Islamization of the
Sudan region (Sahel) encompasses a
prolonged period of religious conversion, through military conquest
and trade relations, spanning the 8th to 16th centuries. The aftermath
of religious incursion and sectarian conflict remains a source of
ongoing tension throughout the
Sahel states.
Following the 7th century
Muslim conquest of Egypt
Muslim conquest of Egypt and the 8th-century
Muslim conquest of North Africa,
Arab Muslims began leading trade
expeditions into Sub-Saharan Africa, first towards Nubia, and later
Sahara into West Africa. Much of this contact was motivated
by interest in trans-Saharan trade, particularly the slave trade.
The proliferation of Islamic influence was largely a gradual process.
Christian kingdoms of
Nubia were the first to experience Arab
incursion starting in the 7th century. They held out through the
Middle Ages until the
Kingdom of Makuria
Kingdom of Makuria and
Old Dongola both
collapsed in the early 14th century. Sufi orders played a significant
role in the spread of
Islam from the 9th to 14th centuries, and they
proselytized across trade routes between
North Africa and the
sub-Saharan kingdoms of Ghana and Mali. They were also responsible for
setting up zawiyas on the shores of the River Niger.
The Sanusi order was highly involved in missionary work during the
19th century, with their missions focused on the spread of both Islam
and textual literacy as far south as Lake Chad. The
underwent a period of internally motivated conversion following the
1324 pilgrimage of Musa I of Mali.
Timbuktu subsequently became one of
the most important Islamic cultural centers south of the Sahara.
Alodia, the last holdout of
Christian Nubia, was destroyed by the Funj
Consequently, much of contemporary Sudan is Muslim. This includes the
Republic of Sudan
Republic of Sudan (after the secession of
Christian South Sudan), the
northern parts of
Chad and Niger, most of Mali,
Senegal. The problem of slavery in contemporary Africa remains
especially pronounced in these countries, with severe divides between
the Arabized Berbers in the north and dark-skinned Africans in the
south motivating much of the conflict. This primarily encompasses
Sahel states of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan, as these
nations sustain the centuries-old pattern of hereditary servitude that
arose following early
Muslim conquests. Ethnic strife between Arabized
and non-Arab black populations has led to various internal conflicts
in Sudan, most notably the War in Darfur, the Northern
and the Islamist insurgency in Northern Nigeria.
1 The Arabs
2 The Funj
3 The Fur
4 See also
6 External links
Further information: Makuria
Contacts between Nubians and Arabs long predated the coming of Islam
, but the Arabization of the Nile Valley was a
gradual process that occurred over a period of nearly one thousand
years. Arab nomads continually wandered into the region in search of
fresh pasturage, and Arab seafarers and merchants traded at Red Sea
ports for spices and slaves. Intermarriage and assimilation also
facilitated Arabization. After the initial attempts at military
conquest failed, the Arab commander in Egypt, Abd Allah ibn Saad,
concluded the first in a series of regularly renewed treaties with the
Nubians that governed relations between the two peoples for more than
six hundred years with only brief interruptions. This treaty was
known as the Treaty of Baqt. So long as Arabs ruled Egypt, there was
peace on the Nubian frontier; however, when non-Arabs, the Mamluks for
example, acquired control of Egypt, tension arose in Nubia.
The Arabs realized the commercial advantages of peaceful relations
Nubia and used the
Baqt to ensure that travel and trade proceeded
unhindered across the frontier. The
Baqt also contained security
arrangements whereby both parties agreed that neither would come to
the defense of the other in the event of an attack by a third party.
Baqt obliged both to exchange annual tribute as a goodwill symbol:
the Nubians sent slaves and the Arabs sent grain.This formality was
only a token of the trade that developed between the two. It was not
only a trade in slaves and grain but also in horses and manufactured
goods brought to
Nubia by the Arabs, and in ivory, gold, gems, gum
arabic, and cattle carried back by them to Egypt, or shipped to
Acceptance of the
Baqt did not indicate Nubian submission to the
Arabs; however, the treaty did impose conditions for Arab friendship
that eventually permitted Arabs to achieve a privileged position in
Nubia. Arab merchants established markets in Nubian towns to
facilitate the exchange of grain and slaves. Arab engineers supervised
the operation of mines east of the Nile in which they used slave labor
to extract gold and emeralds.
Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca
traveled across the
Red Sea on ferries from
Aydhab and Suakin, ports
that also received cargoes bound from
India to Egypt.
Traditional genealogies trace the ancestry of the Nile Valley's area
of Sudan mixed population to Arab tribes that migrated into the region
during this period. Even many non-Arabic-speaking groups claim descent
from Arab forebears. The two most important Arabic-speaking groups to
Nubia were the Ja'alin and the Juhayna. Both showed physical
continuity with the indigenous pre-Islamic population. The former
claimed descent from the Quraysh, the Prophet Muhammad's tribe.
Historically, the Ja'ali have been involved in the slave trade, making
up an important subsection of the nomadic, slave trading jallaba,
along with other tribes such as the Danagla. The nomadic Juhayna
comprised a family of tribes that included the Kababish, Baqqara, and
Shukriya. They were descended from Arabs who migrated after the 13th
century into an area that extended from the savanna and semi-desert
west of the Nile to the Abyssinian foothills east of the Blue Nile.
Both groups formed a series of tribal shaykhdoms that succeeded the
Christian Nubian kingdoms, and were in frequent conflict
with one another and with neighboring non-Arabs. In some instances, as
among the Beja, the indigenous people absorbed Arab migrants who
settled among them. Beja ruling families later derived their
legitimacy from their claims of Arab ancestry.
Although not all Muslims in the region were Arabic-speaking,
Islam facilitated the Arabization process. There was no
policy of proselytism, however.
Islam penetrated the area over a long
period of time through intermarriage and contacts with Arab merchants
and settlers.
Part of a series on the
History of Sudan
before c. 21st cent. BCE
Kingdom of Kush
c. 16th cent. BCE
– 11th cent. BCE
Meroitic Kingdom of Kush
11th cent. BCE
– 6th cent. BCE
Christian Kingdoms of Nubia
6th - c. 14th cent.
c. 9th – 19th cent.
First Civil War
Second Civil War
Coalitions / al-Bashir
Main article: Kingdom of Sennar
At the same time that the Ottomans brought northern
Nubia into their
orbit, a new power, the Funj, had risen in southern
Nubia and had
supplanted the remnants of the old
Christian kingdom of Alwa. In 1504
Funj leader, Amara Dunqas, founded the Kingdom of Sennar. This
Sultanate eventually became the keystone of the
Funj Empire. By the
Sennar controlled Al Jazirah and commanded the
allegiance of vassal states and tribal districts north to the third
cataract and south to the rainforests.
Funj state included a loose confederation of sultanates and
dependent tribal chieftains drawn together under the suzerainty of
Sennar's mek (sultan). As overlord, the mek received tribute, levied
taxes, and called on his vassals to supply troops in time of war.
Vassal states in turn relied on the mek to settle local disorders and
to resolve internal disputes. The
Funj stabilized the region and
interposed a military bloc between the Arabs in the north, the
Abyssinians in the east, and the non-
Muslim blacks in the south.
The sultanate's economy depended on the role played by the
Funj in the
slave trade. Farming and herding also thrived in Al Jazirah and in the
Sennar apportioned tributary areas into tribal
homelands each one termed a dar (pl., dur), where the mek granted the
local population the right to use arable land. The diverse groups that
inhabited each dar eventually regarded themselves as units of tribes.
