Africa mostly through trade relations across the Sahara Desert. Islam played an important role in both the Empire of Mali and the Songhai Empire. Perhaps the most famous Muslim of Central Africa was the Mali Emperor Mansa Musa. After Mansa Musa was converted to Islam, he made a legendary pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia). Records indicate that as many as 60,000 people traveled with him on his journey.

Interesting Facts about Islam in Africa Activities

To learn more about Ancient Africa:

Ancient Egypt
Kingdom of Ghana
Mali Empire
Songhai Empire
Kingdom of Aksum
Central African Kingdoms
Ancient Carthage

Art in Ancient Africa
Daily Life
Traditional African Religions
Slavery in Ancient Africa
Cleopatra VII
Shaka Zulu

Countries and Continent
Nile River
Sahara Desert
Trade Routes

Timeline of Ancient Africa
Glossary and Terms

Works Cited

History for Kids >> Ancient Africa >> Islamic Empire for Kids

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