Mansa Musa and Islam in Africa: Crash Course World History #16

Hi, my name’s John Green, this is Crash Course:
World History, and today we’re gonna talk about Africa. Mr. Green Mr. Green! We’ve already talked
about Africa. Egypt is in Africa, and you haven’t shut up about it the entire course
– Yeah that’s true, Me from the Past. But
Africa’s big – it’s like, super big – much bigger than it appears on most maps, actually. I mean, you can fit India and China, and the
United States if you fold in Maine. All of that fits in Africa! Like any huge place,
Africa is incredibly diverse, and it’s a mistake to focus just on Egypt. So today let’s go
here, south of the Sahara desert. [theme music] First, let’s turn to written records. Oh, right.
We don’t have very many, at least not written by Sub-Saharan Africans. Much of African history
was preserved via oral rather than written tradition. These days, we tend to think of writing as
the most accurate and reliable form of description, but then again, we do live in a print-based
culture. And we’ve already said that writing is one of the markers of civilization, implying
that people who don’t use writing aren’t civilized, a prejudice that has been applied
over and over again to Africa. But: 1. If you need any evidence that it’s possible
to produce amazing literary artifacts without the benefits of writing, let me direct your
attention to the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were composed and memorized by poets for centuries
before anyone ever wrote them down. And, 2. No less an authority than Plato said that
writing destroys human memory by alleviating the need to remember anything. And 3. You think the oral tradition is uncivilized
but here you are listening to me talk! But we do have a lot of interesting records
for some African histories, including the legendary tale of Mansa Musa. By legendary
I mean some of it probably isn’t true, but it sure is important. Let’s go to the Thought
Bubble. So there was this king Mansa Musa, who ruled
the west African empire of Mali, and in 1324-ish, he left his home and made the hajj, the pilgrimage
to Mecca. He brought with him an entourage of over 1000
people (some sources say 60,000) and, most importantly, 100 camel loads of gold. I wish
it had been donkeys so I could say he had 100 assloads of gold, but no. Camels. Right, so along the way Mansa Musa spent freely
and gave away lots of his riches. Most famously, when he reached Alexandria, at the time one
of the most cultured cities in the world, he spent so much gold that he caused runaway inflation
throughout the city that took years to recover from. He built houses in Cairo and in Mecca to house
his attendants, and as he traveled through the world, a lot of people – notably the merchants
of Venice – no, Thought Bubble, like actual merchants of Venice – right – they saw him
in Alexandria and returned to Italy with tales of Mansa Musa’s ridiculous wealth, which
helped create the myth in the minds of Europeans that West Africa was a land of gold, an El
Dorado. The kind of place you’d like to visit. And maybe, you know, in five centuries
or so, begin to pillage. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So what’s so important about the story of
Mansa Musa? Well, first, it tells us there were African kingdoms, ruled by fabulously
wealthy African kings. Which undermines one of the many stereotypes about Africa, that
its people were poor and lived in tribes ruled by chiefs and witch doctors. Also, since Mansa
Musa was making the hajj, we know that he was: A. Muslim, and
B. relatively devout. And this tells us that Africa, at least western
Africa, was much more connected to the parts of the world we’ve been talking about than
we generally are led to believe. Mansa Musa knew all about the places he was going before
he got there, and after his visits, the rest of the Mediterranean world was sure interested
in finding out more about his homeland. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage also brings up a
lot of questions about west Africa, namely, what did his kingdom look like and how did
he come to convert to Islam? The first question is a little easier, so we’ll start with
that one. The empire of Mali, which Mansa Musa ruled
until the extremely elite year of 1337, was a large swath of West Africa, running from
the coast hundreds of miles into the interior, and including many significant cities, the
largest and best-known of which was Timbuktu. The story of the Islamization of the Empire,
however, is a bit more complicated. Okay, so pastoral North Africans called Berbers
had long traded with West Africans, with the Berbers offering salt in exchange for West
African gold. That may seem like a bad deal until you consider that without salt, we die,
whereas without gold, we only have to face the universe’s depraved indifference to
us without the benefit of metallic adornment. That went to an ominous place quickly. Right, so anyway the Berbers were early converts
to Islam, and Islam spread along those pre-existing trade routes between North and West Africa. Right, so the first converts in Mali were
traders, who benefited from having a religious as well as commercial connection to their
trading partners in the North and the rest of the Mediterranean. And then the kings followed
the traders, maybe because sharing the religion of more established kingdoms in the north
and east would give them prestige, not to mention access to scholars and administrators
who could help them cement their power. So Islam became the religion of the elites
in West Africa, which meant that the Muslim kings were trying to extend their power over
largely non-Muslim populations which worshipped traditional African gods and spirits. In order
not to seem too foreign, these African Muslim kings would often blend traditional religion
with Islam – for instance, giving women more equality than was seen in Islam’s birthplace. Anyway, the first kings we have a record of
adopting Islam were from Ghana, which was the first “empire” in western Africa.
It really took off in the 11th century. As with all empires, and also everything else,
Ghana rose and then fell, and it was replaced by Mali. The kings of Mali – especially Mansa
Musa, but also Mansa Suleyman, his successor – tried to increase the knowledge and practice
of Islam in their territory. So for example, when Mansa Musa returned from his hajj, he
brought back scholars and architects to build mosques. And the reason we know a lot about Mali is