Movement from one dar to another entailed a change in tribal
identification. (Tribal distinctions in these areas in modern Sudan
can be traced to this period.) The mek appointed a chieftain (nazir;
pl., nawazir) to govern each dar. Nawazir administered dur according
to customary law, paid tribute to the mek, and collected taxes. The
mek also derived income from crown lands set aside for his use in each
At the peak of its power in the mid-17th century,
Sennar repulsed the
northward advance of the
Shilluk people up the
White Nile and
compelled many of them to submit to
Funj authority. After this
victory, the mek
Badi II Abu Duqn (1642–81) sought to centralize the
government of the confederacy of Sennar. To implement this policy,
Badi introduced a standing army of slave soldiers that would free
Sennar from dependence on vassal sultans for military assistance, and
would provide the mek with the means to enforce his will. The move
alienated the dynasty from the
Funj warrior aristocracy which deposed
the reigning mek, and placed one of their own ranks on the throne of
Sennar in 1718. The mid-18th century witnessed another brief period of
expansion when the
Funj turned back an Abyssinian invasion, defeated
the Fur, and took control of much of Kurdufan. But the civil war, and
the demands of defending the sultanate, had overextended the warrior
society's resources and sapped its strength.
Another reason for Sennar's decline may have been the growing
influence of its hereditary viziers (chancellors), chiefs of a
Funj tributary tribe who managed court affairs. In 1761, the
Muhammad Abu al Kaylak, who had led the
Funj army in wars,
carried out a palace coup, relegating the sultan to a figurehead role.
Sennar's hold over its vassals diminished, and by the early 19th
century, more remote areas ceased to recognize even the nominal
authority of the mek.
Darfur was the
Fur homeland. Renowned as cavalrymen,
frequently allied with, or opposed their kin, the Kanuri of Borno, in
modern Nigeria. After a period of disorder in the sixteenth century,
during which the region was briefly subject to the Bornu Empire, the
leader of the Keira clan,
Sulayman Solong (1596–1637), supplanted a
rival clan and became Darfur's first sultan.
Sulayman Solong decreed
Islam to be the sultanate's official religion. However, large-scale
religious conversions did not occur until the reign of Ahmad Bakr
(1682–1722), who imported teachers, built mosques, and compelled his
subjects to become Muslims. In the eighteenth century, several sultans
consolidated the dynasty's hold on Darfur, established a capital at
Al-Fashir, and contested the
Funj for control of Kurdufan.
The sultans operated the slave trade as a monopoly. They levied taxes
on traders, and export duties on slaves sent to Egypt, and took a
share of the slaves brought into Darfur. Some household slaves
advanced to prominent positions in the courts of sultans, and the
power exercised by these slaves provoked a violent reaction among the
traditional class of
Fur officeholders in the late eighteenth century.
The rivalry between the slave and traditional elites caused recurrent
unrest throughout the next century.
Muslim conquest of the Maghreb
Muslim conquest of Egypt
History of Sudan
History of Chad
History of Niger
History of Mali
History of Mauritania
Kingdom of Sennar
Islam in Ethiopia
Islam in Somalia
^ The "Sudan region" encompasses not just the history of the Republic
of Sudan (whose borders are those of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, drawn in
1899) but of the wider Sahel, in Arabic known as bilad as-sudan, "the
land of the blacks".
^ "The mobilization of local ideas about racial difference has been
important in generating, and intensifying, civil wars that have
occurred since the end of colonial rule in all of the countries that
straddle the southern edge of the
Sahara Desert. [...] contemporary
conflicts often hearken back to an older history in which blackness
could be equated with slavery and non-blackness with predatory and
uncivilized banditry." (cover text), Hall, Bruce S., A History of Race
Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
^ Hoyland, Robert (2015). In God's Path: The Arab Conquest and the
Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
^ Nicoll, Fergus (2004). The Sword of the Prophet. Sutton: Gloucester.
^ James B. Minahan (30 May 2002). "Encyclopedia of the Stateless
Nations: Ethnic and National Groups Around the World A-Z". ABC-CLIO.
p. 625. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
This article incorporates public domain material from the
Library of Congress Country Studies website
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. – Sudan
Spencer Trimingham, History of
Islam in West Africa. Oxford University
Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels (eds). The History of
Africa. Ohio University Press, 2000.
Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge
University Press, 2004.
Bruce S. Hall, A History of Race in
Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960.
Cambridge University Press, 2011, ISBN 9781107002876.
Trade and the Spread of
Islam in Africa, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art
History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Oc