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Askia Muhammad Toure

Askia Muhammad Touré (1493-1528), established the Askia dynasty of Songhay.

Muhammad Touré continued Sonni Ali's imperial expansion by seizing the important

Saharan oases and conquering Mali itself. From there he conquered Hausaland. The

vastness of Askia Mohammed's kingdom covered most of West Africa, larger than all of the

European states combined. With literally several thousand cultures under its control,

Songhay ranked as one of the largest empires of the time.

In order to maintain his large empire Muhammad Touré further centralized the government

by creating a large and elaborate bureaucracy. He was also the first to standardize weights,

measures, and currency, so culture throughout the Songhay began to homogenize.

Muhammad Touré was also a fervent Muslim; he replaced traditional Songhay

administrators with Muslims in order to Islamicize Songhay society. He also appointed

Muslim judges, called qadis , to run the legal system under Islamic legal principles. These

programs of conquest, centralization, and standardization were the most ambitious and

far-reaching in Africa at the time. It is of note that while the urban centers were dominated

by Islam and Islamic culture, the non-urban areas were not Islamic. The vast majority of the

Songhay people, around 97%, followed traditional African religions. Under the leadership of Askia Mohammed, Timbuctu once again became a prosperous

commercial city, reaching a population of 100,000 people. Merchants and traders traveled

from Asia, the Middle East and Europe to exchange their exotic wares for the gold of

Songhay. Timbuctu gained fame as an intellectual center rivaling many others in the Muslim

world. Students from various parts of the world came to Timbuctu's famous University of

Sankore to study Law and Medicine. Medieval Europe sent emissaries to the University of

Sankore to witness its excellent libraries with manuscripts and to cosult with the learned

mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, and jurists whose intellectual endeavors were said

to be paid for out of the king's own treasury.