because it was visited by Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan cleric and scholar who kind of had
the best life ever. He was particularly fascinated by gender roles in the Malian empire – and
by Malian women – writing, “They are extremely beautiful, and more important than the men.”
Oh. It must be time for the open letter. An Open Letter to Ibn Battuta: I wonder what’s
in the Secret Compartment today. Oh. I appears to be some kind of fake beard… Movie magic!
Stan, why did you do this to me? Dear Ibn Battuta, Bro, I love twitter and my x-box and Hawaiian
pizza, but if I had to go into the past and live anyone’s life, it would be yours! Because
you were this outlandishly learned scholar who managed to parlay your knowledge of Islam
into the greatest road trip in history. You went from Mali to Constantinople to India
to Russia to Indonesia; you were probably the most well-traveled person before the invention
of the steam engine. And everywhere you went, you were treated like a king and then you
went home and wrote a really famous book called the Rihla, which people still read today and
also, you could grow a real beard and I’M JEALOUS! Best wishes, John Green One more thing about Mansa Musa: There are
lots of stories that Mansa Musa attempted to engage in maritime trade across the Atlantic
Ocean, and some historians even believe that Malians reached the Americas. DNA investigation may one
day prove it, but until then, we’ll only have oral tradition. The Malian Empire eventually fell to Songhai,
which was itself eventually overthrown for being insufficiently Islamic, all of which
is to say that – like China or India or Europe – West Africa had its own empires that relied
upon religion and war and incredibly boring dynastic politics. Man, I hate dynastic politics. If I wanted to live in an ostensibly independent
country that can’t let go of monarchy, I’d be like Thought Bubble and move to Canada.
Oh, come on, Thought Bubble, that’s not fair. Shut up and take back Celine Dion! All right, now let’s move to the other side
of Africa where there was an alternative model of “civilizational” development. The eastern
coast of Africa saw the rise of what historians called Swahili civilization, which was not
an empire or a kingdom but a collection of city states – like Zanzibar and Mombasa and
Mogadishu – all of which formed a network of trade ports. There was no central authority
– each of these cities was autonomously ruled, usually, but not always, by a king.
But there were three things that linked these city states such that we can consider them
a common culture: language, trade and religion. The Swahili language is part of a language
group called Bantu, and its original speakers were from West Africa. Their migration to
East Africa changed not only the linguistic traditions of Africa, but everything else,
because they brought with them ironwork and agriculture. Until then, most of the people
living in the East had been hunter-gatherers or herders, but once introduced, agriculture
took hold, as it almost always does. Unless, wait for it, you’re the Mongols. Modern day Swahili, by the way, is still a
Bantu-based language, although it’s been heavily influenced by Arabic. On that topic,
for a long time historians believed that the East African cities were all started by Arab
or Persian traders, which was basically just racist – they didn’t believe that Africans
were sophisticated enough to found these great cities. Now scholars recognize that all the
major Swahili cities were founded well before Islam arrived in the region and that, in fact,
trade had been going on since the first century CE. But Swahili civilization didn’t begin its
rapid development until the 8th century, when Arab traders arrived, seeking goods that they
could trade in the vast Indian Ocean network, the Silk Road of the sea. And of course those
merchants brought Islam with them, which, just like in West Africa, was adopted by the
elites who wanted religious as well as commercial connections to the rest of the Mediterranean
world. In many of the Swahili states, these Muslim
communities started out quite small, but at their height, between the 13th and 16th century,
most of the cities boasted large mosques. The one in Kilwa even impressed Ibn Battuta,
who of course visited the city, because he was having the best life ever. Most of the goods exported were raw materials,
like ivory and animal hides and timber – it’s worth noting, by the way, that when you’re
moving trees around, you have a level of sophistication to your trade that goes way beyond the Silk
Road. I mean, if you’ll recall they weren’t just trading, like, tortoise shells and stuff
– not again! Africans also exported slaves along the east
coast, although not in HUGE numbers, and they exported gold, and they imported finished
luxury goods like porcelain and books. In fact, archaeological digs in Kilwa have revealed
that houses often featured a kind of built-in bookshelf. Learning of books through architecture nicely
captures the magic of studying history. Archaeology, writing, and oral tradition all intermingle
to give us glimpses of the past. And each of those lenses may show us the past as if
through some fun house mirror, but if we’re conscious about it, we can at least recognize
the distortions. Studying Africa reminds us that we need to
look at lots of sources, and lots of kinds of sources if we want to get a fuller picture
of the past. If we relied on only written sources, it would be far too easy to fall
into the old trap of seeing Africa as backwards and uncivilized. Through approaching it with
multiple lenses, we discover a complicated, diverse place that was sometimes rich and
sometimes not – and when you look at it that way, it becomes not separate from, but part of, our
history. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, Our script supervisor is Danica Johnson, the show is written by my high school history
teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself, and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Last week’s Phrase Of The Week was “Animal
crackers.” If you want to suggest future phrases of the week or guess at this one, you can
do so in comments; also, if you have questions about today’s video, ask them, and our team
of historians will endeavor to answer them. Thanks for watching and supporting Crash Course.
And as we say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.


