Askia Muhammad I

Askia Muhammad I (b. 1443 – d. 1538), born Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Turi[a] or Muhammad Ture, was the first ruler of the Askia dynasty of the Songhai Empire, reigning from 1493 to 1528. He is also known as Askia the Great, and his name in modern Songhai is Mamar Kassey. Askia Muhammad strengthened his empire and made it the largest empire in West Africa's history. At its peak under his reign, the Songhai Empire encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Northern Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Songhai empire in the east. His policies resulted in a rapid expansion of trade with Europe and Asia, the creation of many schools, and the establishment of Islam as an integral part of the empire.

Askia Muhammad
Ruler of the Songhai Empire
ReignApril 1493 – 1528
PredecessorSunni Baru
SuccessorAskia Monzo Mūsā
Bornc. 1443
Diedc. 1538 (aged 94–95)
Gao Songhai Empire
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Turi
DynastyAskia dynasty
FatherBaru Lum
ReligionSunni Islam
Extent of the Songhai Empire,
circa 1500.

Muhammad was a prominent general under the Songhai ruler Sunni Ali. When Sunni Ali was succeeded by his son, Sunni Baru, in 1492, Muhammad challenged the succession on the grounds that the new ruler was not a faithful Muslim.[1] He defeated Baru and ascended to the throne in 1493.[2]

Ture subsequently orchestrated a program of expansion and consolidation which extended the empire from Taghaza in the North to the borders of Yatenga in the South; and from Air in the Northeast to Futa Djallon in Guinea. Instead of organizing the empire along Islamic lines, he tempered and improved on the traditional model by instituting a system of bureaucratic government unparalleled in Western Africa. In addition, Askia established standardized trade measures and regulations, initiated the policing of trade routes and also established an organized tax system. He was overthrown by his son, Askia Musa, in 1528.[3]

Name and titleEdit

The Tarikh al-Sudan gives Askia Muhammad's name as Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Turi or al-Sillanki.[4] The Tarikh al-Fattash gives his name as Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr.[5] Al-Turi and al-Sillanki have been interpreted as the Soninke clan names Ture and Sila by most historians. However, Stephan Bühnen has argued that they should be interpreted as nisbas referring to ancestry from Futa Toro or Silla in the Senegal valley, and favors the possibility that his ancestors originally came from Futa Toro. [6]

The title Askia[b] (Arabic: اسكيا) is of unknown origin,[7] and had been in use since the early 13th century, if not earlier.[8] The original pronunciation of the title is not known; in modern Songhai, it is pronounced siciya.[7] Moroccan sources spelled the title Sukyā or Sikyā, Leo Africanus spelled it Ischia, and a contemporary Portuguese source spelled it Azquya. The Tarikh al-Sudan provides a folk etymology for the title, claiming that Askia Muhammad invented the title based on the lament of Sonni Ali's daughters when they had learned he had seized power: "a si Kiya", meaning "it is not his"[9] or "he shall not be it".[10]

After going on the hajj in 1497–1498, he also became known as Askia al-Hajj Muhammad.[11]

In modern Songhai, he is known as Mamar Kassey.[12] Mamar is a form of the name Muhammad, and Kassey is a matronymic.

Early lifeEdit

Askia Muhammad was born in Gao. His father, Baru Lum,[c] was of Toucouleur or Soninke ancestry, with ancestors hailing from the Senegal River valley.[d] His mother was named Kassey[e] and is said in oral tradition to have been the sister of Sonni Ali.[17]


