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Mohammed Hassen Ali

king of one of the five Oromo states of the Gibe region in southwestern Ethiopia during the first half of the nineteenth century. He was the richest prince, whose reign marked the golden age of the Gibe states. He was born in 1802 in Sappa, the first capital of the kingdom of Limmu Ennarya, where he received a rudimentary form of Islamic education. As a young man, the tall, handsome, well-built, and eloquent Abba Bagibo is said to have possessed a considerable share of his father Abba Mogol’s vigor. He spent many years in learning the art of war in his father’s army. It was during those years of training that Abba Bagibo demonstrated his exceptional qualities of leadership, organizational ability, management of information, and wise use of resources.

In 1825 Abba Bagibo overthrew his father seized power and adopted a commercial policy that made his new capital Saqqa ...

Article

Mohammed Hassen Ali

Oromo king of the Gibe region, in southwestern Ethiopia, was crowned in 1878. A year after his accession to power, Abba Jifar invaded the neighboring Oromo state of Gera with around twenty thousand men. This attack on a flimsy pretext was a show of force for the neighboring Oromo leaders, demonstrating his determination to dominate the political landscape of the Gibe region through threat or use of military power, diplomacy, and marriage alliances. He was not destined to dominate the Gibe region as the king of Shewa soon occupied it. Though Abba Jifar could mobilize tens of thousands of men for war, his army suffered from major weaknesses and lack of modern firearms and training.

In fact Abba Jifar came to power at a time of dramatic change in modern Ethiopian history when the clouds of conquest and destruction were hanging thick and low over the future of all ...

Article

Allen J. Fromherz

builder of the Almohad Empire and great Moroccan military leader and able administrator, led the Almohad movement for tawhid, absolute monotheistic unity, after the death of the Mahdi Ibn Tumart, the Almohad founder, in c. 1130. His full name was ʿAbd al-Muʾmin ibn ʿAli ibn ʿAlwi bin Yaʿla al-Kumi Abu Muhammad.

After defeating the Almoravid Empire at Marrakech, he established the administrative and military foundations of the Almohad state while securing a caliphal succession for his descendants, the Muʾminid dynasty. In a matter of decades ʿAbd al-Muʾmin and his followers transformed the Almohads from a vigorous but vulnerable ideological movement in the small Atlas Mountain town of Tinmal to one of the largest and most successful Islamic empires in North African and Andalusian history.

Effectively an outsider ʿAbd al Muʾmin s ancestry was different from the noble Masmuda ethnic groups that made up the core of the Almohad ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Considered a hero of anticolonial resistance by many contemporary Algerians, Abd al-Qadir created an Arab-Berber alliance to oppose French expansion in North Africa in the 1830s and 1840s. He also organized an Islamic state that, at one point, controlled the western two-thirds of the inhabited land in Algeria. Abd al-Qadir owed his ability to unite Arabs and Berbers, who had been enemies for centuries, in part to the legacy of his father, head of the Hashim tribe in Mousakar (Mascara) and leader of a Sufi Muslim brotherhood. In 1826Abd al-Qadir and his father made a pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. When he returned in 1828, Abd al-Qadir s own reputation as an Islamic religious and cultural leader grew and both Arabs and Berbers looked to him to lead the resistance against the French who ...

Article

Zahia Smail Salhi

Algerian emir and anticolonialist leader, was born on 6 September 1808 near Mascara in the west of Algeria. His full name was ʿAbd al-Qadir bin Muhieddine; he is known in the Arab east as ʿAbdel-Kader al-Jazaʾiri and in Algeria as al-Amir ʿAbd El-Kader.

His father, Muhieddine al-Hassani, was a Sufi shaykh who followed the Qadiriyya religious order and claimed to be a Hasani (sharif ) descendent of the Prophet with family ties with the Idrisi dynasty of Morocco. As a young boy, ʿAbdel-Kader trained in horsemanship, and from this he developed his love for horses, about which he wrote some beautiful poetry. He was also trained in religious sciences; he memorized the Qurʾan and read in theology and philology. He was also known as a poet who recited classical poetry and wrote his own poetry, mostly centering on war and chivalry.