  1. Crash course, on Ethiopian, So sad you failed to mention it ONCE!!!!!The first kingdom known to have existed in Ethiopia was the kingdom of D'mt, with its capital at Yeha, where a Sabaean style temple was built around 700 BC. It rose to power around the 10th century BC. The D'mt kingdom was influenced by the Sabaeans in Yemen, however it is not known to what extent. While it was once believed that D'mt was a Sabaean colony, it is now believed that Sabaean influence was minor, limited to a few localities, and disappeared after a few decades or a century, perhaps representing a trading or military colony in some sort of symbiosis or military alliance with the civilization of Dʿmt or some other proto-Aksumite state.

  2. wtf I'm black and have never heard of this badass dude 😥 so much work left to do but I got the energy to do it 😎

  3. Cnt believe I had been brainwashed. This history is more interesting than most of the stuff in high school

  4. Thanks for that Mr Green (Very cool name by the way. GREEN! It refers to weed or cash?). Mansa Musa was the richest man that ever lived by the way. He had enough green to buy the New York… Get it? Green?

  5. THEY WERE MOORS, Mansa Musa was indeed a Moor. Africans did not convert to Islam, ISLAM has AFRICAN ORIGINS.

  6. Africa Asia and Iraq in my opinion are the three places humans first appeared there was no migration Out of Africa no offense I just believe all races were here throughout history in different areas. And I still find it fascinating with all the African empires

  7. You really play music over the most important part of this video start at Mark 7:01 .. sooo ODD! Smh

  8. We have writtings from 8th century B.C. we hide them because people like to burn books and rewrite our history.

  9. Yeah, Plato did not say that. That is mentioned in his dialogue Theaetetus by one of his characters, which does not mean at all that he himself held that view. I´m also going to go out on a limb and say that he did not hold that view because… You know… He wrote books?

  10. Oral traditions are amazingly interesting and a world of their own, but come on… As far as efficiency and the scope of information goes, written text can just save so, so much more. There's no need to incur from this that one culture is definitely more civilized than another one, of course. Oral and written are both tools and one of them is very obviously more efficient than the other one. That's about it.

  11. Actually There was NO SUCH THING AS A AFRICAN during the Time of Mansa Musa it was Kush. And they were and are called Moors mistakenly called Blacks African Americans Negro etc

  12. dude i love crash course … but only with this guy does it … i would gladly pay for longer version … Plus good to see him "Real " Canadian style

  13. John Green Please do a Video explaining the walls of Benin. Being one of the worlds largest man made structure.

  14. Also… even if we did all have witch doctors and etc… it doesn’t make them any less wise…
    No one makes a comparison of European intelligence with them praying to a pregnant virgin…
    Smh please do better

    I appreciate everything else. Love it ❤️
    But because you are an ally… I just wanted to open your eyes to a problematic ideology 🤷🏾‍♀️

  15. I'm Somali and Mogadishu is not a swahili city it was a somali city state. And Islam arrived in Somali right after the hijrah not the 8th century. Source: Masjidul Qiblatayn in the Somali City Of Zeila has been carbon dated to right after the Hijrah

  16. You keep making it sound like the elites of africa accepted islam only for the sake of trading without any sincerity or conviction towards islam.

