|Askia Mohammed I of Songhai (ruled 1493-1529, died in 1538 AD) |
Emperor of the Songhai Empire of West Africa
Sonni Baru Dao, ruler of the Songhai Empire, was also a follower of a traditional African religion and rejected all attempts to convert him to Islam by Muslims in his empire. After several weeks of negotiations and no conversion, the Muslims resorted to battle. Backed by a large section of the army, the Muslims triumphed in April 1493. This brought Mohammed Touré, a former general, to lead the empire. He took the title 'Askia' and all those who followed him took the same dynastic title. A devout Muslim, Askia Mohammed I made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1496. One thousand infantry and a cavalry detachment of 500 horsemen accompanied him. He also took 300,000 gold pieces. In Mecca, Askia met the Caliph of Egypt, the Pope of the Islamic church. Askia requested that the Caliph appoint him as his religious representative in West Africa. The Caliph agreed. Askia Mohammed returned to Gao in 1497, with a new title. He was now the Caliph of the Western Sudan, spiritual ruler of all the West African Muslims.
The empire Askia inherited from the Sonni Dynasty was already massive, yet he expanded north, east and west by conquest. Ultimately it would cover an area about the same size as all of Europe. By 1514 his armies captured the Hausa Confederation of northern Nigeria. Next to capitulate was the city of Agades in Niger, and finally the regions to the far west of the empire around the Atlantic. As the kingdom grew into an empire, Askia Mohammed I came up with new methods of government, establishing a strongly centralised administration. Among the most important posts were the Minister of Treasury, the Minister of Tax Collection, the Minister of the Army and Navy, and the Minister of Trade and Industry. In some territories, the Askia allowed the regional kings to rule as they had before, just as long as they paid tribute. In other territories, the Askia created a parallel post to the local governor called the mondyo (i.e. inspector), who formed the official link to the imperial Songhai government. Askia Mohammed I died in 1538 and was buried in a Step Pyramid at Gao. He is fondly remembered as Askia the Great.