In 1825 ʿAbdel Kader set out with ...

Article

Born Nzinga Mbemba, Afonso I ascended the throne in 1506 after the death of his father, Nzinga a Nkuwu. Unlike his father, who had rejected Catholicism and limited contact with the Portuguese explorers, Afonso had been baptized as a Christian when the Kongo court converted in 1491. During his time as governor of Kongo's Nsundi province, Afonso entertained Portuguese priests and gained a reputation for Christian piety. When his father died, around 1590, Afonso returned to Mbanza Kongo, the capital, to seek the throne. His half brother, Mpanzu Kitima, raised a provincial army to remove Afonso from the capital. Afonso characterized the struggle as being between Christian and anti-Christian forces and later maintained that the Christians had won through the intervention of Saint James.

From the beginning of his reign Afonso sought to Christianize Kongo creating a financial base a school system a parish organization and a naturalized ...

Article

Russell Hopley

emir of the Almoravid dynasty from 1106 to 1143, was born in the Moroccan city of Ceuta to a mother who was a Christian captive from Spain. ʿAli inherited rule of the Almoravid state upon the death of his father, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, in 1106. Almoravid rule at the time of ʿAli’s accession to power was at its zenith and encompassed a considerable portion of territory of the Islamic west, including Andalusia, the western region of North Africa, and portions of the bilad al-Sudan Indeed it is a commonplace of the classical Arabic chronicles that ʿAli s name was invoked from some two thousand pulpits at the outset of every Friday sermon However his rule was beset with a host of serious problems almost from the outset ranging from quarrels among the various tribal factions that formed the backbone of the Almoravid regime to doctrinal disputes the ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of Kongo, was born in the middle of the sixteenth century. His birth name was Nimi a Lukeni Lua Mvemba. Little is known of his early life, and the name of his father has not survived. His mother, Isabel Lukeni Lua Mbemba, remarried King Henrique I of Kongo after Álvaro’s father had passed away. Henrique I died fighting Téké warriors from the northern Anziku kingdom only a year after ascending to the throne in 1567. The Kongolese people already had suffered greatly during a civil war for the succession of the kingdom following the death of Diogo i in November 1561. It is unclear how Álvaro gained the throne. Between 1584 and 1588 the Kongolese ambassador to the Vatican Duarte Lopes claimed that Álvaro had been acclaimed king by a majority of the major noble families but some historians believe he wrested power through force In ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of Kongo, was born in the middle of the sixteenth century to King Álvaro I and a slave wife. At the death of his father in 1587 Álvaro had to struggle against a number of male and female members of the royal family in order to ascend to the throne According to a Jesuit at the court Álvaro II defeated one of his brothers in a single combat duel in order to claim the crown To strengthen his power Álvaro created a large army of Tio slave soldiers that grew to over sixteen thousand men They were purchased at the Malebo Pool of the Congo River on the outskirts of Kongolese territory With this force Álvaro could dominate the aristocratic families and the provinces in a much more centralized fashion than his predecessors For example Álvaro appointed royal judges to oversee tribunals in each province Upon the death ...

Article

Steven Kaplan

emperor of Ethiopia (1314–1344), whose regnal name was Gebre Meskel (“Servant of the Cross”), was one of the outstanding rulers of the early Solomonic period (1270–1527) in Ethiopia. While his grandfather, Yekunno Amlak (r. 1270–1284), is credited with establishing a new dynasty, Amda Seyon (“Pillar of Zion”) can be said to have established the medieval Ethiopian state.

Amda Seyon is generally believed to have succeeded his father, Wedem Re’ad, as emperor in 1314. The first years of his reign were devoted to wars against Muslim populations in the southwest of Ethiopia. Around 1320 he turned his attention to the northern parts of Ethiopia particularly to Tigray province in the north and the areas around the ancient capital of Aksum where his dynasty s claim to be the legitimate successors to the Solomonic kings of Aksum had not been accepted Amda Seyon s victories ...