  17. If islam and the knowledge of the ancients was not spread south and west ,then i wonder what subsahra would be like ?

  18. why cant i find my stupid homework questions im crying. Like i am, balling my eyes out because my essay is due in 30 minutes and here i am. Writing a youtube comment.

  19. In Korea, we never get a chance to delve into African history in school. There are things we have to change here.

  20. I had a white history teacher she briefly mentioned mansa and I never forget. All she said was he inflated Egypt’s economy by passing through and I was hooked I’m glad it’s getting a lot more attention it’s been over 10 years since then.

  21. Mansa Musa was a great Muslim. His uncle reached America before Christopher Columbus. May Allah have mercy on him.

  22. Islam is a poison to the world just as its counterpart Christianity. Islam is a poison to Africa the same way that Christianity is a poison to Europe God damn the sons of Abraham

  23. As, a descendant of West African people apart of the "lost tribe" in the Western hemisphere………..John the end made me shed a tear. Thank you for your thoughtful research to all involved:)

  24. A white guy giving history lessons on Africa and disrespecting Mansa Musa? Get TF out of here you cornball 🌽🌽😂😂😂

  25. The first man start mining asteroids or meteorites will be the richest on earth..
    Gold in outerspace abundant….Everybody on earth would be multibillionaires or too much of

  26. There is no need for a culture to live up to European value judgement to have value. In fact we would deprive ourselves to overlook the the intricate knowledge of more ancient ways.

  27. The other miss leading conment you made that has no factual bases is… That story telling is not a accoract way to record history. That would mean that the BIBLE is not an accurate sorce of information. From the begining those stories of creation, Joseph, Noah, Abraham, and Issac were pasted down from father to son. its was not untill Moses wrote down the stories that the Bible started. This goes for Greek and English hisstory too. yet is excepted as fact arround the world but befor the 21s century was not writtn down. You called Afican uncivilized durring that time and then turned and mentioned how rich the Nation was and how its weath and power exceeded Rome, China, and Alexandria and Vennis. Plus what tells you that he was Muslum or converted to Islam. Agin do your History. Isalam, Hebrews which later were called Jews are African based Religions. Just as mush as Egytian and many other are. The muslem Religion was crated by Ishmale the son of Abraham and his mom Hagarr was Egyptian. His fathwe Abraham was Hebrew. His other son Issac gave birth to Jewish and Christian fath. Afrians never just had one national Religion. So he would have never had to convert into a religion that he was born into. plus in his time Muslum faith was not the same as it is today in a socity were women now have rights. Christian and Jews are also differnt today then back in history.

  28. Tell me again about black history. Tell me of the Africans who drink blood from their living, walking cows and about the ones who use animal feces to rub in their hair to make it stand up; tell me of cannibalism and the selling of your own people. Tell me of voodoo and murdering children and mass murder before we Europeans heard of it. Tell me of black history and its exaggerations and leaders made up out of thin air. Tell me about people who did not have the wheel when Europe was out exploring the world. Southern and central tribes in Africa barely clothed themselves, had no sanitation at all, and would treat their animals better than their women. Yes…oh please tell us of Africa. No..the real Africa. Oh…….there is no REAL history. Never mind.

  29. What I got from this is that Mansa Musa flexed too hard and European nations came to hack his stuff and his neighbours(other countries) stuff.

  30. “We were the most humiliated people on earth and God gave us honour through Islam. If we ever seek honour through anything else, God will humiliate us again.”

    Umar ibn Al-Khattab

  31. The kings of the Takrūr are the direct ancestors of modern African Americans… that’s why the tu’bab have tried so hard to keep our heritage hidden, once they beat it out of us they imposed their culture and values upon us. I wish we’d return to our original way of life, that would definitely put an end to the system of white supremacy. One day we will take back what’s ours….

  32. The field of research that changed my world view the most was the race and IQ studies that have been done. If you truly have an open mind and are interested in building an accurate world view I challenge you to google search "Race and IQ data". Call me a racist for saying such a thing, but again I challenge you to take a look at the data before you dismiss it.

  33. Can we please stop perpetuating the stereotypes that sub-Saharan Africa do not written texts cuz that is simply not true. Please do some research before making blank statements.

  34. I’m just here for a school assessment. If you can write out anything in the replies to help me out with some of the answers that would be great. Thanks.

  35. There’s a written script from the ancient kingdom of Kush and Nubia older than Egyptian. It hasn’t been deciphered yet. Also most of the writing in the library of Alexandria were from Africans.

  36. The Arabs later came to pulnder, massacred and forced the religion down their throat like the West came with Christianity. See the correlation?

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