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.