Article

Gianfranco Fiaccadori

Christian king (negus) of Aksum, was contemporary to the Prophet Muhammad, who is said to have recited the ritual prayer (salat) for al-Asham upon his death. The original Ethiopic (Geez) form of his name is Elle Seham or, by approximative rendering of the latter’s pronunciation, Ille Tsiham. The Arabic Chronicle of al-Tabari (d. 923) gives the text of two letters allegedly exchanged between the Prophet and al-Asham(a), called here al-Najashi, from Ethiopic negasi, an alternative form of negus that became specific for the ruler of Aksum linked to the so-called first hijra (emigration). In and after 615 two streams of early followers of the Prophet, including such prominent Islamic figures as the later caliph ʿUthman ibn ʿAffan and Muhammad’s daughter Ruqaya, fled to al-Habasha (Abyssinia). They went possibly to Aksum, the Najashi’s capital city, named also Zar(a)f(a)r(a)ta by al ʿUmari d 1348 ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Sarduana of the Sokoto caliphate and prime minister of northern Nigeria, was born on 12 June 1909 in the city of Rabbah in northern Nigeria. Bello’s father Ibrahim was the grandson of Uthman Dan Fodio (1754–1817), the religious leader who founded the Sokoto caliphate in the early nineteenth century. Ibrahim was also the chief of Rabbah.

Like many northern Nigerian Muslim leaders Ibrahim sought to build close ties with the British colonial administration and sent his children to Western schools Bello first attended to a Western primary school in the provincial capital of Sokoto He learned to speak English fluently at Sokoto Middle School but he also continued to develop his Muslim faith Bello then graduated from Sokoto and decided to become a teacher With his father s blessing Bello enrolled at Katsina Teachers College where he spent five years Once Bello successfully finished his studies at Katsina ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Ahmadu Bello was a descendant of royal blood: his grandfather, Atiku na Rabah, was the seventh sultan of Sokoto in the years 1873–1877; his great-great-grandfather, Usuman dan Fodio (1754–1817), founded and ruled the Sokoto Caliphate. Throughout his life, Bello relied on his illustrious ancestry as a source of political power.

Bello studied at the Sokoto provincial school and then trained as a teacher at Katsina College. He received less Western education than did other prominent Nigerian politicians. Nevertheless, his status and family connections smoothed his ascent to power. Although his cousin Abubakar beat him out for the highest traditional position, the sultanate of Sokoto, Abubakar granted Bello the high position of sardauna, or military commander of the caliphate.

As regional administrator and sardauna, Bello achieved considerable power during the 1940s. His most significant advance, however, came with his membership in the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in 1951 Shortly ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

political, military, and religious leader and first Caliph of the Sokoto Caliphate, was born in the town of Morona, now located in Niger, in 1780 or 1781. His father was the revolutionary Islamic cleric and leader Uthman Dan Fodio (1754–1817), and his mother was Hawwa bint Adam ibn Muhammad Agh. Bello received an advanced education in Islamic theology and law thanks to his father, and supported his father’s call for a strict adherence to orthodox Sunni interpretations of Islamic practices. Bello praised his father as a loving parent: “His face was relaxed and his manner gentle. He never tired of explaining and never became impatient if anyone failed to understand” (Boyd, 1989).

When Uthman Dan Fodio launched a series of holy wars against the nominally Islamic sultans of Hausa cities such as Kano in northern Nigeria and southern Niger Bello became an active lieutenant of his father ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the sultanate of Songhai, was born sometime in the early decades of the fifteenth century. He ascended to the throne of the kingdom of Songhai in 1464. In the previous century, Songhai had been a vassal of its larger neighbor to the west, Mali, but Ber’s immediate predecessors had reestablished Songhai’s independence, and ruled from the city of Gao on the Niger River. Another form of his name is Sunni Ali Ber.

Ber was a tremendous military strategist He developed a large fleet on the Niger amassed a large army of slave warriors and was the head of one of the most skilled and fearsome cavalry units in West Africa in his lifetime Soldiers on horseback patrolled the entire kingdom and often surprised Ber s numerous political enemies Ber launched numerous invasions of territories to the west and south When Umar the Tuareg governor of Timbuktu insulted ...

