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Islam in Africa Part 3

May 26, 2021

We will first take a look at the spread of Islam into 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.

The religion of Islam began in the Middle East during the early 600s. Not long after the death of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Arabs began to expand their empire. They first went into northern Africa where they conquered much of the land, but turned back after defeating Libya in return for tribute (payment). The Arabs once again invaded, 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 start of the seventh century, all of northern Africa was firmly under Arab control. 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 were called the Berbers. The Berbers were similar in ethnicity and spoke 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.

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.

Interesting Facts about Islam in North Africa
Islam is still the dominant religion in North Africa today.
When under the rule of the Arabs, North Africa was part of a kingdom called the “caliphate”.
In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, the lead character Othello is a Moor from Italy.
The oldest Islamic mosque in Africa is the Great Mosque of Kairouan which was built in 670.

The Muslims brought with them many technological advancements including mathematics (numerals and algebra), astronomy, medicine, and geography.

Much like Medieval Europe, northern Africa suffered from the Black Death plague in the 1300s. At least 25% of the population died from this disease.

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