Askia encouraged learning and literacy, ensuring that Songhai's universities produced the most distinguished scholars, many of whom published significant books and one of which was his nephew and friend Mahmud Kati. To secure the legitimacy of his usurpation of the Sonni dynasty, Askia Muhammad allied himself with the scholars of Timbuktu, ushering in a golden age in the city for scientific and Muslim scholarship.[18] The eminent scholar Ahmed Baba, for example, produced books on Islamic law which are still in use today. Muhammad Kati published Tarikh al-fattash and Abdul-Rahman as-Sadi published Tarikh al-Sudan (Chronicle of The Black Land), two history books which are indispensable to present-day scholars reconstructing African history in the Middle Ages. The king's supposed tomb, the Tomb of Askia, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Or, it is said, al-Sillanki
  2. ^ Or Askiya
  3. ^ Baru is a Songhai form of the name Abu Bakr.[4] Lum is a clan name, probably of Fula origin.[13]
  4. ^ The Tarikh al-Fattash says that Askia Muhammad was a descendent of the Torodo. Torodo is Fula for "people of Toro" and refers to the Toucouleur. The clan name Lum is more likely to be of Toucouleur than Soninke origin. The names al-Turi and al-Sillanki have been interpreted as the Soninke clan names Ture and Sila, but they may be references to his father or father's ancestors coming from either Futa Toro or Silla in the Senegal valley. Futa Toro was predominantly Toucouleur and Silla was predominantly Soninke.[6]
  5. ^ Spelling variants: Kasay,[14] Kassaye,[12] Kassaï,[15] Kassey, Kassai, and Kasse[16]


  1. ^ Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical By Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulam
  2. ^ Biographical information on historical African figures from
  3. ^ Muḥammad I Askia Songhai ruler from
  4. ^ a b Hunwick 1999, p. 102.
  5. ^ Bühnen 2005, p. 85.
  6. ^ a b Bühnen 2005.
  7. ^ a b Hunwick 1999, p. 335.
  8. ^ de Moraes Farias 2008, p. 102.
  9. ^ Gomez 2018, p. 226.
  10. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 103.
  11. ^ Bühnen 2005, p. 83.
  12. ^ a b Johnson, Hale & Belcher 1997, p. 126.
  13. ^ Bühnen 2005, p. 89.
  14. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 181.
  15. ^ Houdas & Delafosse 1913, p. 114.
  16. ^ Bellama 1970.
  17. ^ Johnson, Hale & Belcher 1997, p. 126–127.
  18. ^ Vogel, Joseph O. (1997). Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa: Archaeology, History, Languages, Cultures, and Environments. p. 493. ISBN 0-7619-8902-1.
  19. ^ Johnston 2010.

Primary sourcesEdit

Other sourcesEdit

  • Bellama, David (1970). Si Ali and Askia Mohammed: two interpretations: the Muslim chronicles vs. Songhay oral tradition.
  • Bühnen, Stephan (2005). "Askiya Muḥammad I and his qabīla: name and provenance". Sudanic Africa. 1: 83–90. JSTOR 25653427.
  • Gomez, Michael A. (2018). African dominion: a new history of empire in early and medieval West Africa. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-17742-7.
  • Houdas, O.; Delafosse, M. (1913). Tarikh el-Fettach ou Chronique du Chercheur, par Mahmoûd Kâti ben El-Hâdj el-Motaouakkel Kâti et l'un de ses petits-fils. Paris.
  • Hunwick, John O. (1999). Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Saʻdi's Taʼrīkh al-Sūdān down to 1613, and other contemporary documents. Islamic history and civilization : studies and texts. Leiden ; Boston: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-11207-0.
  • Johnson, John William; Hale, Thomas A.; Belcher, Stephen, eds. (1997). Oral epics from Africa: vibrant voices from a vast continent. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21110-7.
  • Johnston, Casey (2010-09-20). "Statecraft as entertainment: Ars reviews Civilization V". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
  • de Moraes Farias, Paulo F. (2008). "Intellectual innovation and reinvention of the Sahel: the seventeenth-century Timbuktu chronicles". In Jeppie, Shamil; Diagne, Souleymane Bachir (eds.). The meanings of Timbuktu. Cape Town: HSRC Press. ISBN 978-0-7969-2204-5.
  • Josef W. Meri; Jere L. Bacharach (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: L-Z, index. Taylor & Francis. p. 764. ISBN 978-0-415-96692-4.
  • Stoller, Paul (1992), The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch, p. 105, ISBN 9780226775487, retrieved 2021-06-04

External linksEdit