Article

Robert Fay

Lebna Dengel, who was born in Ethiopia, assumed the throne at the age of twelve, after the death of his father. During his early reign his mother, Helena, served as regent. In 1516 the Muslim sultanate of Adal rebelled against Ethiopian domination, but Lebna Dengel’s forces defeated the rebellion. The queen regent, however, feared Muslim expansion, and turned to Portugal for aid. A Portuguese mission arrived in 1520. Some accounts suggest that the emperor sought a relationship with the Portuguese as a means of ending Ethiopia’s isolation and acquiring European technology. Others sources, however, imply that Lebna Dengel was unimpressed by the Portuguese visitors, whom he allegedly treated with cool disregard. Sources also disagree about the nature of Lebna Dengel s reign Some scholars emphasize his devotion to Christianity and claim that his rule was based on justice and mercy while others assert that he was ...

Article

Diogo I  

Jeremy Rich

king of Kongo. Diogo Nkumbi a Mpudi was the grandson of Afonso I, the monarch who ruled the Kongo kingdom from 1506 to 1543. Afonso’s son Pedro I took the throne in Mbanza Kongo (São Salvador), the capital of the Kongolese state, at the death of his father. He was the Portuguese favorite to take the throne because he was the eldest son of Afonso, but many noble families rejected his claims to power and primogeniture. These families supported Diogo, the son of Afonso I’s daughter Nzinga, and pushed Pedro I from power in 1545. Pedro I fled into a church at Mbanza Kongo and received protection from some religious leaders and aristocrats.

To overcome this opposition Diogo I developed his own networks of clerical support that he adeptly manipulated throughout much of his reign For example he welcomed the arrival of Jesuit Catholic missionaries to Kongo in ...

Article

Dierk Lange

ruler of the Sefuwa dynasty (r. c. 1203–1242) in present-day Sudan, under whom the Kanem-Bornu empire reached its maximum size, owes his fame to military successes and to the implementation of radical Islamic reforms culminating in the destruction of the national Mune shrine.

Succeeding his father Salmama II, Mai Dunama II was the sixth ruler of the Sefuwa, who had come to power under Hume around 1068 CE He resided in Njimi the Muslim capital of Kanem and undertook extensive military campaigns by the extensive use of a Kanuri cavalry comprising allegedly 41 000 horses and Tuareg camel riders He thus extended the frontiers of Kanem in the north to Fezzan in the east to the Dajo of Dafur and in the west over most of Hausaland From a Kanuri base maghza at the northern end of Lake Chad he raided the Buduma but otherwise left the people of ...

Article

Wolfgang Hahn

king of Aksum, who adopted Christianity, is one of the very few Aksumite rulers who is attested by several authentic, independent sources: monumental inscriptions set up in the capital that announce his victories; coins struck in gold, silver (partially gilt), and copper in huge quantities, of which hundreds are known today; and, as a diplomatic document, a copy of a letter, probably written in 356 by the Roman emperor Constantius II and addressed to Ezana and his co-regent, on the subject of missionary policies. All other literary sources—including the details of the report on Ethiopia’s conversion to Christianity by Frumentius, an emissary of St. Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria, in Rufinus’ Church History (written c. 402)—are legendary, as is the tradition of the Ethiopian church based on this story.

Ezana s place within the sequence of Aksumite kings most of which are known only from coins can be firmly established ...

Article

Anaïs Wion

king of Ethiopia (1632–1667) under the names Seltan Seged and Alem Seged, was the son of King Susenyos (1607–1632) and Queen Wald Sa’ala in Mugar (Shewa). As a young prince, and with his younger brother Gelawdewos, he joined his father’s government, which was not the usual practice among close male relatives of Ethiopian kings. The Chronicle of Susenyos depicts him as leading various military campaigns and sustaining the pro-Catholic policy of his father. By 1630 he was recognized as the legitimate heir by Pope Urban VIII. He succeeded Susenyos after his abdication. Other forms of his name are Fasilides, Fasilidas, and Basilide.

Although Fasiladas’s reign was long and his religious, cultural, and economic policies left a permanent mark on the country, he left no chronicle of his own. Information about his reign is known through the so-called Abridged Chronicles written at least a century after Fasiladas ...